A sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, January 31, 2016
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Today’s Epistle lesson is St. Paul’s great hymn in praise of love. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he has been discussing spiritual gifts and he arrives at the end of his discussion and points out than the one spiritual gift worth having is love. I don’t know about anyone here, but when I look at these characteristics of love, I see that I can be occasionally a little irritable, sometimes just a little arrogant—and don’t ask my wife about the rude part. The love of God is something that we don’t always fully live into.
God’s love is always here for us, but our own love, and the love of Christians is not something that is automatic or something we can take for granted. Living together in a Christian community requires patience and forbearance, because someone is always going to be irritable, or resentful, or insist on their own way. Love rejoices in the truth—not the truth of telling others what’s wrong with them—but the truth of knowing the depths of God’s love for everyone, the truth of Jesus’ love for us and his giving himself for us.
Last week there was a little snow. And it was tough, if not outright dangerous, for most people to join us in church. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hear my sermon because last week’s Gospel is the first part of our Gospel for today, so here is some of it again:
Jesus opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, the sixty-first chapter, where the prophet announces the hopeful message of God’s redemption for Israel, his summons for them to return from exile. Jesus teaches the meaning of the text, and that meaning is himself. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That scripture that they heard said: “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…”
So is the Good News of God’s love mainly for the poor? Could be. Certainly the song that Jesus mother sang before he was born says, “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.”
It is significant, of course, that he starts with the poor. Those who get the least respect, are just as entitled to full honor and respect as those who presume that they are the ONES who are entitled. It is not so, that some are entitled to honor and others can be dismissed. ALL are worthy of our respect. ALL of us have God’s respect and love, right now. Jesus is telling us that—the challenge is to us, and to everyone—how do we respect the ones who God loves and respects, particularly those who are pushed to the side, dishonored in their social status, or physical disability, or their place on the economic ladder. God gives us freedom, what do we do with it?
In today’s Gospel, the congregation hears that, and they nod their heads, and say, “Yeah, pretty good.” They probably think that THEY are the poor and the Good News is just for them. But then they look at Jesus, and they say, “Wait a minute, this is just that carpenter’s son, what gives him authority?” But Jesus explains a little more: “the prophet Elijah brought that good news to a widow outside of Israel, not to those inside, and when it came to curing lepers, the prophet Elisha cured Naaman, who was a Syrian, not any of his own people.” The Gospel spreads far beyond those that we are in our own town, the love of God extends far beyond where we ourselves are comfortable.
When the congregation realized that Jesus was saying things other than what they wanted to hear, they did what any self-respecting congregation would do—they took the young preacher out and prepared to throw him off a cliff.
“Love does not insist on its own way; … it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Jesus is the love of God. He had spoken the truth at home, and he had much more to do, so he slipped away. Living in the love of God can be a slippery thing. We like to divide the world into good guys and bad guys, and then simplify things by seeing only our own group as good. God’s love is bigger than ours. We are called to grow, not in our own way, or in winning more so that others lose, but in the love that rejoices in the truth.
St. Paul says, “Love never ends.” That means that our growth and change in love never ends—we are challenged by Jesus, and just as we have ahold of him, he slips away to teach more love. We think we know the will of God, but Paul teaches us, “as for knowledge, it will come to an end. …Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Jesus preaches to us, the Good News to the Poor, and we know what he means, we know the poor, we know how many deserve respect who don’t get it. But yet, we also know that Good News because he makes us uncomfortable and challenges all of us, to learn to extend our love further, to examine ourselves and live more deeply in God’s love.
“Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”