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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

sermon for February 3, 2013

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

How many weddings have you been to where this reading from 1 Corinthians was read? How many of you had it read at your wedding? I would say probably at least 50% of church weddings include this reading. It is a very beautiful statement of what is essential in life. For some of us, it may ring a bell after 15-20-40 years of marriage—certainly there are times when our spouse sounds like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Yet whatever else happens, we always hope that love never ends and that faith, hope, and love abide.

This reading really isn’t about marriage. It is about agape love, self-giving love in community. It is about the love that Jesus has for us. We see it as the love we want to have for each other in marriage. It is hard enough to have this kind of love for one other person, but to have it for a whole community? Or like Jesus, to have it for the entirety of the cosmos?

At weddings, when I hear this reading, I do find several parts of it especially appropriate. To speak of love at a wedding, at the beginning of a lifelong commitment, is appropriate. Love should be the foundation—it is the very most basic need, the bottom line motivation in any relationship, whether it be in marriage, family, congregation, neighborhood, or even globally.

The second reason I find it appropriate is because of the part about seeing through a mirror dimly. Love is so beautiful and fresh and new at a wedding. Sometimes reality is dim and distorted. Of course as the years go by, we have to grow up and our views of what makes for love change. We get a lot more realistic as time goes by. Love goes from a somewhat naïve attraction, to something much deeper and profound. Whatever else changes, we hope that love abides in all its different forms.

Jesus has a very clear sense of it means to love. He goes into his community and reads the scripture about what love is—setting the captives free, practicing debt forgiveness, sharing all that we have. His congregation would tell you that they received him with love. They encouraged him. They complimented him. They said nice things about him.

But Jesus sees clearly. He doesn’t let flattery distort reality. He knows that their compliments are not out of love. They flatter him because they want something from him. They want to take credit for his knowledge and powers. They want him to do things for them. And probably some of them were just waiting for him to mess up so they could say, “I told you so.” He knows what is in their hearts, and it all comes out when he insults them with the truth. If they really loved him, would they have turned around 10 minutes later and tried to throw him off a cliff?

Jesus’ friends and neighbors compliment him because they want to be first in line when he’s dividing the plunder they are expecting or doing mass healings or whatever it is he’s got of value to them. Jesus tells them flat out, they won’t get any special treatment, just because they know him. In fact, knowing him might get in the way, because they’ve got all these preconceived notions about him. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they all asked. They have all these expectations of him because of who he was as a boy and what family he came from and what he was like growing up. Jesus is telling them that they are missing part of the story because they are too close to it. It is like standing too close to a painting, you miss the bigger picture because your vision doesn’t encompass the whole thing. All they can see is the boy they once knew. They are having a hard time accepting that he has any power. Jesus says, it is going to be those who have no ideas of what the messiah will be or who Jesus is, who will be able to believe and appreciate and receive the fullness of the good news and liberation that Jesus is bringing.

Now this is bad news for me and you. We are the insiders, the churchgoers with preconceived notions of what church and God can and must be. We are standing so close to Jesus we think we’ve got it made, and we’re missing the point. We can’t see the possibilities because we’re comfortable right where we are. We can’t see it from the perspective of those who struggle everyday. We can’t see what Jesus must look like to those in our community who don’t look for love and hope in a church. Because of our perspective as insiders, we don’t have the imagination open to all that Jesus can and will be. Our imaginations are limited by our expectations and we unknowingly try to place those limits on Christ.

Our lack of imagination extends to ourselves, too. We put limits on ourselves and what we can imagine contributing in our faith. In matters of faith we are immature—we’re like little children. We are in the child mode and think we’re stuck there so we don’t fully live out our faith because we just can’t imagine ourselves having the wherewithal, the power, the ability to do God’s work justice. We can’t even begin to imagine what that would look like.

We put limits on ourselves. We get stuck in what we can’t do. I know I feel that way about climate change. It is such a big problem, I wonder what I can do—just one person. When I think about homelessness, I feel the same way. Even when I think of leading this congregation, I am not at all certain of my abilities to do so. My imagination falls short. Sometimes, all I can see are my shortcomings. I know you feel the same way sometimes. We all doubt ourselves—I’m too young, too old, too afraid, too tired, I don’t know enough about it, I’m not well spoken—we can think of a million excuses. You feel overwhelmed by the commitments you already have. Lack of time, money, and ability keep all of us from being able to imagine the kind of world that God wants for us, the kind of world that God says is possible and is coming—is imminent.

Our fears and doubts make us forget that it isn’t dependent on our abilities alone. God is working through us. It is God’s power that will give us the imagination and courage to take steps to heal God’s creation, our planet. It is God’s love moving through us that will reach out a hand in compassion to do something about the root causes of hunger. It is God’s way of relationship and partnership that will help us join together with others in our neighborhood to address the concerns that we face. It is God’s dream moving through us that will help us see the tasks ahead in a new way.

The apostle Paul gives us a hint of what to do when we feel overwhelmed. He says to start with love. We are all of us capable of love. Love yourself—listen to yourself, care for yourself, appreciate yourself. Love your neighbor—listen to your neighbor, care for your neighbor, appreciate your neighbor. Love your enemy—listen to your enemy, care for your enemy, appreciate your enemy. There are always next steps to take in love. Love gives us a new perspective on our problems. It gives us a different perspective on our abilities. It is the foundation of all relationships. And it never ends.

Love is the story of our faith—the truest statement of who we are and what God calls us to be. In love the universe was created—for love and relationship. In and for love is why humankind was created. Everything that God has ever done was out of love. Jesus came to teach us how to love one another and he came to die to show us the just how much he loves us. We are people of love—we were created for loving and to be loved. Once we realize the depth of God’s love for us, we find ourselves overwhelmed with love in return. It overflows. And God remind us that we do have enough love to go around to make sure that everyone is fed and valued and cared for because that love originated from God and goes out through us to make sure it is distributed amongst those who the world says are unlovable. The greatest of these is love because out of love comes hope and faith. And because love never ends, even when we die, love goes on into eternal life as well as in a rich life, a better, more just life, our legacy that we leave behind for all those who come after us.

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