Never Enough

There are just three words I want to say to you today. Three words I want you to hear today.

Love is everything.

Love. Is. Everything.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes of the indispensability of love and all of its character. It is patient, kind, slow to anger, not self-seeking, rejoices with the truth. It protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. It does not keep a record of wrongs, nor shame others. It is not proud or boastful. It is everything. 

Often read at weddings, this passage has a lot to say about love. But why did Paul choose to teach the Corinthians about it? Why was it so essential for him to impress upon them the greatness of love?

At the time of writing, the church in Corinth were falling out over which spiritual gifts were the greatest, experiencing disunity and jealousy, amongst many other things. The context of this particular chapter is that it comes immediately after Paul tells the Corinthians (in Chapter 12) that no one person amongst them is vital. Yes, there are those with prominent gifts, such as prophesy, teaching, healing and interpreting, but the whole church, the body of Christ, is one body with many parts. And Paul writes that all those parts suffer with one another, whilst equally rejoicing with one another. They are one body.

And so, Paul’s focus on love in 1 Corinthians 13 makes sense. You could be the greatest at prophesying but, if you do not have love, it is nothing. You could have a real gift for preaching but, without love, it is nothing. You could have everything that is outwardly good and seen as special but, without love, it is nothing. Whilst all that you’re fighting about will cease to exist, writes Paul, love will never fail. Love will always exist. In fact, we see in verse 10 that love is completeness. Paul builds his argument that the “most excellent way” is love: when we are fully grown, when we are complete, love will be everything. You won’t need to worry about who is preaching and who is not, who is prophesying, and who is not, because love will suffice in its entirety. 

Love is everything.

I wonder if you’ve seen the film The Greatest Showman. In the box office it had great success and has become one of the highest grossing musicals of all time. Friends of mine, who are quick to state their dislike of musicals, rave about it; but on the face of it, it seems shallow and is only very loosely based on the main character P.T. Barnum’s life. And yet, the music, oh how the music explodes onto the screen and tells us of deeper truths which lie within all of us. I am certain that stirring of emotions from within is the catalyst for the film’s success.

‘What does all of this have to do with God’s word? What does this have to do with love?’ I hear you ask. Well, when I am in the very early stages of preparing to preach, I like to run and mull things over in my head. Sometimes I might mutter along to myself, phrasing and rephrasing things which occur to me about the passage. And sometimes, I have a sudden moment of inspiration. These moments tend to come from nowhere; they feel almost like a sucker punch, and they’re usually at the point in the run when I am struggling along, and my thoughts are turning to survival. It’s almost as though, when I am physically empty, the Lord is there with me to fill me up spiritually. It was at this point the other afternoon when the song ‘Never Enough’ came onto my shuffle playlist; it was at this point I felt winded and yet had clarity; it was at this point that I burst into tears.

You see, the words woven through this melody have power. This wasn’t the first time this particular song made me cry: both my husband and I were moved to tears, when we watched the film for the first time. The lyrics reminded me of how I feel God working in my life. This idea that nothing in life could ever be enough, without Him. Nevertheless, here I was, several months later, crying because God had revealed something different.

‘All the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky, will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world, but it’ll never be enough, never be enough for me.’

God does not need the shine of a thousand spotlights, He already holds the world in His hands. Indeed, He does not need to steal the stars from the night sky; they are His already. And yet, He chooses to say, ‘I am not done.’ He chooses to send His most beloved Son to live on earth, be crucified and then rise again. Why? Just so we can encounter Him. Just so creation can be restored. Just so we can take His hand and share in His story. (In fact, the songs says this… “take my hand, will you share this with me? Because darling without you… it will never be enough.” This is the most extravagant and overwhelming display of love in all of history.

The song, according to its writers, is supposed to feel exactly like that: Extravagant. Overwhelming. They wanted to conjure up the image of ‘someone in a castle trying to count all of their riches and it still doesn’t add up to enough. It’s kind of that moment where someone isn’t really satisfied.’ And that was what came to mind when I was mulling over 1 Corinthians 13 on a long 6-mile run. 

God’s love for us is so extravagant, so rich, so complete, that He could not leave us and creation after the fall. All that we read about love in 1 Corinthians 13 is part of God’s character because He is love. God is patient, and kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. God does not dishonour others, nor is He self-seeking, nor easily angered, and He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. God never fails. He is complete and whole.

Yet, He chose to say, “It is not enough.” His love is so complete that, despite our lack of whole-ness, He chose us. He chooses us. He chooses the impatient mother. The unkind classmate. The envious, boastful social media influencers. The proud and self-praising boss. The bully who humiliates. The angry teenager. The couple who bring up old grievances in new fights. The colleague who feels good when other people get their ‘comeuppance’. The teacher who fails to protect. The colleague you can’t trust. The friend who never sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The student dropout, who just can’t persevere. 

