Words for Hope and Stephen

Dec 9th, 2006 | By | Category: Sermons

After preaching at three funerals last week, it was good to preach at a happy occasion this afternoon.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.

I Corinthians 13:13

Most of us will have the experience at some time in our lives of having to try to sort through someone else’s belongings. We have been going through it in our family at the moment. Pat, an elderly relative in the North who had been fiercely independent for years, reached the point five years ago where she was no longer able to cope and had had to go into residential care. The last five years were marked by increasing confusion and declining health. We laid her to rest nine days ago, with a sense of sadness but also a sense of God’s mercy.

Pat was an only child and never married. We were her family and had to gather her things together. One of the most poignant things she left was her stack of photograph albums. They tell the story of the lady and her family. There are the oldest photos, the smiling faces in stiff poses in photographer’s studios; there are the snaps taken on outings with the place and the date scribbled across the back; there are the series of photographs documenting travels through foreign lands; and even the odd one of a striking looking young man where you ask yourself, ‘I wonder who he was?’

There are many moments and many places recorded in this tale of a long and a full life. Leafing through the pages prompts both smiles and tears. Photographs aren’t just two dimensional pictures, even the most serious and solemn ones tell us about moods and atmospheres and are part of a story that we can often only imagine.

Pat’s photographs told her story and the photographs taken today will be part of the story of Hope and Stephen. There will be the formal pictures and there will be the many snaps taken by family and friends. There will be hundreds of different pictures taken today.

In 25 years time or in 50 years time Hope and Stephen will be able to sit down and look through their albums and reflect on the thoughts and the memories that the pictures evoke. I wonder what those thoughts and memories will be like?

Saint Paul expects them to be good and happy memories, because if there is the true love that he describes in his letter to the church at Corinth, then life will be full of goodness and happiness. On their silver wedding anniversary or their golden wedding anniversary they will be able to say we tried to live like that and it worked and here are our photo albums to show that it worked.

But it’s not easy and it won’t be easy. Look at what Paul says, ‘love is patient, love is kind’. Easy enough to be always patient and kind in the early days, but it’s very easy to slip into impatience with the other person and not to bother with those gestures of love and kindness that used to be so natural.

‘Love is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs’.

Isn’t that last one the hardest, keeping no record of wrongs? It’s very easy to keep a little catalogue in your head of all your partner’s faults, failures and wrongdoings.

Haven’t we all had arguments which contained phrases like, ‘what about the time you did .. . . ‘ whatever it was, and the answer is, ‘I knew you would bring that up. You always bring that up’.

‘Love’, says St Paul, ‘keeps no record of wrongs’. He expects us to forgive and forget because Jesus forgives and it is Jesus example we are meant to follow. I wonder in our photo albums how many of us have pictures from times when relations were a bit strained, when one or other person was definitely keeping a record of wrongs?

‘Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’.

Here is Saint Paul outlining the love we look for in the marriage vows, the love that is there in the worse times as well as in the better times; the love that is there in the poorer times as well as in the richer times; the love that is there in sickness as well as in health. He expects true love to protect, to trust, to hope and to persevere.

Hope and Stephen your photo albums will fill up over the years. They will tell the story of your life together, they will recall for you special moments, happy moments, silly moments, moments that have a secret meaning for you. The best pictures won’t necessarily be in the most exotic locations, they won’t necessarily be at the grandest occasions, they won’t necessarily be at significant dates.

The best pictures will be those that speak of the love that Saint Paul talks about. They will be pictures that bring to mind the sort of love that you share today and which you can share for a lifetime to come.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.

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