Jeremiah 1:4-10 – Call of Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy… You will go where I send you. Do not be afraid, I am with you.”
Psalm 71:1-6 – In you, Lord I take refuge, let me never be put to shame. Be my rock.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 – The love chapter. After I Cor. 12 Paul says he will show a more excellent way. Paul says without love, even faith isn’t enough.
Luke 4:21-30 – Jesus in his hometown synagogue, part 2. He almost gets thrown off a cliff. No prophet is without honor, except in his own hometown.
The Call of Jeremiah
The Old Testament reading is the Call of Jeremiah. The epistle text is 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. The gospel readings for this and last Sunday are Jesus in his hometown.
The call of Jeremiah is a fantastic text to read when the gospel reading is Jesus in his own hometown. They don’t respect Jesus: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” In fact, when all is said and done, they take him to a cliff, intending to throw him off. Jeremiah:
Now 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; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today 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.”
Jeremiah, יִרְמְיָהוּ, the second of the major Hebrew prophets, is credited with writing not only Jeremiah, but 1 Kings, 2 Kings and Lamentations. He is also considered a major prophet in Islam. His ministry runs from the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign (626 B.C.) to the Babylonian Captivity (587 B.C.). He spans the reigns of five kings.
Jeremiah tells his call story. All pastors and deacons should consider telling their call story once a year or so. It’s real. It’s personal. This may be the time to tell your own call story. How did you sense God’s call to ministry? How did you resist? What pushback did you get? How might you invite people to discern their own call to ministry? In baptism, we are all called to ministry. Help me see that. Help me know how I might sense my own call to ministry. How can I know when the Spirit is nudging?
Jeremiah hears the call of God, and resists it. “I don’t know how to speak.” “I’m just a boy – too young.” Most people I’ve known have, at one time or another, resisted their call. God regularly calls people to do big things. Once we get a glimpse of it, if we have a realistic idea of our capabilities, we cannot help but feel overwhelmed. The congregation will not have much difficulty identifying with this. Tell stories of those who have felt overwhelmed by their calling.
Jeremiah calls out Israel’s decadence and idolatry. Like Jesus, Jeremiah warns what will happen to the nation if they don’t turn from their current course. Like Jesus, they try to kill Jeremiah many times. He is attacked by his own brothers. He is beaten, put in stocks, thrown in prison, and more. Like Jesus, he is ultimately unable to stop the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah is worried about how his message will be received and how people will receive him. In a verse a bit further than our current passage, God comforts Jeremiah:
They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you,
for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
Jeremiah 1:19, NRSV
I actually prefer the Yoda-like translation from the Anchor Bible:
Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t.
Jeremiah 1:19a, The Anchor Bible
Jeremiah was very committed to his calling. He did not marry or have children. He did not attend weddings or funerals. He likely didn’t drink or go to parties. How committed are we to our calling? I have a friend who gave up his job to become a missionary in Africa. What sacrifices are we willing to make to fulfill our calling?
Jeremiah has a love-hate relationship with his calling.
O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
And yet, this calling is compelling:
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
Jeremiah finds trouble throughout his ministry. Jesus’ calling leads him to the cross. God often calls us to do hard things. One pastor said, “Show me one place in the Bible where God asks someone to do something easy…” God’s calling may bring joy and purpose, but nowhere are we promised that it will be easy. Only that God will be with us. “Attack you they will. Overcome you they cannot.”
How about you? Could it be that God is calling? What is your divine destiny? Could it be that God knew you, and called you, even when you were in your mother’s womb?
1 Corinthians 13: Love
It’s really hard to even consider not preaching this text, the entire 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. It may be Paul’s finest writing. Paul Wilson says if Paul has written nothing else, this chapter alone would have guaranteed him a place in literary history.
This text gets read at nearly every wedding, and yet it is not about marriage. It is about the gospel. This text grounds my own theology. Jesus seemed to place love at the center of things:
Jesus taught the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor.
On these two rest all the law and the prophets.
Jesus identifies love as the identifying mark of discipleship:
By this shall all people know you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Lest we think love is a sentimental feeling, Jesus clarifies:
Greater love has no one than this: that you lay down your life your friends.
True love is putting others’ needs ahead of your own. True love is sacrificial. Jesus showed us this on the cross.
John picks up this theology. In what is possibly the best known verse of the Bible, John says,
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son… (John 3:16)
Lots of people know John 3:16, but few know 1 John 3:16:
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
1 John 4:7-8:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.
These are strong words. Whoever does not love, does not know God. God IS love. This is powerful theology. It transcends even a theology of justification by Grace through faith as we shall see.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul extols the supremacy of love. It is more important than speaking in tongues, or preaching with eloquence. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” He goes on to say the same about prophecy, wisdom, and knowledge. But the most stunning thing is yet to come. Love is more critical than even faith.
