A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
January 31, 2016
(Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30)
An Arabic legend tells of two friends who were travelling through the dessert. When they arrived at a certain point in their journey, they, very humanly, started to argue. One of them, too offended to even speak, bent and wrote in the sand: ‘Today, my best friend slapped me in the face.’
They went on and reached an oasis where they decided to bathe. The one who had been slapped was about to drown, but he was saved by his friend. After recovering he took his dagger and carved on a rock: ‘Today, my best friend saved my life.’
Intrigued, his friend asked, “Why did you write in the sand after I hurt you, and now you are carving this into a stone?”
And smiling, his friend answered: “Because you are my friend your offences I write in sand where the winds of forgetfulness and forgiveness take care of erasing them. But I carve your help and love on the stone of my heart’s memory. From there no wind in all the world is be able to erase it.
(Based on the parable by Jose Luis Navajo, Mondays with My Old Pastor, pp. 94-95)
Jeremiah’s mouth was touched by the hand of God. In the womb God set him apart. Jeremiah is ‘known’ and ‘created’ to be a mouthpiece for God. He will give voice to the Voice that plucks, pulls, destroys, overthrows, builds, and plants.
Jeremiah is, however, reluctant. In this book we read of a lifetime of bravery and courage. Before we get there, however, we must contend with this tentative call. Jeremiah describes himself as ‘only a boy’ who needs, alongside many others in scripture, to hear (and heed) the command: ‘Do not be afraid…for I am with you…” Even the celebrated prophet is called from fear to faith.
Perhaps you can hear God’s patient voice calling you in a similar way. If so, do not be afraid. God calls, equips, and accompanies.
Jesus too was a prophet who heard God’s call:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Despite the apparent celebration at his presence and message, Jesus highlights his hometown’s lack of acceptance of him. He is not happy with this exuberant and shallow response to his reading.
So Jesus offers two examples of the coming work of God: ‘Zeraphath in Sidon’ and ‘Naaman the Syrian’! In Jesus’ ministry God’s love will continue to extend beyond Israel’s boarders. It turns celebration to riot and praise to murder.
Even when Jesus spoke people found it hard to hear.
And still you and I are called and equipped to witness to the world. Paul insists that God still graciously gives gifts: tongues, prophetic powers, faith to move mountains, generous acts of giving, self-sacrifice. Each of these have an element of the prophetic: God’s gifts speak to us and our world on behalf of our gracious God.
The church at Corinth was abundantly blessed with these and other ‘spiritual gifts’. And yet, something terrible has occurred in this community: the miracles among them are dividing rather than uniting. They nurture pride rather than a Jesus-imitating humility.
We can neutralise even the powerful building and destroying word of God by gifts used without love. Soberingly, without love even our God-enhanced service amounts to Paul’s repeated ‘nothing’. Such gifts are only a small, temporal ‘part’ of all God is doing. Love is eternal and ‘complete’.
And so I will end with Paul’s active and practical description of love:
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.
God’s love – loving through you – speaks like nothing else. Everything else is temporal.
Only in Jesus will you ever see or experience such perfect love. Even in the church we will, at best, know both offence and love. Choose carefully how permanently you record these experiences. Such etchings will make or break our witness.
On the way in you received an unmarked stone. I hope it can pose a simple question: What experiences will you carve in stone?
Perhaps you could start with the perfect love of God.