1 Corinthians 13.1-13
If I speak in the tongues of humans 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; it keeps no record of wrongs; 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 only a reflection, as in a mirror, 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 remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus is doing his Jesus thing. He wanders around Galilee, making the impossible possible, telling parables of prodigals and publicans, and confronting cantankerous clergy. And, at some point, crowds begin to follow. Within these crowds are the disciples, the ones called by the Lord to a different life. And these disciples, the ones who are supposed to have this stuff all figured out, they keep interrupting with questions.
Hey JC, when will this kingdom of yours actually start?
Teacher, did you really say we need to turn the other cheek?
Lord, who will make it into heaven?
The disciples, to their foolish credit, assume they’ve already made the cut. They, after all, left it all behind to follow Jesus. So what they really want to know is, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
It’s a good question.
And Jesus answers by picking a random kid out of the crowd and lifting him up.
It’s a strange moment in the strange new world of the Bible.
All these grown up with their grown up ideas and grown up hopes and grown up assumptions, they stand and watch Jesus take hold of a little kid and he says, “If you want to get into heaven, you have to be like this little boy.”
It’s no wonder the disciples rebuke Jesus for such an answer.
What does this boy have to show for himself? What random acts of kindness earn such a profound distinction from the Lord?
In the end, all that he has to show matters not at all to the one who comes to make all things new.
If you want to get into heaven, Jesus says, you have to be like a little kid.
To me, Mitchell was always a little kid.
I know that he eventually grew to be taller than me, and perhaps a bit wiser, but because our families grew up together, I couldn’t really see him as anything other than a little kid.
And, to be fair, he acted like a little kid.
Mitchell could fall asleep in the strangest of places from on a couch during a loud dinner party, to on his boat in the middle of the lake in the middle of the night.
But his childlikeness was such a gift.
In my life I’ve never known anyone so easy to be around. Whenever he smiled, it took over his whole face and no matter what you might’ve been going through you couldn’t help but smile back. He had this way of shrugging his shoulders that made everyone else realize that we were probably taking everything else a little too seriously. He had a confidence about himself that was bizarrely endearing.
Did you know that when Mitchell was younger he once told Susie that he wanted to get John 3.16 tattooed on his hand so that, when he threw a touchdown on tv, everyone would be able to see it?
That, in a sentence, might be the most Mitchell thing I’ve ever heard.
In the life of faith we are encouraged to have scripturally shaped imaginations. That means that whenever we enter the strange world of scripture, we discover that it is indeed our world. So much so that when we read of Jesus walking down to the sea of Galilee to preach the Good News, it’s not difficult to picture Mitchell waiting off to the side of the crowd joking around with some friends. And then, when Jesus realizes the crowds have grown too large and needs a way to address everyone, Mitchell is the one who volunteers for the Lord to use his wake-boarding boat. But to bring it all home, when people still struggle to hear what Jesus has to say out on the water, Mitchell is the one who informs the Lord that the boat has a killer sound system and he can crank it up, if that’s what the Lord wants.
Jesus says, Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
There’s a childlike quality to giving, and receiving, love as conveyed in the Bible. It’s why Paul is so quick to riff on the subject in his first letter to the church in Corinth. For millennia these words have cultivated and curated the people called church: love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Mike, Susie, Brianna, this is the love that you had for Mitchell. You were patient with him, you rejoiced with him, you wept with him, you laughed with him. You surrounded him in every moment of his life with the tangible beauty of ever-enduring love. Any life is made intelligible only by and through love. And Mitchell was dearly loved.
But the same holds true for how Mitchell loved you and all of us. This gathered body is a witness and a testimony not just to the love we have for Mitchell, but to the love he demonstrated for us. Within these pews are countless stories of love and joy and peace and delight that were made manifest through him.
Mitchell loved you. Each and every one of you.
Our lives were richly blessed by him, and will continue to be blessed because of him.
That is why, even in our terrible terrible grief we can be grateful. We can be grateful because Mitchell was such a gift.
1 Corinthians 13 will always speak words into a moment when we no longer know what to say. The love with which our lives are made possible is the great proclamation that makes the Good News good.
And yet, for as often as we have read this text to be about us and the love we have for one another, it is actually the declaration of who God is for us.
You see, God is love. Which means God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on his own way; God is not irritable; God keeps no records of wrongs; God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thing, and endures all things.
The promise of the Gospel is that no one, absolutely no one, is outside the realm of God’s grace and love. No matter what we do or leave undone, God is for us no matter what.
God’s love for Mitchell knows no end.
Hear the Good News: In the fullness of time, God in Christ is born into the muck and mire of our lives, wandering the streets of time, making a way where there is no way. And then, Jesus takes all of our sins, past-present-future, nails them to the cross and leaves them there forever. The Lord is locked up forsaken and dead in a tomb. But three days later, God gives him back to us.
We are Easter people. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. The empty tomb is the proclamation that one day we will all feast at the Supper of the Lamb with Mitchell. We will gather at the table around which God makes all things new and there will be no mourning or crying, only dancing and laughing.
But that day is not this day.
Today we weep because Mitchell is gone.
And yet, there’s another time in scripture when the disciples are continuing to badger Jesus with their questions about the kingdom of heaven and to whom it belongs. And Jesus says, “Heaven belongs to those who mourn, those who cry, those who grieve and ache and wish that it wasn’t so, those who know not all is as it should be.”
In short, heaven belongs to people like Mitchell and people like us. Thanks be to God.