Friday, January 1, 2010

January 31, 2010. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah mentions wombs, as does the psalmist today.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jeremiah stresses that God knew him even before forming him in the womb, even before consecrating him for his ministry as a prophet.

Psalm 71:1-6

The psalmist stresses

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength

God knew each of us too before forming us in our mother’s womb. Each of us has been consecrated for a ministry -- not to be clients of a parish or a denomination, but to be disciples who know and cultivate our gifts and then share them.

Our responsibility is awesome. Jeremiah speaks for many of us:

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."

Koq, leader of the Griquas tribe, before a battle with
the Afrikaners in 1876, echoed similar concerns:

O, God!

Despite a great many prayers to You we are continually losing our
wars. Tomorrow we shall again be fighting a battle that is truly
great. With all our might we need Your help and that is why I must
tell You something: This battle tomorrow is going to be a serious
affair. There will be no place for children. Therefore I must ask You
not to send Your Son to help us. Come Yourself.

The psalmist stresses that our deliverance is not in our own hands:

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me

Saint Paul emphasized that it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that will deliver us and set us free. Martin Luther made justification by faith the centerpiece of the Reformation.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It takes discipline to turn off the tremolo when reading this chapter. Its demands are huge, but we must listen closely. The NRSV says:

If I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The KJV was much more austere:

Though I Give My Body to Be Burned, It Profiteth Me Nothing.

“Only faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

We Christians often throw the word “love” around far too glibly, and the secular world does so even more. Poet D. H. Lawrence once suggested that we might try not using the word for several years to see whether we could restore its vital significance.

I find Saint Paul's tests demanding when I try to discern whether my act of love is the real thing:

  • Am I being patient in this action?
  • Am I being kind?
  • Am I envious or boastful or arrogant or rude?
  • Am I insisting on my own way? What would my behavior look like if I were not?
  • Am I irritated by or resentful of the one I claim to love?
  • Do I rejoice when I catch my enemies in wrong doing?

A schoolmate not in contact since 1954 called recently when she discovered my website. Over the week she updated me regarding many in our home town.

"I have always been fond of you," she said.

In a fourth call she said she has a special language for talking with God. “God wants you to leave Ernest. Parts of your lives are filthy. I hope I have not hurt your feelings."

Why do some blame their bigotry on God? Or is she a bigot?

Was she being rude? Insisting on her own way? Or was she being kind?

Am I being rude? Am I insisting on my own way? Am I being kind?

If she thinks Ernest and I are doomed, was she being loving in saying so? Even when we had not sought her out nor requested her judgment?

Was her delay of several days sneaky and deceptive -- preparation for moving in for the kill? Or was her delay kind, an effort to refresh the trust we had when last in touch 55 years ago?

I do not know. It is all too easy for me to deceive myself about my own motives, and certainly too easy for me to deceive myself about hers.

I rejoice for both of us that

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

-- Frederick William Faber, 1862

Luke 4:21-30

Last Sunday we looked at the first part of this chapter, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

That message is not good news for the rich, not good news for the captors, not good news for oppressors.

Nor were average “everyday” people in his hometown impressed. They expected the fireworks of big miracles such as he was reputed to have performed away from home. But the carpenter’s kid performed no tricks, and explained that prophets before him often limited their performance of miracles to outsiders.

They became angry and intended to throw him over the cliffs. In so doing they missed the one major miracle that he did perform for them: “He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” That’s a disappearing act worthy of Houdini.

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