The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Jeremiah 4: 1 – 10

Psalm 71: 1 – 6

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13

Luke 4: 21 – 30

William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

I met Bishop Ian George only once, and that briefly. But I want to acknowledge his life and ministry as a priest and bishop of the church, and his time here as Archbishop. For many the news of his death brings mixed emotions. There are some who have contacted me and Church Office, angry that there is to be no formal memorial service for Bishop George at St Peter’s Cathedral. There are others among us for whom his death stirs powerful and difficult memories and emotions of the shocking abuse of children and young people entrusted to the care of the Church. It is out of respect for the survivors of abuse, not disrespect to Bishop George, that his death is being marked in this way in this Diocese.

In love and charity we commend Bishop George into God’s hands, even as we continue to pray and uphold those who live with the dreadful scars of the abused.


“Faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13: 13) These are surely among the best-known, most loved words in the Bible. In time gone by they are the sort of words embroidered carefully and painstakingly before being hung above one’s bed. They bring to a close what is known as the ‘love’ chapter of St Paul’s writing and are rightly frequently chosen to be read at both weddings and funerals. Set out in three almost equal paragraphs St Paul begins by stating the utter importance of love – pushing aside all other attributes, gifts and accomplishments that people may boast of. The middle section, verses 4 – 7, is a delightful exposition of what love is and is not. Many is the time when, reading this at a wedding, I have suggested to the couple that they substitute their own names for the word ‘love’. The power of the verbs in these verses is lost in our English translation for in Greek each concept – love being patient, kind, not envious, boastful and so on – has its own verb. And then the final paragraph beginning at verse 8 which takes us through the partial to the ultimate end where love alone remains, the greatest of all gifts.

Reading 1 Corinthians 13 as a single unit however, beautiful and moving as it is, lifts it out of its context of reality. Come with me on a journey. It begins for me in late May 2010. Christine and I led a tour group in the footsteps of St Paul to Greece. Among our stopping places was the ancient city of Corinth. There, in the ruins of the city Paul had known, and in the shadow Acrocorinth, a great monolith of stone with its temple to Aphrodite perched on top, we celebrated the Eucharist. It was a simple celebration with people standing in a circle, one of the old stones, torn from the buildings by the earthquake that destroyed the city so long ago, functioned as the altar. Along with others, I was moved to tears as I read from 1 Corinthians chapter 11:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

One by one we silently put out our hands to receive the bread, the Body of Christ, and drink from the cup, the Blood of Christ.

These familiar words come in the middle of a chapter of instruction on how to celebrate and receive the Eucharist in a proper manner. And they come in a letter written with much pain and anguish as Paul writes to his beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, many of whom he was personally instrumental in bringing to Christ in the first place, as this fractious baby church tore itself apart with arguments. Evidence of these arguments is found in the early verses of chapter 1 as people claimed loyalty to ‘their’ particular priest or teacher – the one who had influenced them on their journey into God. That first argument leads Paul to write profoundly that “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1: 18) This message of the cross lays the groundwork for all he will say subsequently. Without the focus on the cross there is nothing.

So we read through the chapters of this much-read letter discovering a wealth of information about church government, how to deal with division and disorder in the community; discussion on marriage and divorce, Christian practices in a pagan environment; the need to treat everyone equally, without respect for social class or creed, and, which we have heard over the past two weeks, the long discussion on spiritual gifts. It is at the end of this section, chapter 12, that we get the introductory line to today’s chapter on love – mysteriously omitted by the compilers of the lectionary. Having discussed the merits or otherwise of the various spiritual gifts, making the point that it is the same Spirit who gives a variety of gifts, all for the common good (see 1 Cor 12: 4 ff), and taken to task those who think their particular gift is superior to those given to others, Paul concludes chapter 12 and opens chapter 13 with the words: “I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12: 31 b) Then follows today’s reading beginning, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love…”

Over the next three weeks our New Testament reading at this service will be from 1 Corinthians 15 – Paul’s careful and mature thinking about death, the last days, and the life to come.

But let’s pause for a moment and stay with chapter 13. As I read it again, allow the words to sink in, to resonate with your own life as a Christian, your own daily struggles and small triumphs, your strivings to be more Christ-like day by day, and our life together as God’s people at St Peter’s Cathedral. Perhaps, as I have suggested to couples on their wedding day, substitute your own name for the word love – especially in the middle section, verses 4 – 7.

And (now) I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12: 31b – 13: 13