Sermon for Epiphany IV, Year C

January 30, 2022

Jeremiah 1:4-10                Psalm 71:1-6                                       1 Corinthians 13:1-13                      Luke 4:21-30

          After Jesus begins his ministry, he returns to his hometown where he was not received well.  As I read it, I thought of how what we expect shapes our experience and our perceptions of people.  What we expect of others is usually confirmed by what we choose to hear.  We tend to listen for what might prove ourselves right and fail to hear or notice what might contradicts our judgments.  In effect, we ignore the complexity of people who are a mix of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.   We need only listen to politicians speak about members of their own party and members of the opposing party to see why our nation is so divided. They tend listen to past judgment.  People are either right or wrong.  We often do this ourselves.  We do not listen to understand, we judge.

          The people in the synagogue hear Jesus say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” They remember him as a child, as Joseph’s son.  Jesus addresses their expectations of him head-on.  Knowing they want him to prove himself capable of performing miracles, he suggests they are thinking, “Do here also in your hometown, the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”  Yet Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  He gives them the examples of the miracles performed by Elijah and Elisha.  This enrages the crowd and they drive him out of town.  They intend to throw him off a cliff, but at some point, Jesus is able to simply walk through the mob and leave. 

          I find it interesting that this gospel reading is combined with our reading from 1 Corinthians in which Paul speaks so wonderfully about love.  He says love, “rejoices in the truth” and “love never ends.”  He speaks of the reason of a child and the reason of an adult and he acknowledges that as an adult, “we see in a mirror, dimly . . . know only in part.”  And, perhaps the most important verse, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

          Love seeks the best in others and it seeks to find our common ground.  It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle we support or what church we attend, what matters is that we are all God’s children.  Love acknowledges that we do not see the whole picture, Paul writes, “I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  Faith offers us this hope that one day we will know fully, just as we have been fully known.  But it is love that needs to drive the lives we live – not the desire to be right.   

          What does Paul mean when he speaks of being fully known?  In Jeremiah, the Lord says to him, “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.”  When I entered the discernment process I prayed for a sign – a literal sign, I was thinking maybe a billboard that seeking ordination was, in fact, what God was calling me to do. 

I now understand, that what God says to Jeremiah, is true for each of us.  We are all fully known by God – and despite that, God loves each of us and calls us to service.  God does not allow Jeremiah to make excuses, such as “I am only a boy,” nor does God suggest Jeremiah must know what to say in order to be a prophet. The Lord puts out his hand and touches Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” 

          I don’t read this story literally. As I said I would love to have received such a clear sign from God that I should become a priest.  I didn’t, my call was confirmed little by little by people I loved and trusted – and even by those I had not met before I entered into the discernment process.  I came to understand that the secret to hearing God’s call to each of us is to listen with love.  Paul says that love is the greatest of the spiritual gifts.  It is love that enables us to see the needs of others and drives us to respond. 

          I find that when I listen deeply to what others share with me, my heart moves toward them – not away from them.  Love has the power to unite us even if we disagree.  The Parish Annual Report for 2021 is a review of what we did last year.  Like 2020, it was a difficult and challenging year.  St. Paul said, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  With love, we have endured the past two years in which heartache, fear, and isolation were ever present. And we have accomplished a great deal.  Now, however, it is time to move forward.  It is time to plan for a better world and a better life in which love is experienced AND shared.  As St. Paul says, “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

          Love has held us together during this pandemic and love will help us see what we need to do next.

Let us pray. Loving God, you have known us since before you formed us in the womb.  Help us now to listen with our hearts that we might hear your call to us.  We pray that your love may strengthen our faith so that we might experience hope in this world which is filled with division and despair.  With your love to guide us, we pray that we might find the words to support and encourage others so that your kingdom may be realized on earth as it is in heaven.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.