SERMON: 4 Epiphany C 2 3 19
Jer1:4-10; Ps71:1-6; 1Cor13:1-13; Lk4:21-30
By a happy accident Molly and I were taken to Mohonk Mountain House for her birthday within a week of our moving to Poughkeepsie 13 years ago. We've gone back for her birthday almost every year since and we've developed a routine of going for a row on the lake, eating their marvelous lunch, walking up the trail to the watch tower, then walking back to the lodge on a more gentle trail, stopping at the reservoir pond, then returning to the lodge for some very refined tea or coffee and cookies.
But when we go by the reservoir we always check out the bullfrogs. They are the largest frogs I've ever seen, with bright yellow throats and stomachs, and in June, as you might imagine, they are pretty intent on reproducing. So they are croaking their little hearts out. Or maybe it's more bleating or honking.
I have always been fascinated by amphibians and reptiles. It's a long story and I won't get into a lot of detail, but these squirmy, wiggling, jumping animals have always drawn my interest.
Anyway, would you like to guess my first thought when I viewed today's Hebrew Bible reading? If you guessed "Jeremiah was a bullfrog" you'd be right. Sadly, the iconic 60's Three Dog Night song has nothing to do with the prophet Jeremiah. It does, however, assert that Jeremiah had some mighty fine wine.
Now if you'll allow me another minute I think I can connect these seemingly disconnected dots. Because what I found when I went through the readings for this Sunday was a really remarkable set of clues that we can use to find our way closer to God. And, odd though it might seem, the bullfrog reference for me, at least, draws me into the aura of Jeremiah, makes me want to pay attention.
But first, let's look at our collect this morning. Let's pray it together:
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, wholives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
It seems pretty clear that we are saying that God is in charge, we'd like God to hear our prayers, and, in time, we hope to enjoy God's peace. What we can discern between the lines of this prayer is that when we truly recognize that God is in charge and what God has to offer is peace, then peace is what our goal should be. Reflecting on other ideas we may have had about what God could do for us, we may even be able to realize that all along, all we really needed was God's peace.
This reflection prepares us well for Jeremiah. These seven verses remind us that God calls all of us. We may hide behind all kinds of excuses. For example, Jeremiah says, "I am only a boy." But God let Jeremiah know better:
"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."
This statement does not apply only to Jeremiah. It applies to everyone. Jeremiah was assured of God's instructions on what to do and what to say and of God's protection. "See," God said,, "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."
When we cobble together our collect and our first reading, then, we realize what we need is God's peace and confidence that that is what we shall receive. That prepares us for what we are called by God to do.
It might be a good idea to remember at this point, though, that the sufficiency of God's peace is adequate for taking on God's intentions, not necessarily our own. So we need always make sure our plans are in conformance with God's. Otherwise the wheels fall off. Our psalm zeroes in on this. It reveals the importance of keeping our focus on God's goals rather than our own. In the beginning of the psalm we observed that God is our refuge, our safety. At the end of our psalm verses we declare, "For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young." God is not just a refuge; God is and always has been our strength.
Let's consider the perils that the psalmist is hoping that God will deflect. Shame is the first one. Clearly we should never be ashamed of our faith or ashamed of God. But if taunted, perhaps by people we'd like to impress, we might avoid open acknowledgement of our faith, which would be the same thing. That might be a real peril.
When we ask God's protection from the wicked, the evildoer and the oppressor we have to ask ourselves, what are we doing in such company anyway? Did we wander into the wrong place or were we letting our plans preclude God's? These are the kinds of thoughts that can keep us out of the wrong places and safe from those who do not have our best interests in mind.
Our epistle reading this week is one of the true glories of the Bible. Partly that is because the ideas that it conveys are so profoundly familiar and yet missing from so much of our everyday lives. The other part of its majesty is that it comes from our namesake, St. Paul, who is ordinarily critiquing or cajoling infant churches to get the message, shape up, or share the Good News.
Today's epistle reading, though, is all about love. Love is the element that makes possible the transmission of God's peace which we sought in the opening prayer, our collect.
It is by God's love that we are created and it is through reciprocal love for all of creation that we find our place in the grander scheme of things. Paul writes, "
If I ...do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. What our namesake has described so far is how little we can do all on our own without putting our focus on God and God's love. Paul then proceeds to tell us what love is and what love is not:
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. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
His conclusion wraps up our clues completely: now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Having obtained all these clues on how to draw closer to God we can examine our Gospel reading. We return to the scene of last week's Gospel lesson. Jesus has attended the synagogue, read from the scrolls and proclaimed, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
That's where things left off last week. But this week the people of Nazareth express their doubts. And their doubts turn into suspicions. And they become so angry they attempt to lead Jesus to a cliff and push him off it.
Now if anyone has any doubts, let me be clear. Doubts, suspicions and anger are not clues on the way God wants us to behave. Love is. Peace is. It is easy to imagine how much better things would be if everyone simply adopted those two attitudes. Wouldn't that be nice.
But in a very handy twist, what Jesus shows us is that even though the people he grew up with are being awful to him, he doesn't have to be awful in return. He lets their anger be expressed, their suspicions flow openly. Because Jesus not only got the memo on peace and love. He is the personification of peace and love. So as the townspeople of Nazareth are fretting and fuming, he can simply walk through their crowd and on about his business, no matter what their evil intentions may have been.
I don't want to put anyone else on the spot, so I will speak personally about this topic. I cannot count the number of times when I realized too late that my inability to respond to something with peace and love has either ruined my prospects for success or reduced them considerably. The old saying "A good offense is the best defense" may be true in football, but in human relations and in our spiritual endeavors, not so much.
You may have noticed that on the sign on the corner we posted this week a shortened version of the fifth verse of our psalm:
GOD IS MY HOPE,
In the course of the week since that verse was posted I have passed it perhaps a dozen times. I have found that it is an excellent reminder of what I pray for as well as that to which I pray. If I can keep foremost in my mind that God is my hope and my confidence, my prospects of living into the clues we have explored this morning improve dramatically. I hope you find the same thing is true for you.
A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Feb. 3, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector