Epiphany 4, 2022 – Sermon

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71: 1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30
January 30, 2022
St. Mary’s Regina
Epiphany 4
Year C 

            Faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is Love.  Faith, hope and love…these three remain…outlast all other things, but the greatest of these is Love. These words are beautiful words, familiar words. They hold a truth that most of us appreciate and value. The truth is that love is very powerful.  

L-O-V-E is one of the most over used words in our English language.  We use the word Love to describe the things in our life for which we feel passion and there is quite a range of things that we love.  We love certain foods, sports, activities, books and of course, people.  I love chocolate and I love my family but the two feelings are hardly comparable.  And yet we use the same four letter word to describe them both. 

We sing about love…we write stories about love. We talk about love…we think about love….and we pray about love.  Love, and our understanding of it, makes a lot of difference to us.  There is nothing else quite like it.

Love is pervasive; a powerful and extensive force in our lives.  St. Paul points out that to love is better than accumulating knowledge.  To love is more productive than understanding all mysteries.  To love is more powerful than the faith that can move mountains.  Love has the power to transform the most difficult situations and redeem them.  

            The most common prayers in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples around the world are prayers about love.  We ask God to help us to love each other.  We ask God to show us love.  We thank God for the love that we have found, and we urge God to bring about love between nations and peoples. 

            That is our prayer, regardless of how we express our faith and yet when love appears unexpectedly in our lives, we are usually astonished by it.  And we often try to turn that love aside…..to reject it and all its possibilities.  

            In today’s gospel reading, the people of Nazareth become angry with Jesus when he tells them how God loved the widow of Zarephath and cured the leper Naaman…people who were outsiders and strangers to the worship of the Lord.  They are certain that they know what and WHO God loves and so they are closed to Jesus’ revelation that God loves all people….not just the chosen ones, not just Israel.  Their resentment and anger explode at Jesus and they close their hearts to the transforming possibilities of love that he offers.  They are like a person who is good and beautiful and kind and yet who is alone and afraid and sad.  They want more than anything to be loved, but they refuse to accept that love when it is offered for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps they don’t think that they are lovable.  Maybe they have been hurt deeply by someone they loved and are afraid of opening themselves, once again, to the possibility of loving and being loved.  Whatever the reasons, they close themselves off from the very thing that they need most. 

            We all probably know someone like this….maybe it’s us.  We want love….we need love, but we cannot accept love, not even God’s love, if we don’t think that we are deserving.  

            Today, I’d like us all to think about love and about the disbelief, the resentment and the astonishment we have when love is offered to us or to our neighbours. And I would like us to think about our sense of who is loveable and who is not…who is worthy and who is not. 

            As a way of helping us think about these things, I want to look briefly at today’s reading from Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is listening as God tells him that he is known and loved by God.  Jeremiah, like all of us, has been loved by God since the time before he was formed in his mother’s womb.  Not only has God loved Jeremiah all this time, but God wants…has chosen Jeremiah to be Israel’s prophet.  God wants Jeremiah to be the man who speaks to the nations in the name of God and by speaking the words God gives him, will uproot and tear down and destroy and overthrow that which is bad, and build and plant that which is good in its place.  

            God offers Jeremiah the opportunity to do important work.  God chooses Jeremiah as an  instrument to bring good things into being….and did you notice how Jeremiah responds?  Jeremiah tells God that he isn’t ready for this favour….that he is too young….that he doesn’t know how to speak well enough.   In other words, what Jeremiah is saying is that God is wrong to choose him, wrong to call him, wrong to favour him in this way.  Jeremiah, like most of us, wanted a relationship with God…..to experience the healing presence of God in his life. And yet when presented with the opportunity for this to happen, he tried to reject the most important thing God was going to do with him….for him….through him.  

            Maybe there were other reasons Jeremiah tried to avoid the call of God.  Perhaps he didn’t want to respond because he was too busy with other things in his life. Maybe he was discouraged by the way things were going his world.  Perhaps he thought that the work…what God was asking of him was too hard or dangerous. Perhaps he felt tired, confused and undeserving of God’s love. He was, after all, just a boy.   Whatever his hesitation, his resistance to what God has chosen for him is similar to the resistance many of us have to being loved….whether it is by God or by the people around us.  

