Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Jeremiah 1:4-10 (17-19)
Psalm 71:1-6 (7-11)
1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.
Imagine that you are the newly hired mail person at a large company with a huge hierarchy of people, from office assistants to department heads to Vice Presidents. The CEO comes to you one day and says, “I am going to put you in charge of everything.” He explains that the job includes firing a bunch of people who have done something that almost destroyed the company, including a couple of the VPs and your own supervisor. How do you respond? “But Sir, I’m a nobody. They won’t listen to me. I just deliver the mail.”
I don’t think I’d want the job. After all, I probably do not even know why there’s been a problem. I’m sure I wouldn’t have any credibility with any of those people I’d have to fire, especially those who have been with the company for a very long time. I don’t think they would even listen to me.
Now, the mail person would not have much control. He or she would not choose which employees to fire. The decisions would be made by the CEO. He would tell the mail person how to do the task. He would, in some sense, be nearby. He would give the mail person the credibility needed. It would not be the mail person’s work, but the CEO’s work done through the mail person. It still would be hard. Who wants to give that sort of news to anyone, particularly people that are in authority?
We might not want this to happen, but that’s what happened to Jeremiah. The titles and circumstances are different, but God called young Jeremiah to tell the people of Judah some bad news. God was preparing to pronounce judgment on Judah for their faithlessness. They willingly submitted to foreign gods and turned their back on Him. Jeremiah was called to speak a word of warning to the people: Babylonia was coming to rule over Judah.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want this job. Jeremiah says, “But sir, I’m a nobody.” He knows that he’s too young and inexperienced to stand against the rulers of Judah. And yet God assures him: “I will be with you. I will give you my word in your mouth. I will protect you. They will not overcome you with me at your side.”
Would you answer “Yes” if you had that kind of assurance? Would you step forth, trusting that the CEO would protect you as you carried out his work? It doesn’t matter how young, or how old, we are: sometimes the things we are asked to do seem to be outside our ability to do it. How many of us would be willing to preach a sermon if our pastor asked us to step up and do so? How many of us would be willing to go to the city council to demand help with an issue your church is experiencing? How many of us would tell the president, or king, or other ruler that they are doing something against God’s Word? We think we are nobody, and we don’t think we can get anything accomplished.
But if God asks us to do it, will we do it anyway? Will we trust that God provides us with all we need no matter what we face?
Last week we watched as Jesus stood up in the synagogue in His hometown and told the people that the scripture about the Messiah was being fulfilled in their presence. He then added that they wouldn’t get it. They would miss the truth. They would not believe in Him. He told them that they would reject the one for whom they were waiting. They were impressed and astonished at His first lesson, and then angry and upset at His second. They were so offended that they tried to drive Him over a cliff to His death. He escaped and went on to another town to teach.
In Capernaum, Jesus went to the synagogue and taught another congregation. They were astonished by His; they heard the authority in His voice and in His word. In the congregation was a man who had a demon. The demon spoke out against Jesus. The demon identified Jesus as the Holy One of God. Isn’t it interesting that in the previous passage, Jesus identified Himself as the Messiah, but He knew that they wouldn’t believe, but in Capernaum He rebuked the demon for saying the same thing in a place where people might believe?
The demon left the man at the word of Jesus, and the people were amazed. “Who is this and what is this word that he speaks? He has power and authority even over the demons.” The word got out into the region about the things Jesus could do, and the people came to Jesus for more. The demons kept crying out “You are the Son of God,” but Jesus did not allow them to tell the people that He was the Christ. Jesus was not yet ready to be identified as the Messiah. He had too much work to do.
It must have been overwhelming for Jesus to have so many people seeking His healing touch. I think about the scene from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” when Jesus is confronted by lepers, cripples and beggars, all wanting to be healed. He is crushed by their need, and he angrily tells the crowd to heal themselves. I am not sure what Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber intended with this scene, but I see it as having come from the stories from Luke 4. Was Jesus overwhelmed? Perhaps. But there’s something more to these stories about Jesus being unable in Nazareth and being overwhelmed in Capernaum.
In Luke 4:43, Jesus says, “I must preach the good tidings of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for therefore was I sent.” The people of Capernaum did not want Jesus to leave because He was making a real difference in their lives. He was healing their sick and He was casting out the demons. I wouldn’t want Him to go, either. However, Jesus knew that His work was more than healing. He came to preach the Kingdom of God. The good news is more than what God can do for us today, in this world. It is more than what God can give to us. It is more than how God can protect us.
God’s Word says we are His children and inheritors of His Kingdom. Yet, we do not take Him at His Word; we desire physical blessings as proof. We are more concerned with flesh and blood than we are eternal consequences and promises. Jesus did not want the people to know He was the Messiah because they were looking for a Messiah who would sit on a throne and be king over a sovereign nation as Israel had once been. They wanted a king who would fill their bellies, fight their enemies and make their life golden.
Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. The message of God’s kingdom was different. It was eternal. He came to restore God’s people to their Father, not return the nation to a glory day.
