Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
We all respond to God’s call, in one way or another, a little like Jeremiah. We are too young, too inarticulate, too busy, too old, too rough around the edges, too afraid … Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s summer sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle has led to the creation of a program called The Way of Love. The premise is that if we pursue the way of love, in the way and name of Jesus – in all of its many variations, colors, shapes, and hues - then perhaps following God’s call on our lives will just kind of happen. Suddenly – but not the overnight kind of suddenly - without knowing what happened really, God’s love will permeate our lives and the peace that we have always sought will become our new reality. Faith and hope are part of how we build a relationship with God, one that is based on trust and promise. But, in the end, the only thing that remains, that matters, that brings us to God and each other through Christ, is love.
1 Corinthians is an oft talked about text from St. Paul and frequently read at weddings; and sometimes at funerals. Paul scaled the Herculean heights of prose grandeur and revealed, in this sometimes-scolding letter to the Church in Corinth, what love truly might be, if placed in the hands of God. So, what is love, seen through Paul’s eyes, God’s eyes, that makes it such a transformative, yet elusive, thing? This love that is the heart of our Lord Jesus.
Love is patient – how do we practice patience in our lives? How do we bear with those that challenge us so terribly, or so triflingly? How is love about patience? Well, who do we have the most patience for in our lives? Sometimes, for the people who need it least. We may be more patient with a co-worker, for instance, than with a friend or family member who love us enough to forgive our impatience. We are easier on someone that might do something for us than for a homeless person who asks for money, or a relative who has an on again off again struggle with drugs or alcohol. If love is patient, how do we exercise patience with the people in our lives? How is Patience of God in Christ? How was Christ patient?
Love is kind. Seems naturally to be so, yes? Love manifests itself in compassion, the willingness to touch and reach out, particularly without expecting anything in return. Kindness is something we so easily imagine Jesus being. And for whom was his compassion, His kindness, most readily visible? To those who are invisible, those who the world considers disposable, to those who we have a challenge with, even if for good reason. To be kind is to be most, I think, like Jesus, most clearly emulating His way of loving.
Love does not seek its own way/is not selfish. A hard one. When we love with the passion of Jesus, we become servants. Jesus said, “I came not to be served but to serve and to not be master but slave to all.” When we bend toward the love of God in Jesus Christ, we see the need of another and fill it, we can make ourselves last, and the other first. Gale Sayers, the great running back of the Chicago Bears in the 1960s, wrote a book after his career, called I am Third. God is first, my family is second, and I am third. It flies in the face of a consumerist world where the individual is valued and my wants and needs are most important. Christ calls us to place the other first, because in doing so God is glorified and love is most fully present.
Love bears all, endures all ... that kind of love is the love that Paul is claiming for those who would follow Jesus more closely. Paul knew a bit about this. He endured at least two stonings, beatings, many imprisonments, ridicule and anger but he did it for the Gospel, for the love, of Jesus. Love is not withdrawn because we make mistakes. Love is not taken away because we are human, not even when we fall into sin and serious brokenness. The love of God is imprinted upon us because he knew us from the time we were being made, from the moment we were created, God was making us for something. What is that something? I would like to advance the idea that what God made us for was to be loved and to love. To be loved by the Divine light so powerful it offered itself for us in Jesus, the Christ. To love each other with the knowledge that we first have been loved with a nearly incomprehensible kind of love. I do believe that love can heal, because it can endure everything, when everything is done for the love of God, in the name of God, to bring us all closer to that divine love; to share it and bring it with patience, humility, kindness, and hope. That kind of love is of God and is what we were meant for.
I was trying to think of an example of love that we could hold onto. And, it is not as easy as you might expect. I landed on St. Teresa of Calcutta, a recently sainted woman who we have all heard of. We tend to think of saints as other worldly people but Teresa proved that they are actually like you and me, only with a willingness, perhaps, to live more clearly into Christ’s command to love. She worked for more than four decades in the slums of Calcutta, amongst other places in India. She was not a native of India, but was from Armenia and came to India, sent by her order. She cared for not only people struggling with leprosy but the poorest people in India, most who were not Christians. She also revealed, in her confessional letters that she had asked NOT be published, which were after her death made public, that she was not sure that God was still with her (and she had felt that way for decades).
Yet, inspired by Christ’s legacy of loving sacrifice, patience, and humility, she did the most menial work with the sickest and poorest. She was not superhuman but steeped in a sense of love. She once wrote, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God Who is sending a love letter to the world.”
When we fail to love, however, God does not abandon us. When we lose patience, Christ does not give up on us. When we lack humility or a willingness to give, the Holy Spirit continues to nudge us. Yet, love is something we can give, something we as Christians are steeped in. The greatest gift of all is love, the truest blessing of Christ is His passionate love. Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these, is love.