            There are people who question the love that others have for them.  It’s as if we feel deep within our souls, that somehow, we are not good enough to be loved…..that somehow we don’t deserve it and shouldn’t have it.  Then we miss or reject the opportunity to experience the transforming power of love.

            God listens to Jeremiah….to his doubts and fears and then does something amazing. God reassures him because God knows and loves Jeremiah….in fact has always loved him. That knowledge that God never stops offering us his love is an important nugget for us to hold on to today because it brings wholeness to our lives in spite of our excuses.  God is just as persistent with us as he was with Jeremiah because God knows how much WE need to know that we are loved by God.  And so God constantly offers us that life giving love in the hope that we will embrace it and walk with God.  

God knows who we really are; as intimately as Jeremiah was known in his mother’s womb. We are  precious and important to God.  We are accepted. We are loved by God.  Think for a moment of how you have changed and grown because you have felt the love of someone. (pause) Love powerfully transforms us and our transformation is shared by those around us. We are changed by love.

Jesus came to restore our relationship with God and to save us from our sinful ways. Jesus was sent to show us the breadth of God’s unconditional love in the flesh.  That unconditional love transforms the lives of everyone who is willing to risk being loved, regardless of who they are or what they have done with their lives.  Those who say yes to him allow that love to permeate their souls and they are renewed by it. We can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. 

God wants us to accept the call to be loved and then share our love wherever we find ourselves.  God wants us to accept that we are worthy.  God wants us to experience the joy of loving ourselves and being loved in return because through that love we can find wholeness…wholeness for ourselves and for others.  We are then free to love with extravagant grace, mercy and compassion within all the relationships of our lives.

During the last two years, the pandemic has disrupted our daily lives and rhythms.  We have struggled to make sense of the world around us that no longer feels as safe as before.  We have to follow health directives that have challenged us in ways that we have never imagined.  Our lives have become smaller. We have created “bubbles” of people that we can see and that has left many of our friends and acquaintances beyond our physical reach.  I am acutely that our sense of community here at St. Mary’s is suffering; that you are feeling sad, frustrated, lonely, and some of you are losing heart.  What’s the use of belonging if we cannot be together? What’s the use if we can’t worship together in person?  How do we maintain our connection with God and each other when we cannot even see each other?  In other words, how do we “hang on” during these hard times, when all around us, life is less than wonderful? 

“This, too, shall pass” is my personal mantra these days, because I have lived long enough to know that nothing…nothing except God…remains the same.  The pandemic will either end or will become less infectious so that we can coexist.  As that happens, our lives will return to what becomes NORMAL afterwards.  We cannot go back to the way life was before the pandemic because that life has changed. We have already seen areas where deficiencies exist. Changes need to be made that insure that all of us have a better quality of life.  

Life within St. Mary’s has changed too.  It’s hard on all of us when we cannot come together on a weekly basis to worship and catch up with each other.  People we care about have died, or are no longer able to come to church. The children have been missing from worship and I have missed getting to know them during my time with you. This is a hard time! Please DO NOT SLIP AWAY FROM THIS COMMUNITY during this discouraging time.  We need to stay together and support each other.  God created us to be resilient.  You can see it throughout the New Testament in the letters from St. Paul and others. Jesus tells us not to worry…God cares and love you. So, as a reminder or refresher, spend some time reading the scriptures and then call some parish friends and talk it over with them or reflect on your relationship with God. What is God saying to you during this time?  We are in this community together and each of you is an important part of who we are because we are a collective; we are the body of Christ and that matters in the midst of this pandemic.  God will never abandon us and we cannot allow discouragement to cause us to abandon this community.  Let’s pull together and reach out to each other. If you have suggestions as to how we can improve our online worship, so that it is more meaningful for the community, please call me. I know it is a poor substitute, but until further notice, it is what we have available to us. Maybe there are other things that can be different when we again gather together.  What does God intend for St. Mary’s in the coming years?  Maybe this is the time we have been given to listen, reflect and renew ourselves in light of His abiding love.  Hang in there and this too shall pass. I promise.

God is still in control of our lives…even in these COVID times.  So let us take a deep breath and rest in these words from Jesus recorded in John 14:23, 27: “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with them.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” In His name and for His sake. AMEN