This is what we see in the story of Simon’s mother-in-law. After Jesus left the synagogue where He cast out the demon from the man, He visited the home of Peter. Simon Peter’s wife’s mother was ill with a fever. She was sick in bed, separated from her family and her work by her illness. Jesus went to her, rebuked the fever and she was made well. Luke tells us that she “immediately rose up and ministered unto them.” Most of us look at that and think, “The woman has been sick, can’t they give her some time to recuperate now that the fever is gone?” But I like the use of the word “minister” in this translation. Jesus restored her health, but He also restored her to her place in the Kingdom. He made her well so she could continue to minister to the people, to follow her calling, to do her work. Jesus didn’t come to make things golden, He came to make things right.
He doesn’t call us to make things golden; He calls us to make things right.
“But God, who am I to do that? Who will listen to me? How can I saw what you want me to say? How can I make a difference?”
We are so much like Jeremiah. Though we may not be young, we have our own excuses for arguing with God about the work He is calling us to do. Abraham and Sarah thought they were too old. Moses didn’t think he was eloquent enough. Jonah was angry and didn’t want to share God’s grace with his enemy. We argue, too. Are we too busy? Too sick? Too tired? Are we too young or old? Are we the wrong gender? Are we in the wrong place? Is this the wrong time? We think we know better than God, and so we offer Him our reasons why His plan just won’t work.
But He doesn’t choose us because we are the right age, or because we have the right gifts. He doesn’t call us because it fits into our schedule or because He thinks we are strong enough. He chooses us and gives us everything we need to make His work happen.
We saw that in the scripture from Paul’s letter last week. God chooses us and makes us apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles or healings, helpers, leaders, or speakers of divers kinds of tongues. He gives us the gifts to do those tasks.
Now, there were those in Corinth who thought that their gifts were better and more important, but Paul reminded them that all are needed. God created the perfect machine when He created the Church, but we tend to think we know better than God and we try to fit people into the wrong roles. We agree with one another’s assessments that we are too young, old, busy or whatever else excuse we want to use. We do not try to help one another discover the gifts or the callings that God has established for each of us. We define one another by our expectations rather than God.
But it just might be that the young man is meant to be the preacher or the old woman is meant to travel as a missionary. It just might be that the person who is bedridden has been called to accomplish a great work in this world. Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; He just calls us to be faithful and obedient, without excuse, trusting that He will provide us everything we need.
The passage from Paul provides us with a word of caution. The gifts of God given wrongly are of no help and have no power. Paul says that prophetic voice is nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal if it does not have love. This passage, often used in the marriage ceremony has a much deeper purpose. It is not just about the romantic love between a man and a woman, but is about the love of God that is manifest through the Church which He created. The words of this ‘love chapter’ that are used so often at weddings may mean something very special on that day, but what marriage is perfect. Are we really able to avoid breaking some of the exhortations? Are we always patient with our spouse? Are we always kind? Do we really manage to live together without envy, boasting, arrogance or rudeness? Unfortunately, we all have moments when we demand our own way, when we are irritable and resentful. We can probably all think of a time when we have even rejoiced in wrongdoing.
But love—the love of God—bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love—the love of God—never ends. So, we are reminded by this passage that though we have amazing and powerful gifts from God, everything of God is to be built on the love of God. Our words are meaningless if they are not said in love. The gifts are given to be a blessing to the Church and to the world. But they are nothing without love. Paul told the Corinthians that they were missing the most important gift of all: love. Everything else was meaningless if they did not lay it on the foundation of love.
Love is patient. The American Standard version says, “love sufferth long.” It endures hardship for the sake of another. The perfect example of this is God. Imagine if God were as ‘patient’ with our faults as we are with the faults of others? We would not have the story of Jesus. God would have lost patience with us long before He was able to complete His plan. It is harder for us, unless we approach all things with love. This does not mean that we sit back and allow the world to step on us, but it does mean that we deal with them as God deals with us: with love. We give kindness where it is undeserved. We do not covet that which belongs to another. We do not respond with rudeness.
God starts with love. He loves us. He calls us. He gifts us with everything we need. God knows us better than we know ourselves, because He has known us even before He formed us in our mothers womb. And we go forth in faith, obediently fulfilling our calling in the world, even if it seems to be a ridiculous task. God knows our failing. He knows exactly when we should not be the one He is asking to do that work. But He also knows how to use our imperfections to His glory. We don’t know what to say, but it is God’s words we speak. And because we speak God’s words, they are filled with power and authority.
The thing to remember is to approach everything you do from the reality that is Gods’ presence in your life. The psalmist writes, “In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge: Let me never be put to shame.” We take refuge in and deal with the world from there. Like Jeremiah, we might have to speak tough words to the people. Like Jesus, we might have to leave those who are expecting the wrong things from us. But as we dwell in love, in God’s heart, and do what He has called us to do, we will find ourselves in the right place at the right time doing the right thing to make the world right, according to God’s word.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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