Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lectionary: 2/3/2013 - 4th Sunday after Epiphany (C)

Prayer of the Day 
Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love; and that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The biggest theme to the readings this week is love.  God's love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other- not to mention how all that plays out in our lives. The New Testament reading this week continues straight on from last week, when Paul was writing to the people of Corinth about spiritual gifts in community.  The gift he's talking about this week is love, and this is one of the best-loved wedding readings from the Bible, despite it having nothing to do with romance.  The Gospel reading also continues from last week.  Jesus had just read a few verses from Isaiah to his home congregation, and then claimed that he fulfilled them, and now we see what happens afterwards.

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I've had someone tell me an echo of Jeremiah's statement here- I can't make a difference, I'm not good enough, old enough, smart enough, I can't do it, not me, I don't have money, talent, I'm not nice enough, no one likes me that much, really you don't want me to sing.  Over and over again, just like Moses did it when God told him he would be a leader, we think we cannot possibly do God's work, not us.

And here we have God's answer for us.  God has always known us, God has always been with us, and God will stay with us.  Immanuel- God with us- promises Jeremiah here that words will be put in his mouth and he will upend nations.  Now, certainly, that may not be the future for all of us- I hope not, that would be a very rocky world to live in- but as we heard over the last two weeks, each of us has been given gifts, and here we are reminded again that God is with us through our lives, and knows perfectly well what we can do.  Perhaps our gifts aren't that easy to see compared to others- maybe we have patience, or stubbornness, or a talent for speaking the truth in hard places, or conviction towards justice.  Maybe we can knit or sit with the dying or convince a frightened child they are finally safe.  But we have been given these gifts, and God will be with us when we use them.

Psalm 71:1-6
In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. 

How often do we need a refuge, a safe place?  How often are we desperate to feel calm and rescued and hopeful?  Physical safety is something that many of us take for granted, but not all of us can.  Emotional and spiritual safety is something we require to thrive and to grow, but some of us do not even have that.  The Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible- the book where we talk back (or often sing back!) to God.  And a lot of the Psalms have images like this and pray for safety.  God is where we have turned for safety for generations, and while God has never promised that faith or service will make us safe, we have been promised, as in the previous reading, that God remains with us, wherever we go.  We are not alone.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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.

So for the last two weeks Paul has talked at great lengths about spiritual gifts- and that we all have different ones but they are from the same God, and their use in communities and for God's service.  And then we have this reading, which a lot of people have heard, frequently, at weddings.  But when we read it in context of what Paul's been talking about for the last two weeks, it becomes clear very quickly that the love he's talking about isn't the romantic love between people getting married.

In the first paragraph he talks about the importance of love to an individual.  It is the primary spiritual gift- without it, no other gifts are possible, nothing else matters.  In the second paragraph he talks about love in relationship- and certainly all of what he says is true both in human relationships and our relationships with God.  God is not petulant or irritable or abusive or fickle, and the love present in our relationships with each other leads us away from those actions, when we follow it.  And when all things end, and our other spiritual gifts are no longer needed, still love will bind us together, and we will be with God.

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. 

So, Jesus gets up in front of a worship service and claims to be God incarnate.  Now, that happens to be true, so when we look at it from a couple thousand years removed, the reaction of the town looks pretty radical- but if someone you'd known for years did that this Sunday at church, what would your reaction be?  So sure, that's one way to get yourself rejected from your home.  The people in the synagogue weren't taking Jesus very seriously after he'd said that.

But then we have Jesus pointing out that the prophets have not been able to heal or help everyone- that, in fact, people have gone on dying and suffering and sometimes starving while God's chosen messengers were right nearby.  And claiming to be the Messiah, the deliverer of the Jewish people, as Jesus just has, and then saying that- well, I'm guessing that leads to a whole different type of rejection entirely.  One that apparently involves cliffs.

But while he may not have been very diplomatic about it (and Jesus could certainly be very diplomatic when he chose to be, Luke abounds with stories about that) he was essentially pointing out something we already know to be true.  Trusting in God, and God's word, and God's word through the prophets, does not necessarily mean you'll be healed, or be made more safe than your neighbors.  The one promise God has made us- in the other readings today and, more implicitly, in this one- is that God is with us.  This is how God shows God's love for us, by being with us- by coming down and becoming human, and experiencing life, joy, grief and death as one of us.

Go in peace, serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

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