The Adventurous Lectionary – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 31, 2016
I Corinthians 13:1-13
The adventurous preacher may be overwhelmed the abundance of riches in today’s readings. We have the great love chapter from Corinthians, with its undercurrent of creative agnosticism. We are reminded that God has a larger vision for us than we have for ourselves. We discover that God’s revelation pushes the boundaries of our known world and religious particularities to embrace the totality of humankind, including those peoples we deem outside God’s love and inspiration.
Jeremiah is “everyman” and “everywoman” who has doubts about her or his vocation. Called to speak for God, Jeremiah protests his youth and inexperience. He is the youngest one around and, in his estimation, hardly qualified to speak God’s word to his elders. Rightly, he protests his inadequacy and wants to wait until he’s more mature. But, God has other ideas. God’s way is to use the humble and small, the youthful and marginalized, to reveal God’s vision to the world.
Jeremiah sees what he can’t do. But, God sees what he can! Our limitations are the womb of possibility. Our concrete debits – even our sins – are fertile ground for the growth of mustard seeds, the feeding of five thousand from a few loaves and fish, and a life changing message from the voice of a persecutor. God has in store for us more than we can ask or imagine.
The word to Jeremiah is addressed to both individuals and congregations. We may think our congregations lack the energy and resources to be transformative but within God’s vision we have what we need to be God’s partners in healing the world.
Jeremiah opens the door to the message of I Corinthians 13. This passage is so often used that we may miss is application to our own lives. Fidelity to God and fulfilling God’s missing is not a matter of achievement or giftedness ultimately, but love that is revealed in day to actions. This love, commended in I Corinthians 13, is fallible, recognizes its limitations, leaves room for growth, and trusts God’s larger vision as we construct our own visions. This love is open-ended. In knowing its limitations, it makes room for creativity, hospitality, and adventure. We see in a mirror dimly, and we don’t have all the answers, but we can respond lovingly as a first step in healing the world.
Healing love and inspiring vocations have a context, and that is the faithfulness of God, described in Psalm 71. God’s eternal care, throughout every season of life, delivers us from defensiveness, partisanship, and hostility to otherness. Leaning on God’s ever-lasting arms, we receive a springboard for creative action to bring beauty and love into the world. We don’t have to be right or exclude or other visions. We trust that God will provide what we need, as Jeremiah discovered, to be faithful in our times without undermining the fidelity of others.
The Luke reading continues Jesus’ first public address in which proclaims God’s Spirit of Shalom rests upon him and that now is the day of salvation and transformation. Everyone is excited, but soon excitement turns to antagonism and bloodlust when Jesus extends the boundaries of salvation to include foreigners. They are delighted that God’s realm of Shalom is coming, but they imagine that is just for people like themselves. The Romans will be destroyed, the Temple restored to its grandeur, and the unclean neighbors, including some Jesus invokes, will be put in their rightful – inferior – place.
When Jesus suggests a universality of revelation along with a universality of response, they are ready to kill him. They can’t imagine God caring for foreigners. They can’t conceive of the day of Shalom involving all people. Unlike Jesus, we pastors may want to tread lightly on this passage, for to take it seriously is to assume our enemies may receive revelations and may in their benighted state find positive ways to receive God’s message. If so, what are we to do about it? Do we suffer from the same limitations as our opponents? Do they also have dreams and desire a better world, despite their violence and antagonism toward us? Could there be such a thing as a “good ISIS” member that belongs in one of Jesus’ parables? In our highly polarized political environment, such a comment might elicit deep critiques of the pastor.
Revelation in unexpected places does not necessarily dictate foreign or domestic policy. We may still have to work for a strong national defense and neutralize, in other words, destroy groups like ISIS. But, we must act recognizing our own limitations and fallibility and like Jesus’ listeners, our own need for repentance and transformation. Even if we are the closest thing to the children of light in our personal lives, theological affirmations, or political positions, we still “see in a mirror dimly” and have a long way to go to experience the fullness of divine inspiration or to embody perfectly God’s love.
Out of this abundance of passages, today’s adventurous pastor may follow that path I will be treading – to prayerfully consider which theme will inspire the congregation we serve and in what ways will the preacher propose a provocative possibility for congregational transformation. All of the passages take us out of our comfort zones and challenge our assumptions and in the process present a horizon for possibility that will bring new life to our congregations and communities.