Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
February 3, 2019
Lessons: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people strive to love others with the same love that Jesus exhibits for them.
Key Scripture: And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13
This week’s lessons have a lot to say about the power of love, the dangers of speaking prophetic truth, and what can happen when the two collide. Look at Jesus, for example. He’s the hometown hero, preaching with authority and a fresh voice in the synagogue — until he fails to say what the crowd wants to hear about insider advantage. No, Jesus draws the circle of inclusion ever wider, and folks want to hurl him off a cliff at the edge of town. The prophet Jeremiah, from this week’s Old Testament lesson, led a difficult life after God commanded him to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Practicing radical love and proclaiming prophetic truth are not easy callings and are certainly countercultural ones.
That said, there is truly nothing more powerful than the kind of radical love of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 13. This perennial favorite selection for wedding lessons is more about living lives of love in community, particularly in the Body of Christ. It’s the kind of love that calls us to accountability, to mutuality, and to drawing the circle of inclusion ever wider. It’s not “love for some” or “love of those with whom I feel comfortable” or “love of those who see things my way.” The love about which Paul writes is big love that is bold, mature, and unshakeable.
People who talk about love in this way can find themselves in trouble. Just ask Rob Bell, former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church (a large nondenominational church in Michigan) and prolific author and public theologian. His book Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who ever Lived (Harper Collins, 2011) ignited quite the firestorm in evangelical and conservative Christian circles complete with charges of universalism and heresy. “First, I believe that Jesus’ story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us,” writes Bell on his website. “It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.”
This concept of radical, healing, and subversive love isn’t limited to popular theology books. Country singer Carrie Underwood co-wrote “Love Wins” in 2018 in response to current social and political divisiveness in the United States. The chorus of Underwood’s song contains these lyrics:
I, I believe you and me are sisters and brothers
And I, I believe we’re made to be here for each other
And we’ll never fall if we walk hand in hand
Put a world that seems broken together again
Yeah I, I believe in the end love wins
Oh, yeah, love wins
The question for the church today is whether we are ready to embrace the radical and all-encompassing love of 1 Corinthians 13, to draw the circle of inclusion ever wider, and to see the face of Christ in all of our neighbors. Are we willing to speak prophetically to the powers that would divide us, the forces that would limit God’s goodness and mercy, and the people who would disagree with such radical love? More importantly, can we see Christ’s face in their faces and respond to them by listening, by loving, and by practicing mercy and forgiveness? Will we really believe that love wins?
“When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually a family.” Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preached these words during his memorable sermon at the wedding of Meghan Markle to Great Britain’s Prince Harry last year.
Perhaps this is a good time to remind worshipers of Bishop Curry’s powerful message. Click here for an article about the sermon and here for the text of the sermon. What does such love look like in the church? How are we, as the “bride of Christ” ready to reflect that love to a hurting and needful world?
Perhaps we start by recognizing the power of love, in Reverend Curry’s words, “I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.” Now that’s a prophetic word!
In this week’s gospel lesson (Luke 4:21-30), Jesus tells the hometown folk “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But do they really know what’s been fulfilled? Do they really understand the prophetic implications of Jesus’ words and mission? Clearly not because they turn on him and want to throw him off the nearest cliff! Talk with youth about the gospel lesson and invite conversation about these questions:
- How is scripture fulfilled in our hearing today?
- In what ways is a prophet still not accepted in one’s own hometown?
- What in the “good news” can cause people to turn and become combative and angry?
- How can we respond faithfully when this happens?
This week’s focus verse is Jeremiah 1:9: Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
God came to the prophet Jeremiah when he was a boy and set him aside for the work of being a prophet and speaking truth to a wayward people. Scripture says that God touched Jeremiah’s lips and put words in his mouth. In verse 10 we learn that these words are to be used to “pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Sounds like a pretty tough assignment, doesn’t it?
If God were to touch your mouth and put words in your mouth, what do you think God would want you to say to people? How would God want you to speak the truth in love and share the good news—even if it makes people uncomfortable?
How might you share God’s love with others this week? (Entertain all answers and offer some gentle suggestions as needed.)
Finish by inviting the children to touch their lips while you “commission” them to share the good news of God’s love and to tell others about Jesus. Finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week we learn about the power of love and the power of a prophetic voice. How are we called to be stewards of love and prophetic truth in our day and context?
Stewardship at Home
“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornell West
Dr. Cornell West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and holds the title of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. The son of a Baptist minister, West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. Click here to watch an address he gave at the Los Angeles Hope Festival.
Spend some time thinking this week about the intersection of love and justice and how the prophetic witness of Jeremiah and the teaching and witness of Jesus bear witness to this concept. How can you love your neighbor as yourself—even the ones with whom you disagree, find uncomfortable, or downright loathsome? Compare and contrast Dr. West’s words and ideas with those of Bishop Curry (see worship section above)? Which one resonates more with you? Why? How can you make a conscious effort to embrace radical love and justice in a way that unites us all as family?
Here’s a look back at our 2016 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/01/the-stewardshiplove-connection/
And here’s the 2013 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/01/putting-words-in-your-mouth/
Photos: Marco Verch and Denise Krebs. Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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