Even if I have enough faith to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Paul is known for his theology of justification by grace through faith. Still, here he says love is more important. He quotes Jesus:
For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move… (Matthew 17:20)
Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. (Mark 11:23)
The thing is, Matthew and Mark were not written in Paul’s lifetime. So where did Paul get this clear quote of Jesus? The Gospel of Thomas (a non-canonical gospel discovered near Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945), Saying 106, says something similar:
Jesus says: “When you make the two one, you will become sons of Man and if you say: ‘Mountain, move!’, it will move.”
But Thomas is likely even later than Matthew or Mark. It is possible that Paul is quoting a proto-gospel or sayings source, like Q. More likely, he is quoting oral tradition.
In the second section, Paul goes on to describe the nature of love. His words are aspirational. Paul describes a love he himself cannot attain. Love is patient. Kind. Not jealous, boastful, arrogant or rude. Its not irritable. It doesn’t insist on its own way.
In the final section Paul says that while everything will pass away, love is eternal. In the end, only three things abide: faith, hope and love. They are, for Paul, the only things that endured or matter in life. But they are no coequal in majesty. The greatest of these is love.
Whenever I read 1 Corinthians 13 I think of Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet. Unlike 1 Corinthians 13, 116 is about love in marriage, but it so poetically articulates the unconditional nature of true love, it is worth mention:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
Love does not alter. It looks upon tempests and is not shaken. Love bears it out to the edge of doom.
It seems clear that Shakespeare is drawing upon 1 Corinthians 13.
Homecoming 2: Today this Scripture Has Been Fulfilled
Last week we read about the kickoff of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism and time in the wilderness. He headed up to Galilee, where he arrived at his hometown congregation and read from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Today’s gospel reading continues that story with the words Jesus said after he sat down. “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first the hometown folks are impressed. Amazed even, Luke tells us. Wow. They’re surprised even. “Isn’t this Joseph’s kid?” Shades of Jeremiah.
Thomas E. Boomershine ruminates on these stories at gotell.org, a website dedicated to biblical storytelling for a global village: http://gotell.org/pdf/commentary/Luke/Lk04_21-30_commentary.pdf
Boomershine says Jesus’ listeners believe the kingdom of God means Israel will be comforted and Israel’s enemies will be destroyed. In other words: “We” will win. “They” will get their comeuppance. Jesus then goes on to make a point. The kingdom isn’t just for them. It’s much, much bigger. To illustrate the point he brings up two stories his listeners know well, one about Elijah and one about Elisha.
Elijah feeds the widow of Zarephath, who previously fed him (1 Kings 17). Zarephath is a Syro-Phoenician town in Sidon, along the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, she is a Gentile woman. Jesus begins with a story about God blessing a Gentile. It is as if Jesus is taunting them by saying, “There were plenty of widows in Elijah’s day, but God sent Elijah to one, a Gentile. So just put that in your pipe and smoke it for a bit.”
Then, in case they’ve missed his point, he went on and brought up Elisha and Namaan, another Gentile. Namaan was the Syrian general who had leprosy. Elisha tells him to go bathe in the Jordan River. At first Namaan balks: “Are not Syria’s rivers good enough?” In time, however, he is convinced, and indeed does go bathe in the Jordan as Elisha instructed. He is healed. Once, again, God’s healing and blessing falls upon the Gentiles. God breaks in to bring healing to the enemies of Israel.
If Israel is doing things right, they will be a light to the nations, a blessing to the Gentiles. God loves all people. It’s not about some winning and others losing. This is not what they want to hear. Jesus’ listeners don’t like it. They are so offended they want to throw him off a cliff.
Imagine standing on the steps of the South Carolina State Capitol in, say, 1860, and saying God had sent you to proclaim freedom to the African slaves. This is not an exact metaphor of course, but you get the point. Jesus’ hometown folks were enraged by his audacity. “But he seemed like such a nice boy…”
And so we get a sense of Jesus’ radical gospel from the outset. It means salvation and healing for all, even our enemies. Jesus’ people respond with rage. His life is in mortal danger. He finds a way to get out of it. For now. Still, this is foreshadowing.
How will our people respond to discover that God loves Muslims and Hindus every bit as much as Christians? How will they respond to the good news that God loves those in prison? That God desperately loves the poor? That God loves immigrants, even illegal immigrants? How will we respond upon discovering that God is about reconciliation and healing, not just for our tribe, but for all nations?
This Jesus will put us out of our comfort zone, make us squirm. And I think to myself, if our congregations aren’t squirming a little bit (or maybe a lot), then perhaps we haven’t fully conveyed the Good News.