Sermon for Epiphany 4, Year C February 3, 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-10                Psalm 71:1-6                                       1Corinthians 13:1-13                       Luke 4:21-20

If you were here AND if you remember my sermon from last week, you will know that I quoted from Paul’s 13th chapter 1st letter to the church in Corinth.  I’m not one of those preachers who looks ahead as I write my sermon – so I did not deliberately try to connect my sermon on the Apostle Paul to today.  Some might say it was the Holy Spirit at work, others would say it was chance – I don’t know, but I do know it made me think twice about which scripture I would focus on today.

This portion of Paul’s letter, in which he talks of love, is among the most important scriptures written by or attributed to him.  It teaches that love is above all else – nothing truly matters if we do not have love for one another.  It teaches us what love is not:

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.

What love is not is important, because at one time or another, we all introduce these feelings and behaviors into what is otherwise a loving relationship.  Who among us has been rude, insisted on our own way, been irritable or resentful?  I would add to this list being judgmental – which is a symptom of these others sins.

Paul also writes about what love is: “Love is patient; love is kind; . . . rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”  The patience and kindness are what make it possible for us to “endure all things,” or in other words, put up with what others do that what we ourselves are often guilty of.  I spoke of judgment, but I believe arrogance is at the core of it.  If we think that others sins are worse than our own, we are not being honest with ourselves.  The consequences of sin may be more or less severe, but sin is sin and we all suffer from sin.  The definition I am using for sin is that which separates us from the love of God and one another.

As Paul continues, he speaks of becoming an adult and recognizing the limits to his understanding.  “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  What we see is seldom clear to us, for none of us know the full story about anything – often not even about ourselves.

Jeremiah talks of when he learned that God had a purpose for him.  The Lord says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you … [and] I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  This does not make sense to Jeremiah and he tells God that he is only a boy and does not know what to say.  God responds, “I have put my words in your mouth.”  Stories like this do remind us how little we truly know and understand about creation and ourselves.  We don’t know what God wants of us and we do not know what we are capable of achieving with God’s help.  We, as Paul suggests, “see in a mirror, dimly … know only in part.”

So many of the prophet’s stories are “other worldly,” and their call is so clear that we are left wondering when God will reveal to us what we, ourselves, are called to do.  Few, if any, clergy I know have experienced a call like those of the prophets.  Instead, the stories of our call begin like the story I shared last week – a realization that I needed to walk a different path.  I did not know where the path would, but when I begin down that path, I found that more and more was revealed to me.

One of the greatest revelations I experienced was what Paul writes about in today’s scripture.  Without love, nothing matters.  Love is what makes it possible for me to have hope and to live believing that no matter what – love will endure, love will not end, love will triumph.  It is in this belief that I find peace.

I believe we are all called to move forward by faith, with hope for a better future – even if it will take a long time to get there and we will have to make multiple sacrifices along the way.  We are called to have faith, a faith sustained by the love of God – which we share with one another.

We don’t need for God to speak to us from a burning bush as he did Moses, we don’t need for God to come to us in a dream as he did with various prophets, we need only hear the words of Jesus to know what we are all called to do.  We are called to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind,” and to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  This is what Jesus says are the two great commandments – we are to love God, one another and ourselves.

Of all these, loving ourselves may be the most challenging because of the times when were “envious or boastful or arrogant or rude,” or insisted on our own way; irritable or resentful; or enjoy doing what we know is wrong.  These are the times when hearing the absolution found in the Rite I service is most helpful:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with heaty repentance and true faith turn unto him, have mercy upon you . . .

God’s love is often more merciful than we are to ourselves and others.  So, the embody God’s love requires us to forgive ourselves and return to the loving God, loving our neighbor, AND ourselves.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you created us in love, and taught us what it means to truly love by sending your Son to live among us.  Help us, we pray, to open our hearts to receive your love that we, too, might share it with others in need.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.