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Thursday, January 31, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

We often offer excuses when faced with challenges that seem beyond our capabilities.  We don’t believe we have what it takes.  Biblical stories of people God called show the same tendencies.  Moses was hesitant.  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)  “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  (Exodus 4:10)

Jeremiah’s response to God’s call is similar.  “Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”  (Jeremiah 1:6)  There are many angles from which to view this passage.  Verse five has been used in the abortion debates:  “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.”  We could also go from that verse into a discussion of predestination---how and when our destiny is shaped.  Do we have but one clear and single destiny?  Is each step of our life determined in advance?  My answer to those questions is negative, but matters of destiny, the purpose of our lives, etc., are certainly worthy of our attention.

The main message I hear from the lectionary readings for the coming Sunday is that each life matters.  We cannot dismiss the challenges of life with declarations that “I am just this” or “I am just that.”  In God’s scheme of things, we are never “just” this or that.  Each life is worth something.  We are of infinite value in the living and loving heart of God.

Each of the readings has at least some reference to birth and childhood, the humble and helpless beginning from which we all spring.  We think of children as dependent, not yet able to care for themselves, yet the prophet Isaiah catches a glimpse of God’s peaceable kingdom and says, “ . . . a little child shall lead them.”  (Isaiah 11:6)  When Jesus’ disciples are offended by people bringing their children to him, Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  (Luke 18:16)

The Psalmist, in Psalm 71, says, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.” (vs. 6)  We may think we don’t have what it takes, but God’s promise is always that God will be with us.  He said it to Moses.  He said it to Jeremiah.  “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you . . .”  (Jeremiah 1:8)

One of the responses to Jesus when he preaches in his hometown (Nazareth) is the question, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  (Luke 4:22)  How can it be that the simple boy we saw working with his father is speaking so eloquently?  It’s another way of saying, “He’s only a boy in our minds.”  Jesus notes that a prophet is not often accepted in his hometown.  (vs. 24)  Many of us can identify with the experience of going home to the place where we’re still treated as a little boy or girl, where people remember every stumble and misdeed of our past, where we may never be seen as amounting to anything.  Besides, this is Nazareth, of which Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Jesus quickly shows he is not a child by deftly using some biblical stories to demonstrate that God’s work reaches beyond their small vision.  (Luke 4:25-27)  His words in fact stir them to “rage” and they are about to “hurl him off the cliff” when he passes “through the midst of them” and goes on his way.  (vss.28-30)  What I’m underlining today, though, is that God’s good can originate and work through the unlikeliest of persons and the most unexpected of places.  If that is so, we should never count ourselves out by saying, “I am only this” or “I am only that.”  Each of us is a child of God destined to significance in God’s scheme of things.

The “child” reference in I Corinthians 13 comes in verses 11-12.  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  Childhood is seen as full of potential, the beginning of a time of growing into the realization of that potential.  Consider the words of Ephesians 4:15-16---“ . . . speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”  Just two verses earlier the writer of Ephesians has spoken of growing “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:13)

These verses from Ephesians remind us of the larger context of I Corinthians 13.  First the context is “love.”  This is the great poem of love in the New Testament.  In terms of my focus this week, is it too much to say that the worth of each individual is rooted in love?  When the writer speaks of having “been fully known,” is he referring to what it feels like to be loved unconditionally?  We are never only this or only that.  We are surrounded by an immeasurable and accepting and affirming love.

I Corinthians 13 must also be seen in the context of the discussion of gifts that starts in chapter 12 and ends in chapter 14.  From previous weeks we’ve seen that each of us has a contribution to make to the functioning of the whole.  No one of us can be dismissed as unimportant.  Things won’t be the same without us.  And now what is it that holds us together?  It is love, the greatest gift.

I had the happy experience last week of reconnecting with someone from my past.  I received a notice of the upcoming concert of The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus---“Jazzify” (March 16-17 at Reed College).  With them will be Louise Rose, internationally acclaimed jazz pianist, composer, and singer.  Can it be, I asked, the same Louise Rose who was Minister of Music in a church I attended in the 1970s, who was such an inspiration to me then?  I researched the internet and sure enough it is.   Among other things I found a YouTube video of her accepting the Royal Roads University (Victoria, British Columbia) Chancellor’s Community Recognition Award in 2012.  In introducing her, the Chancellor quotes one of her frequent comments:  “You are worthy simply because you are breathing.”  I offer this and the closing words of her acceptance speech as an inoculation against selling ourselves short.

“Love is the answer.  When you find it, make it your life.  Fall in love with something, folks.  If music is your metaphor or politics is your metaphor or taking care of people’s feet or healing their hearts . . . Affecting large numbers of people is a lovely thing.  We would all like to think we could do that.  Affecting the life of one other person changes the world.”

Let’s go out and change the world!


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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