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Fourth Sunday after Epiphany Year C RCL February 3, 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71_1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4: 21-30

In our opening reading today, God calls a young man, Jeremiah, to be a prophet. God tells Jeremiah that God has called him to this task even before Jeremiah was born, that God knew Jeremiah when he was growing in his mother’s womb. Jeremiah tells God that he couldn’t even think of serving as God’s prophet because he is too young. The Bible is full of stories about people being called, and they all offer reasons why they should not be called. For example, Moses said he wasn’t a very good public speaker, and God said, “That’s okay, Aaron can speak for you.”

In the case of Jeremiah, God stops the argument by reaching out and touching Jeremiah’s mouth, and God says, “I have put my words in your mouth,” How can anyone argue with that? Jeremiah is indeed young, probably about eighteen. From other parts of his book we find out that he is a quiet, private person, someone who does not like to be in the public eye. As a prophet, he will be a public figure. He will also have to go through some terrible experiences. He is put in prison; he will be in constant conflict with the rulers of his time; he will have to go into exile. A prophet’s life is anything but easy. Yet, through it all, the grace of God empowers Jeremiah to remain courageous and faithful.

What God is saying to Jeremiah, God is also saying to you and me. God has known us since before we were born. God called us into being. We are the apples of God’s eye. And God has called each of us to our ministry in the Body of Christ and has given us the grace and power to carry out our ministries faithfully.

In our epistle, we continue the reading of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. This is one of the most familiar and beloved pieces of scripture. It is important to remember its context. Paul is writing to a very troubled and divided congregation. This beautiful statement about the nature of love is not a general address; it is especially tailored to speak to a congregation in which certain people are being, well, unloving.

Paul names the very qualities these people need to develop within themselves with God’s help. “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.” And Paul makes it clear that love is the greatest of the gifts of the Spirit and it is the foundation of all the gifts. If we do not treat each other with love, all our efforts are in vain. This is the ground upon which our community life must rest if it is to be authentically Christian. This love is what animates the Body of Christ.

This is our goal.

As we return to Luke’s gospel, we remember that Jesus has read the passage from Isaiah which describes his and our healing and freeing ministry. He concludes by saying, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” At first, people are pleased with him. They are happy for the local boy who has done so well.

Then Jesus begins to talk about the nature of his ministry. He says that prophets are not accepted in their home towns. And then he talks about the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha. During the time of famine, many people were in need of food, but Elijah was sent to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. He saved this woman and her son. But they were not of the synagogue community. They were Gentiles. They were outsiders.

Similarly, there were many people in the time of Elisha who had leprosy, but God called Elisha to heal Naaman, the Syrian, who was also a Gentile, an outsider. Jesus is making it clear that his ministry is to the whole world, to everyone, not just a select group.

This offends the people and they actually try to throw him off a cliff, but he slips away and escapes. This foreshadows what is going to happen in Jerusalem during Holy Week.

Biblical scholar Beverly Gaventa writes, “The prophets rescued, not the hometown folk but those regarded as outsiders, those who could not call themselves God’s people.”

What does all of this say to us today? First, that God knows each of us and loves us and calls us just as God called Jeremiah to be a prophet in a difficult time of war and dislocation and just as God called Paul to minister to a fractured congregation in Corinth.

Secondly, God called Jeremiah when he was very young. This reminds us of how important our young people are to us. In our classes and gatherings their comments often go right to the heart of the matter.  Their ministries among us and outside in the world make a real difference to all of us.

Finally, the people in Jesus’ hometown got angry because he wasn’t just going to stay there and be their local celebrity. They got angry because the heart of God is so big that God’s love includes everyone.

Beverly Gaventa’s  comment that the prophets rescued “even those who could not call themselves God’s people” got me thinking.

One sad thing about our world today is that there are many people who are actually trying to live as Jesus calls us to live, but they don’t even know enough about Jesus to realize that that’s what they are doing. There are many folks who have not learned the basics about who Jesus is and what he did in his ministry.  Although they are trying to lead lives of compassion, they do not realize that that’s what we as Christians are trying to do, they do not think of themselves as God’s people, and they do not think of going to church.

These are some of the folks we are called to reach out to and share, in our own quiet way, that we are all God’s people, that God loves each of us,  that we are all part of God’s big family, which includes everyone, and we are all called to share the kind of loving community Paul is talking about in today’s epistle.

May we walk in the light and love of Christ, and may we share that light and love with others.

Amen

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