... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Epiphany 4 Year C
Message February 03, 2013

Called Gifted and Challenged

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

Each of the lessons for today declares the remarkable consequences which result from the realization of being known marked and called by God. Jeremiah is told by God that he had been known even before he was formed in the womb and that he had been chosen to be a prophet to the nations. The psalmist has not only come to know that it was God who had delivered him at his birth but would continue to deliver him in times of trial and shame. In joyful response the psalmist declares he will continue to praise God in the midst of the here and now.

Likewise Paul is able to respond to the squabbles of the Corinthians as they debate the primacy and hierarchy of their gifts. Having used the analogy of the parts of the anatomy of the body to describe the gifts he states that the gifts only become meaningful in the context of what love means. He further states that love can only come to be appreciated as one realizes one’s call from God and that each is known by God fully.

And, as Paul declares, God knows us fully and we come in time to also know fully, so Jesus declares that he knows fully as the Spirit of the Lord is on him and he has come to fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah.

The lessons also show the various responses of those who are called and those who are the contemporaries of the one called. Jeremiah’s response is one of initial negativity – “Truly I do not know how to speak”, “I am only a boy”, Like Moses. Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Gideon or Paul, and in fact most of the prophets, Jeremiah shies away from his call either thinking he is unable, ill-equipped or not worthy. Yet God persists and by an inpouring and inspiring of the Spirit they each are strengthened, equipped and prepared for their calling. Jesus on the other hand is fully aware of his call, fully aware of this Spirit within him and, boldly goes forward in his mission.

Notwithstanding the heroic accolades we attach to these models of righteousness and the larger-than-life lives as reported by the witness of Scripture we are also informed of the hardship and hazards they had to suffer and endure for the cause of their calling. Jeremiah was called to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow; the psalmist was to endure the shame and the cruel treatment meted out by the wicked. Paul had his antagonists and would eventually be martyred for his mission to the gentiles; and Jesus would have the shame ignominy and torture of the cross. Yet each knows his own identity, his own true self and his mission as a reflection of the relationship God had personally revealed and made with them.

It is this relationship which enables individuals to experience love in its truest meaning and which Paul highlights in today’s epistle reading. Unfortunately and too often this passage has been taken out of context. Because of its beautiful poetic and idealistic visionary style we have regarded it as an abstraction and an ideal of human affections. Thus we tend to use it at weddings and ignore its original context.

We need to be brought back to see that Paul’s admonition concerning love was part and parcel of the response to a community paralyzed by conflict concerning power struggles, concerning gifts of the Spirit and concerning what it was to be a Christian community trying to live in a culture steeped in greed, materialism and, self-gratification. Paul’s use of love had a practical side and it was seen as an outflowing of knowing self in its fullest – a knowing that could only be found in one’s faithful relationship with God. As that relationship would become fully understood so would love and all that love engenders.

Paul doesn’t idealize the concept of love, he doesn’t put it on a pedestal nor does he coat it with the warm fuzzy feeling we tend to do. For Paul love is the basic premise which forms the mortar to hold all our actions, relations and interpersonal dynamics to the directives laid out by Jesus as we have been called into a new covenant with God. Thus without love, without that firm glue binding us to God, all the gifts of the Spirit – be they talking in tongues, astute comprehension, the ability to prophecy or to have faith – are for naught. It is love which makes the gifts have meaning, which puts them into useful practice, and allows the community to know and praise God as well as ultimately benefiting humanity.

In verse 4-7 Paul gives a practical picture of what love looks like as he gives a couple of positive statements then eight negative statements pertaining to the picture of love. Then as a summation he declares that all the gifts are but transitory. Each will have an appropriate part to play and a duration in the grand scheme of things but it’s only love that endures and is the commonality which will hold all the gifts in tension so that God’s will and plan might be accomplished. In this image of love and in the context of Paul’s letter, love is to be regarded as a divine quality rather than a human characteristic. God’s love is endless, God’s love is patient and God’s love bears all things, believes all things endures all things. We are but bidden to reflect in some small measure what God characterizes fully.

In contrast to Paul’s conciliatory approach to the squabbling church in Corinth, Luke shows us Jesus’ direct confrontation to the hometown crowd in the synagogue. To a people conflicted as to the meaning of Messiahship and as to what God’s message is, Jesus states that he is the fulfillment of the prophecies spoken of by Isaiah and that his mission was much broader than to Israel. His promise was not a helping and healing of just the locals but was to be of greater scope. As examples Jesus uses the story of Elijah’s aid to the Syrian woman and Elisha’s curing of Naaman. The local “chosen people” became outraged and are prepared to kill this young upstart rabbi despite his being a local. God’s call is often not one into prosperity safety peace and security. Often as not God’s call is to great but dangerous undertakings. Yet God also equips and fortifies those whom are called and does so according to the mission.

And this is an important point. Just as each gift varies in its role to complete the whole so too does each fortification given by God match the gift in order to equip the person to do the work of the call. It is only when we come to realize our gifts and the strengths we have been given to carry out the work of the gifts can we truly come to exercise those talents to the purpose it was intended.

Whereas Jesus is the ideal of love and perfect user of the gifts of the Spirit, the other saints in our readings are more of the role models to which we can aspire. Jesus is the mirror or level by which we can measure our effort but it is the others and their struggles and their paths of response in which we come to appreciate the reality of our abilities. We have all been called by God, marked at our baptisms and given an inkling of our mission. It is the living out in our Christian journey that we come to fully appreciate our gifts, their intended use and hopefully their successful applications.

May we all so live our lives in the example of God’s love, that we come to know who we are, what our gifts are and how best to employ them to the glory of God and the benefit of all humanity.