4 EPIPHANY —31 January 2010
St. Paul’s, Durant — 9:00
Jer 1:1-4 Ps 71:1-6 1Cor 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30
“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.”
Have you ever been asked to do something, and your immediate response was, “Oh, I can’t do that! I don’t know how! I don’t have any training! I’m not good at that! It’s too much for me! Find somebody else!” Most of you have probably been there at one time or another. I certainly have.
And sometimes the word came, “Well, try it anyway!” And, by golly, you tried it and you found that you could do it after all! You never know what you can do until you try! Remember the Little Engine that Could? “I think I can, I think I can . . .” And sure enough, he could, and he did!
Or maybe when the word came, “Well, try it anyway!” by golly, you tried it, and sure enough, you couldn’t do it, you didn’t know how, you weren’t good at it, it was too much for you, and the whole thing was an utter disaster! I’ve been there, too!
Though I can’t help but observe that, no matter how disastrous the thing may have been, the world is still here, you and I are still here, and so perhaps failure is not always quite the catastrophe that we sometimes make it out to be!
I’m not peddling the power of positive thinking. Life isn’t quite that simple. If we are properly humble (I don’t mean false modesty, but if our knowledge of ourselves is realistic), then we will recognize that there are some things we are not good at and cannot do well. God knows there are plenty of things I don’t do well. But it still remains true that we can do more than we usually think we can; there are things we will find we can do if we just try; we do have abilities we don’t always give ourselves credit for. And—what we so easily overlook, and this is the key to the whole thing—we are not completely dependent upon our own resources. We are not alone.
And so my text for this morning, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah:
The word of the Lord came to me saying, “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.”
And Jeremiah said, “Oh, God. Oh, — God! Oh, Lord God! Not me! Don’t look at me! I don’t know how to be a prophet! I’ve never been a prophet before! I don’t want to be a prophet! I can’t be a prophet! (To the nations??!!) Oh, no! Look, I didn’t take prophecy in school! I don’t know how to speak—I wouldn’t know what to say! I’m only a boy!”
And the Lord said, “Oh, Jeremiah, for my sake! Shut up for a minute and listen to me! Just do what I tell you—and don’t be afraid, for I am with you!”
The Epistle today will no doubt sound a little familiar to you! It’s the beloved 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. A favorite chapter for many; in some danger of becoming a cliché, I suppose; but a central Scripture to the Christian Gospel: Paul’s great treatise on love.
You’ll remember from the Epistle readings the last two Sundays that Paul has been discussing the variety of spiritual gifts in the Church in chapter 12 of First Corinthians. Paul has been pointing out that everyone has a gift; different people have different gifts; they are all important; the Body needs all its various members. But you recall, last Sunday’s reading from Paul ended up: “Strive for the greater gifts.” And now we turn the page to Chapter 13, and here’s the most important gift of them all, and that’s the gift of love, the love that comes from God and fills us and enables us to love each other.
And love is the greatest gift, because love is the ultimate gift. Love is the gift that finally endures when everything else has served its purpose and has passed away. Including all the other things that we were good at, or not good at. All our great successes, and all our utter failures. But it is faith, hope, and love that endure, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Today’s Gospel—continuing from last Sunday’s—is worth meditating on at such times. Jesus has come back to his home town of Nazareth, and is asked to preach at the Sabbath service in the synagogue. He reads from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me [in Hebrew, those are the same words that we could translate, “made me Messiah,” the anointed one] -- he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” etc. Then Jesus proclaims this as his own ministry: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And the congregation thinks that’s all very nice, until they realize what Jesus is really saying. And then they go wild with rage and try to kill him for blasphemy. Jesus, too, had more than his share of failure. It must often have seemed to Jesus that he wasn’t getting anywhere at all. Remember, Jesus didn’t end up getting a Presidential citation in the Rose Garden. He ended up getting nailed to a cross.
Well, not exactly “ended up”! And that’s part of the point, too.
So when we respond to God’s call to be Christ’s Body, in ministry to the world, by saying, “Oh, no! Not me! I can’t! We can’t! We don’t know how! Our church is too small! We’ll fail!” God says to us, “Oh, hush! You sound just like Jeremiah! He failed a lot, too. So what? I failed a lot myself, and I still fail a lot! (You think my will is being done on earth as it is in heaven very much?) Remember, I didn’t say you had to do all this all by yourself! Be not afraid—for I am with you,” says the Lord.