Sermon February 3 2019

        Sometimes we wonder what brought the Lectionary readings together, but the readings for today are almost an ‘embarrassment of riches.’ Nonetheless, we customarily find that people who preach involve themselves in research, sometimes with no result.   Having nothing whatsoever to do with the sermon, few days ago I read of a study, (published by a respectable source,) which indicated that two hours after eating a bar of dark chocolate, the adults involved experienced much sharper, clearer vision. Imagine – chocolate for medicinal purposes! However, I’ve found I can get the same good results, without the two hour wait, by simply cleaning my glasses. Thus I think we’re wise to approach research with some reservations. Scholars and academicians have evidently agreed to disagree, and the study of scripture is no exception.

         In the Hebrew Scripture for today, God calls Jeremiah to be a   prophet. Jeremiah tries to beg off. Says he’s just a child, what does he know, and The Lord surely has better candidates for prophetic ministry somewhere in Israel. God’s not buying this, and God tells Jeremiah to hush, touches Jeremiah on the mouth, and explains that Jeremiah is not going out alone, God will be a constant presence, and God’s words will be in Jeremiah’s mouth.   Now there’s an endorsement! God must really love Jeremiah. God promises to be for Jeremiah what the psalmist says God IS – a castle, a stronghold, to keep him safe. Betcha we, too, can claim that promise. God will be with us, a castle to keep us safe, whatever the difficulty into which we’ve gotten ourselves. We have to ask, & expect.

         And then that glorious reading from Corinthians. Almost every wedding for which I officiated included that reading. But Paul’s assessment of the worth and efficacy of love far exceeds it’s application in marriage. We are called into this generosity of love in every aspect of our daily lives. This reading, for me, stands as an heuristic, or interpretive, lens for our understanding of God’s love. Consider:

         Are we not, as adults, keenly aware that all we might achieve or accomplish, or consider ourselves to be, is nothing if not accompanied by love? While we lived on our farm, we attended a little country church called: Prairie Chapel Methodist Mt. Olivet Presbyterian Church! As you might imagine, we were blessed with two pastors AND two organists. Both the pastors were college professors, and excellent scholars. But one delivered factual academic sermons, and one delivered a kind and loving call to God’s loving relationship with us, the children of God. One of the organists was a professional concert musician,. She was mechanically perfect. The other had provided the church with music filled with the love of God for all her adult life. We heard the love.   Think we can agree with Paul – without love in all we do, we’re basically spinning our wheels.

         Love is such a complex concept. It sometimes catches us by surprise, it puzzles us, it vexes us. Love sustains us. We cannot survive without it, and yet, Love requires a great deal from us. Look at the descriptive lexicon in Corinthians: Love is patient, kind, NOT envious, boastful, rude, or arrogant, NOT demanding, irritable, or resentful. Ever held up the recollection of your day’s interaction with the people in your life to this criteria? I find that if and when I do, I fall very short.  

         Love rejoices in truth, believes, hopes, and endures Love never ends. But with us, sometimes love does end. Pretty sure we don’t completely understand love. But God’s love never ends, never fails us.

         The reading from Corinthians ends with the familiar and beloved quote: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” But We can love this way ONLY thru God’s grace.

Today’s Gospel continues where we left off last week. The reaction of Jesus’ hometown folks confuses us. Scripture says, “All spoke well of Him, and were amazed the gracious words that fell out of His mouth.” Probably about as amazed as the “Temple Elders” were at the 12 year-old Jesus Who alarmed His parents by hanging back to chat with the Temple Establishment. But the hometown folks weren’t so happy with everything that Jesus said, because they become so irritated with Him that they “led Him to the top of a cliff” with the intent to throw Him off. Jesus declines to accept this opportunity, and simply walks away. Why were they so angry?   In the Gospel of Matthew, Chpt. 8:28, Jesus, upon His arrival in the country, encounters what Matthew calls “two demoniacs, who lived in the tombs. They were so out of control that people were afraid to approach the tombs outside town. So Jesus sends the demons, at the demon’s request, into a herd of pigs, which runs down into the sea, and drowns. The result of this is that the townspeople, now rid of this evil which dwelt in their midst, come out and beg Jesus to leave the area. What? Are we a species that prefers the evil with which we are familiar to the redemption and restoration that the Incarnation of the Living God so lovingly offers to us? This is why I suggest that we view our reading from Corinthians as a means of interpreting and understanding Scripture as teaching God’s version of love.   In creation, God commits Godself to us. To loving us in spite of ourselves. To loving us as I Corinthians describes love. And God’s commitment is all-encompassing. Sometimes I worry that God might be tired of my constant dependence, and my sometimes stream-of-consciousness-prayer. But then i remember. God embodies love, and commitment, in ways far beyond our understanding or capability. God loves us with a crazy extravagance we can’t even imagine. Corinthians stands as both an inspiration and aspiration for us. A model, if you will, as is our Lord Christ.   So when God calls us to do whatever God has for us, God will enable us as God did Jeremiah, AND all the prophets, AND all the apostles. This is Because, “Now faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” God’s endless and incomprehensible love.               THANKS BE TO GOD!

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  • Psalm 42:8
    “By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.”