Readings for Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 28th January 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek


Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 28th January 2007

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

It can be argued and in fact has been, that Jesus was a religious man; it’s also been argued that he believed in God. Yet in today’s Gospel we learn that when he spoke, the church of the day, the keepers of the faith, the synagogue, the believers, were filled with rage and they threw him out. Why was that - it’s well worth contemplating – how could he have been so misunderstood? What was it that enraged the faithful churchgoers, and after two thousand years is the situation still the same?

Perhaps the church today, like the believers in the Gospel synagogue, has a faith perspective that is so far from the divine revelation that is spoken in Christ that we too would be enraged if we heard it. The church was enraged when Galilleo discovered the world was round and not the centre of the universe; when Wilberforce sought to abolish slavery the church was enraged; the church was enraged and much of it still is when the feminist movement sought equality for women and today the church closes its ranks to deny the full humanity of homosexuals. These examples and many, many, many others provide a clue to why the church was and is enraged at the revelation of the divine, enraged by the word of God. And we know why – we feel safe when things don’t change; we feel secure when we know what is right and when we know we are right. It’s a simple delusion and it’s there for us to believe that we’re in control and immortal. The synagogue, like the church today, takes the delusion one step further. It provides a sanctuary of added security for it also knows God, and the Church is right with God and can therefore, by inclusion and exclusion exercise a power and a rightness and a control that is, unless questioned, deemed to be of divine origin.

The readings today are a cause for disturbance; perhaps the readings today are a call for disturbance. The opening words of Jeremiah is the word of God coming to the prophet: ‘Now the word of the LORD came to me saying’ - this is the divine word given human voice, in other words this is an Old Testament incarnation of Jesus, this is Jesus before the nativity, the word taking on human voice: ‘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”.’ Rather than accept what the church sells as a personal relationship with Jesus as your Saviour, why not contemplate the prophetic, the Christ-like word, spoken to Jeremiah? ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you.’ Seek to know who you are – the ‘you’ before you were born, the ‘you’ that was consecrated, alongside and along with every other human being. In the seeking of our consecrated selves, we too might uncover within ourselves the word that Jeremiah heard: ‘I appoint you’ - no one else – ‘I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

No wonder the church was filled with rage – the divine word is talking about change, about us, ourselves, as being participators in change and more so, as being creators of change. Just when we thought that all was well and we were already doing the right thing, so the divine voice calls us, consecrates us and appoints us to pluck up, to pull down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build and to plant.

It’s amazing that we’re just beginning to hear that climate change will require us to make changes yet we still haven’t heard the word of God revealed in Christ 2000 years ago, another word that asks of us to make changes for the life of the whole. Why is that? Well because it’s so hard, it is not easy. Like Jeremiah we too will respond: ‘Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ Truly I don’t know what to do, what can I do, I’m only one person.

And it’s exactly the same dilemma that Paul seems to have wrestled with: ‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, I am a noisy gong.’ But hope, hope that we will each and together find our true voice. Hope is born in faith, that’s why we’ve got that little line in Jeremiah, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, for I am with you to deliver you.’ It might not be easy, but there is hope – not a hope to be waited for, a hope to be realized. And Paul speaks of exactly the same ‘I am with you’, which he attributes to love: ‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong’. But ‘do not be afraid for I am with you’ in Jeremiah, is realised in Paul as knowing that his voice will carry and bring creation if, if I have love. The Gospel passage on love is just like the prophetic illustration of Jeremiah. What it does is it points to where we come from, that place within ourselves that we speak into being. The line at the burning bush, Moses is standing there, he asks ‘Well who are you?’ He asks the obvious and natural question – in order to be in relationship with another we need to know the other. So Moses says who are you and what he gets back - this is the divine answer, ‘I am who I am.’

What we need to do is to find a place within where we can give voice to our true selves, that we may be known as an ‘I Am’ before ‘God, I Am’. Paul attributes the process, the dynamic, the energy, the breath that gives voice to our true being as Love. Not the twenty-first century understanding of ‘Love Actually’, but the love that consecrated us before we were born. Sounds like some Zen puzzle – you’ve almost got to picture the old Kung Fu TV series: we stand before someone – ‘who’s Kung Fu, ah grasshopper’, words of wisdom being handed down. We need to first of all find a place in us where we can be small enough to do that, to know that we do not hold the answers and the control of everything, to be open to a force and a power greater than ourselves. It’s the gift of Global Warming. We blindly go along in life until weather patterns change and someone points out that it could be because of the way we live. ‘Oh? Nah!’ Ten years later it becomes more obvious: ‘No I don’t think it’s that, I think it’s something else. Ten years after that and suddenly the penny drops: ‘Maybe it is, maybe it is.’ If we could only find the same space to approach the divine.

Paul speaks of love as the creative expression of the divine – God is Love - in the beginning was the Word. Genesis tells of creation having been spoken into being, the divine word moved over the waters of chaos and drew into being, out of love, all that is created. So hope - what is hope - hope is our future orientation, that to which we look. Hope is to be found in faith. Faith is our knowing of ourselves in relation with the divine I AM: not knowing ourselves as churchgoers, as the people who go to the synagogue, no, knowing of ourselves in relation with the divine I AM, and then our future orientation, our hope, is expressed, it is given voice in and through love. What is said, the place from where I speak, is an expression of tomorrow: it tells of where I am, it tells of where I am going, it tells of what I am creating.

The gospel gives expression to the creative revelation of God in Christ and it’s an expression that is found and passed on to us in the person of Jesus. The Gospel says, ‘All were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ And we shouldn’t be surprised about that: this is the divine enfleshed, so the voice that is spoken is the word of creation. We too would be amazed at the gracious words that would come from that mouth, and yet they were the gracious words that filled the church with rage, words that called forth change, asked of others creative activity, called forth new life, that called forth a new tomorrow: now, January 28th, I have put my words into your mouth. As the word of the Lord appointed Jeremiah, so too the Word Made Flesh appoints us: ‘I have put my words in your mouth. I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms.’ I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms. Let’s stop looking towards the nations and the kingdoms for the answers – it’s us – ‘I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, and I appoint you to pluck up and to pull down.’ If we look deep within we know what does need plucking up and pulling down. ‘I appoint you to destroy and to overthrow’ - I doubt many of us need that many clues as to what could be destroyed and overthrown, it’s obvious, it’s stunningly obvious. ‘I appoint you to build up and to plant’ - it’s a wonderful realization – we are appointed to create hope, through faith, by giving voice to divine love. And giving voice to divine love is our creative expression of life.

‘Before I formed you in the womb’, each and every one of you, each and every other, ‘I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’