We all know these people. We are these people. And God loves us anyway. It’s written throughout scripture, from Genesis through to Revelation. In John 3: 16 it says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ As we think about how God loves us that much, that He would rather send His son to die in our place, than live eternally without us, it may be that you recognised one of those character traits in your life. How does your record of wrong doing affect your relationships? What does always being hopeful look like in your life? How is love hindered by your lack of generosity to those who wrong you?

For me, I struggle with patience. I have a 3-year-old and it often feels like Groundhog Day as we spend yet another 90 minutes eating cereal or toast or pasta. How can it take so long to eat a simple meal? Yet, the impact that has on my relationship with her is negative. It creates tension, rather than peace; friction, rather than happiness; sadness, rather than joy. It is something I am working on at the moment and it is hard work, as I sit with her and find endless new ways to keep smiling whilst I wait for her to swallow her food. Yet, if God can look at my poor track record in my journey with Him, and show love in His patience with me, I can surely try to do the same with my toddler.

What is it in your life which is stopping you from showing love? God looks at us and says, ‘It will never be enough.’ So why is it enough for us to say we love, yet to withhold it in myriad ways offered in 1 Corinthians 13. What would our relationships look like if we applied ourselves in these areas? How could our communities be restored if our love looked like God’s love?

Love is everything.

Let’s do it right.


A Tale of Two Sermons

Back at the beginning of April I looked ahead at my calendar, and I was filled with dread. I had a lot to do at the end of April, and that looked like it would continue through the whole of May. So I did what any sane person would do. On the 2nd April I sat with God and the scriptures, and I prepared a sermon for Sunday 5th May.

I was delighted when I opened John 21 and God spoke to me in such a way that the notes and words filled my notebook page effortlessly. Wonderful! I breathed easier as I knew what God wanted me to notice, and what I could share with my parish. I needn’t add ‘write sermon’ to my to do list of terror, because it was done and I had a brilliant time with God whilst I was doing it.

You’ll be surprised to hear then that I did not preach about how Jesus invites us to have breakfast with him nor about how we respond to that invitation. I even had 3 nicely packaged options: do we come with urgency? Obedience? Worship? I had gone through my sermon with my training incumbent on Wednesday at my supervision meeting. Everything was ready.

And yet, when I stood up to preach, something came over me and words came out of my mouth that I had not prepared. The message that came out was not one I recognised from the pages of my notebook. I spoke of calling and comfort and transformation.

Maybe one day I’ll get to preach that sermon God and I prepared together. But maybe it was just for me.

Luke 5: 1 – 11 … An Ordinand’s Sermon

In this passage we see Jesus, as ever harangued by the crowds, getting into a boat and asking a fisherman to push it out into the lake a little. Along the edge of the lake were small alcoves where, if you were out in the water, there would be an amphitheatre effect for those on the shores. He teaches the people who have come to hear him speak, and when he is finished his attention is turned to the fisherman: Simon.

We can ask ourselves why he turned to Simon. What was it about him? Had Simon been listening intently? Had he questions to ask? Or was it simply because Simon had been obedient when Jesus climbed into his boat? Actually, he had been at Simon’s house previously, as can be seen in Chapter 4. As Jesus began his public ministry of healing and teaching, news about him had spread and, at invitation from the family, he went to their house and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Simon had already witnessed the incredible power of God, before he came to have Jesus in his boat.

Jesus the carpenter tells Simon, the experienced fisherman, to let his nets down for a catch. Simon, no doubt raising an eyebrow, explains that they’ve been busy doing exactly that all night… and yet, he agrees to do as Jesus asks. With much astonishment, Simon’s nets begin to fill at an alarming rate… at such a rate that their nets begin to break. Quickly they call for the other boat to come and help and yet even then the catch of fish is so great that the boats themselves begin to sink.

Simon, awestruck by what he has witnessed has only one response: to fall on his knees, fully aware of his sin, fully aware of Jesus’ holiness. Jesus, in his kindness, looks at him and utters the words: “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.” Jesus’ reaction to Simon’s declared unworthiness is to speak a word of cleansing. Whatever had troubled his heart is let go as Jesus calls him to a new path and empowers him for a new work in the Kingdom. And so, he (and his fellow fishermen) leave everything, family, possessions, nets and all, and follow Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared: “When Christ calls a person, he tells them to come and die.” In our church history lectures we have learned about Julian of Norwich and the Anchorite life. Our lecturer told us of how many Anchorites and Anchoresses had the Office of the Dead prayed over them as the they entered their cell, in order to signify their death to the world and rebirth to a spiritual life of solitary communion with God. And here, in this passage we have Simon’s action of leaving all behind in order to follow Christ; an act of freewill made in faith and obedience to Jesus.

