This is the manuscript Rev. KJ Norris wrote for this sermon delivered Sunday, February 3, 2019. It is not an exact copy of the audio file.
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Read Jeremiah 1:4-10
This morning, let’s read our gospel reading in the middle. It’s a little unusual to do that, but today I would like to end with the reading from 1 Corinthians. So, to Luke we go next. Last week, you might remember, we read from Luke 4. This is Jesus’ first recorded sermon. In last week’s Scripture, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah, and outlined his mission and ministry while he is on earth. This is a continuation of the sermon.
Read Luke 4:21-30
And our last Scripture reading for this morning is 1 Corinthians. It’s a very famous passage of Scripture. Listen and hear. See what images come to your mind as I read.
Read 1 Corinthians 13
What did you hear? What did you imagine?
I imagined being at a wedding!
1 Cor 13 must be one of the most recognizable passages in the entire Bible. It is well known by people who regularly attend church and by people who do not because of its strong associations with weddings. Usually, the pastor or these days the officiant of any faith, Christian or not, uses these words to remind the bride and groom that love is not just about the gooey feeling of the moment. Love is not just about that feeling of “love at first sight” but instead patience and kindness, truth, bearing, and hope even in the hard times. And after he or she says these things, a blessing is placed on the couple that they might love with the kind of love that is described in our passage, a love that endures.
And if you are like me, you miss most of what is said and have no idea what the officiant is talking about because you are too busy watching the flower girl dance around at the front of the room or the mother of the young ring bearer trying to quietly convenience her son to keep his tiny tuxedo jacket buttoned a little longer.
1 Cor 13 is associated with so many memories for most of us that it is hard to see it in any other situations than in a wedding.
But here it is. Smack in the middle of our lectionary readings for Epiphany. The snow and cold has been keeping many of us at home during January services, but perhaps you know through following on our new website or because you are one of the hearty-souls who has braced the cold that we are in a sermon series called “New Year; New Vision.” We have been following the lectionary passages of Scripture and all of them have been calling us to open our eyes to the way that God is at work in the world.
They have been calling us to see ourselves according to God’s plan, to God’s purpose, calling us to go “God-spotting” in other words, to look into the world and to see what God is doing in big ways and in small for God is at work in our world.
And our passages this morning once again open us up to see new possibilities for living.
Our Jeremiah Scripture starts us out by reminding us that God knows us. In fact, did you catch when God knew us? (before we were born). Read v. 5. Yeah, before we were born, God knew us. I just love the power of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know that we would be having a baby shower this day when I created our sermon series. And even at that, I didn’t pick this Scripture for today, it’s the one that churches around the world are using today.
But I love that the Holy Spirit is at work in strange and wondrous ways because it turned out perfectly. Today we are celebrating that a new life is about to come into the world. If you’ve been online, you’ve seen the little sonogram picture of Baby Mikey in the womb.
We won’t meet Mikey until March. What are we at now 41 days until the due date? And of course, doctors don’t know for sure when Mikey is going to make his grand appearance. Perhaps it will be sooner, perhaps later, only God knows that.
But here is what I can tell you. Our Scripture reminds us this day that God already knows Mikey. God already knows him. And not only that, verse 5 continues to tell us that God, even before birth, had already consecrated Jeremiah. Consecrated means to set apart—to make holy. God had set Jeremiah apart. He had created him for a very special purpose and God tells Jeremiah while he is still a boy what that purpose is—God set Jeremiah apart so that he would be a prophet to the nations.
What an incredible truth. Our God is so big that he was at work in Jeremiah’s life before he ever knew it. God was transforming Jeremiah into the great prophet he would be while he was just a child. God was a work within him while he was still in the womb.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Many in this room are like, “well, woop-te-do, pastor.” That’s great for Jeremiah, but what about us?
I’m 40 and I have no idea what I’m suppose to be doing. I’m 70 and retired and God hasn’t shown up and told me what to do in this part of my life. I’m 10 and maybe God talked to some kid named Jeremiah in the Bible, but does God still do that?
