Love, love love. The greatest of these is love, Paul says. We’re talking about love and we’re talking about God’s calling of Jeremiah as a prophet and the calling of Jesus into his ministry and how the folks in his hometown felt about it.
If you’ve ever been to a wedding in an Episcopal Church, or almost any church wedding anywhere, you’ve probably heard at least part of I Corinthians Chapter 13. It’s known as the ‘love chapter.’ It’s a wonderful reading to use at weddings but the context of the chapter is somewhat different than marriage. Last week we read the portion of chapter 12 that just precedes our reading for today. If you remember, Paul had been listing all the various gifts given to members in the church and comparing the church to the body of Christ. He’s tried to help the church in Corinth let go of the competition about who has what gift and which gifts are better than others. The members had a hierarchy of gifts and were all working to ‘get’ the gifts they felt were most important.
Paul closed chapter twelve with these words: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way…” And then Paul begins our reading for today – “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…”
THE most important gift we each possess is love. THE most necessary gift for the body of Christ is for us to love one another and love the world. Everything else, really and truly, will take care of itself. Love, love, love. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love. Jesus told us that the most important commands are for us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. If we have love, we have everything.
Of course, each of us has been gifted to serve the world and the church. And God wants us to use our gifts to build the kingdom. Jeremiah receives his call in the Old Testament reading for today. Jeremiah is not ready to accept his call – he’s afraid of what God is asking of him and tries to put God off by claiming to be just a child. “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak,” he says. God reassures Jeremiah, just as God reassures us when we are afraid of claiming God’s call, “I am with you.” We have nothing to fear – we’re doing God’s work and God will supply what we need to get the work accomplished. God touched the mouth of Jeremiah and gave him the words to speak. God will touch us giving us just what we need.
Jesus is convinced of his call to ministry, but the people of his hometown are less convinced. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” the people ask when Jesus amazes them with his teaching in the Synagogue. Meaning, perhaps, where did he get his education? With which Rabbi did Jesus study? Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus wasn’t trained as a Rabbi’s son. The unasked question is: Who does Jesus think he is? And when Jesus reminds the people that God chooses whom God chooses, without regard to who people are or their standing in the community; when Jesus reminds them of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman of Syria, the people are ready to throw him off a cliff. How dare he remind them of the gentiles God chose…
God will call whom God will call to do whatever work God wants done. We don’t always see what God is doing. And we don’t always understand what we do see. The most important gift we need to exercise is love. If we love, we’ll have patience to wait on God and see what God is going to do. If we love, we’ll have the patience to wait for understanding before we speak and act.
Today’s lessons are an important grounding for the work that will be done here in 2019. The Celebration of the Arts will end this May – with the expectation that St. David’s will always be involved in the arts somehow. This ending will bring up strong feelings. The Celebration has been one of the definitive activities of this parish. Who you will be cannot be separated from who you have been. Hopes unrealized and fears of the future will come up. We will need to love each other in order to work through all of it. We began our conversation about the future at the Annual Meeting last week. We’ll meet again at the end of March or beginning of April, as a parish, to continue that discussion. Bring your hopes and dreams and fears and a large dose of love.
Let there be no doubt that God is involved in your process and that God will lead you all the way as you move into your future. God loves us. God loves you. God loves me. And God wants us to love each other and the world as God loves us all. Love, love, love.
May God give us the grace to respond to his call, individually and as a parish, the strength and courage to live into it, and enough love to make it a good and joyful thing. Amen.