So why did I choose this simple passage to speak from today? Well, it was Sunday’s Gospel reading, and I was leading Sunday School, so I missed the sermon in my placement parish. What an opportunity, I thought, to use what I’d gleaned from my time with the children this weekend, as they are often so wise. However, when I began to look closer at the text, I realised that a group of ordinands probably already know that Jesus calls us all to partner with him in spreading the Gospel and being fishers of men. Instead, then, I thought I would share four ways this reading speaks into our lives as ordinands.

1) Stop with the imposter syndrome…

Simon declares his sinfulness, and Jesus calls him anyway. We can find all the reasons why we might not be a good fit for ordination in the Church of England… but Jesus call us anyway. Simon doesn’t question Jesus, he just obeys.

It is hard. I am the ultimate questioner, long term sufferer of imposter syndrome, especially when it comes to my vocation in the Church of England. “Really, God? Me?” is often how many of my prayers began until fairly recently. His reply, always, “Yes. You. Really.”

2) We’re not in this alone…

Jesus calls us, and we go WITH him. I hope that is obvious to us all, as ordinands and future church leaders. Simon went WITH Jesus. And as we are called, we go WITH Jesus.

But, just like Simon, we also go with others we can lean on and learn from. Hard as it may be for those who have met me to believe, I suffer from social anxiety, specifically surrounding going to new places alone where I don’t know anyone. Starting at a new college, where I knew there would be people there who did know each other (staff and returning students) and that I did not know anyone, and knowing I would have to sit on the train for 2 hours alone, and then walk into Liverpool Cathedral alone was almost enough to put me off.

I prayed so hard about this particular anxiety as September approached and my prayer was answered in an unexpected way. Not that my anxiety disappeared, not at all. But in the provision of a lovely friend, Anna, who was also new, starting that term and also getting the train from the same station as me. I didn’t have to be afraid of walking in alone, because I had someone to walk with and talk with.

We go with God, and we go with each other.

3) We need to put our nets out into the deep…

We may have walked with Christ for many years, but now is the time, I believe, more than ever, for us to trust Him and put our nets out into the deep. Because, when we do go deep with Him, He equips us and empowers us. He emboldens us to follow Him. When talking about the story with children yesterday, what they were awed by was how faithful Simon Peter was. They asked, did he follow him forever? Yes, until Jesus died… and then Simon followed him until his own death. “Wow! Simon must have really liked Jesus.”

Jesus called, equipped and emboldened Simon then and he does the same for us today. But we need to meet him in the deep. We need to step out in faith, as Simon let his nets down in faith, and know that God will astonish us with things we could never have dreamed of.

4) We need to leave ourselves behind…

Finally, as we go into this new life with Jesus, we need to leave ourselves behind. Steven Furtick, pastor of a mega church in the US, has written about how “It’s less about me than I think.” And that poses some questions.

If it is less about me than I think then why am I trying so hard?

Why do I feel so responsible for success?

Why do I feel so responsible for failure?

If it’s less about me than I think, I can take my time. I can breathe. I can live in the moment. I can allow life to happen around me without trying to control every activity and every outcome. If it’s less about us than we think, leaving ourselves behind is a natural outcome, and we get to go deeply into who God calls us to be.


And yet, at the same time, it is about us, because God has called us: me, and you, specifically. He has called all of us to be trained for ordination as deacons and priests in his church. He has called us with our experiences, our passions and our skills, our wildly different personalities and our similarly messy lives. We just don’t know how he will use them to further his Kingdom, just as Simon doesn’t know what awaits him as he leaves everything and follows Jesus.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton speaks a truth which is raw, as he reflects on the necessary humility that should lie at the core of how we approach a sense of vocation, which I’d like to use to close. Perhaps you might use it to consider how God is calling you today, just as Jesus called Simon then.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost (and in the shadow of death).
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.


Sermon Writing

Every year our church holds a Missions Sunday, where our Mission Partners share stories from their work, we pray for them and a speaker challenges us about mission.

This year I have been given the task of preaching, and laying down the challenge. It’s quite daunting, but thenakfully God has spoken to me through a particular passage. So much so, that I sat down to write yesterday and the words came flowing out of me.

I was so pleased, as I had asked people to pray for me… and I had been praying. And finally I felt God saying, “This. Talk about this.”

But… things are never that simple. 

God has given me another word. A question in fact. A very challenging question. And a fabulous piece of scripture to go with it.

So, 6 days to go. Do I stick with what I’ve written? Or do I start again?