It’s okay to be skeptical. Yes, it is true that God still does show up sometimes and speak to us directly. God is all powerful. We cannot put limits on God and God can do as God pleases. Sometimes that is through direct intervention.
But usually that is not how God acts. God came to earth in the form of a child as well. Fully God, fully human. God lived among us and showed us what a perfect life is like. God showed us how to fully live, how to fully love. And Jesus sent the Holy Spirit—the very spirit of God—to live within us. To guide us. To speak to our souls as the Psalm says—the deep speaks to deep.
So for most of us, God probably won’t speak like a voice from heaven. Most of us will never hear the voice of God in the thunder. Honestly, I think this is a good thing. If God spoke to most of us in that way, we would probably think we are crazy. We would be going to the doctor to get our ears checked or we would be asking for a brain-scan because we are hearing things others don’t hear. It doesn’t make sense for God to speak that way in our day because we wouldn’t believe that was God.
But does that mean that God no long speaks?
God is at work in our world just as God was at work in the days of the Bible.
And just as God knit together little baby Jeremiah in the womb, God is growing little baby Mikey. Before Mikey can even come out and see us. Before he can recognize his own name. Before he can speak his own name, God knows him.
And God loves him. When Mikey is baptized, we will be standing together recognizing that God has set Mikey apart for a purpose. God has a plan for Mikey. A plan as it later says in Jeremiah, not to harm him but to give him a future with hope.
And that is true for all of us today. Yes, many of us are still finding our way in this world. In fact, I would argue that life is a journey of us always seeking more of who we are called to be, whether we are 10 or 40 or 70.
But our job as the church is to nurture Mikey and (other kids). To help them know how very loved they are, how very special they are in the eyes of God. Our job is to pray for them and to teach them. To help them to learn Scripture. Our job is to introduce them to the God who loves them and who calls out to them even while they are in the womb. Our task is to show them what it means to love God in return and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Notice, though, that our Luke passage reminds us that walking in the way of God will not always be easy. Jesus lived the perfect life. Everything his said and did was sinless. Everything was done so that we might know God and God’s purpose and God’s love. But, Jesus, in his very first recorded sermon, as he tried to explain to the people that God’s love is expansive—that the call of God was not just to one group of people but to all people.
When Jesus said these things and showed the truth of them from the Scriptures, people hated him. We like to believe that this blessing that was placed on Jeremiah is just for some and not others. We are inclined to think that God’s blessing is for people who look like us or speak like us or group up like us.
But that is simply not true. Jesus reminded people gathered in the synagogue that day that God came to foreigners and lepers—basically to people who were in that day where seen as less than or unclean. God blessed them as well.
And when Jesus shares this message of love, what do the people of his hometown try to do? Throw him off a cliff. Yeah, the message of love is not always a popular one. It calls us to put others first. It calls us to see the humanity in everyone we meet regardless of their citizen status or language or wealth.
We like to reverse 1 Corinthians 13 for weddings. We like to believe that love is something that should blossom and bloom within the covenant of marriage. And of course, that is true. Our marriages are nothing if they do not have love.
But true love must be extended to the stranger. To the person who has no home who is outside in the freezing temperatures that we have been experiencing. To the person who has mental illness and isn’t sure who he is from one day to the next. To the immigrant who faces violence and poverty at home and must escape to find a better life. To the unborn child who needs a safe and secure home.
We are called to a love that is expansive. Love, true love, love that is as Paul says: Patient and kind, not boastful or arrogant—in other words—not showing favoritism to self or to one background or type over another. Love that does not insist on it’s own way—that is open to listening and learning. Love that rejoices not in wrongdoing but in the truth. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is our calling. This is what God consecrated us for. This is what God set us apart to do. To love boldly, even if it causes people to want to run us off a cliff. To stand up for the weak and the marginalized and the hurting.
In this season of Epiphany, this season when we ask God to open our eyes anew, let us see our call to love boldly and live in accordance with God’s plan.