Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
God’s Mission of Love
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and 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.
In today's Gospel reading, we hear Paul's masterpiece of poetic verse about love, found in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Church in Corinth. I Corinthians 13:1-13 is one of the scriptures most often recited during weddings services. Paul’s letter of love was sent to a Christian community that was most likely troubled. Among these early Christians there was likely some conflict happening in Corinth. Paul knew that they needed a gentle but clear reminder about the nature of love in Christian community.
Paul proclaimed that “you can speak eloquently, you can be as smart as a PhD, you can have the faith of a saint, you can be the most generous philanthropist known to the world, but if you do not have love, and you do not do these things just mentioned because of love, you are just making noise and you may not be following the mission of Jesus.”
In Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding a few years ago he said, “We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant - and are meant - to be lived in that love. That's why we are here.” Our purpose and our mission as the Church is love. Our purpose, given to us from Our Lord Jesus Christ himself was inaugurated in the story we heard last week; when in the synagogue he read about the release for captives, sight for the blind, and Good News for the poor, all acts of love of neighbor. So, in this troubled world in which we live today, how might we incarnate the words of love, the mission of Our Lord, and the purposes of being bearers of love and grace? How do we adapt to the changes around us, and continue this mission of love given us 2000 years ago.
Jesus Mission Focus
Several years ago, I visited my hometown, a quaint little village located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountain National Park located in East Tennessee. When I arrived, I quickly noticed that the town's Mayberry-esque persona was gone and its shared life was no more. The local barbershop had closed, the gas stations were boarded up, and local diner was no longer serving. What happened? The old US highway, the main thoroughfare that brought life to stores and homes and business had been replaced long ago by a relocated modern four-lane a few miles away.
Everything around the village had changed because the people did not adapt to the change. My hometown had lost its sense of its purpose, and when the traffic no longer navigated through the middle of town, they did not know how to draw people back to what it had to offer. So, with no sense of purpose, no mission to others, the town succumbed to inevitable.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had a "going home" experience as well. He was back in Nazareth, teaching in its synagogue. After he rolled up the scroll, his friends were utterly amazed that little Joseph’s boy could speak so eloquently and do so many miraculous things. They were proud of their kinsman, but their pride in him had an underlying motivation.
Jesus knew they wanted him to make things better. He knew they were thinking, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum." Theologian Dennis Bratcher once wrote that Jesus’ hometown crowd wanted him “to take care of the local problems at hand before worrying about more far-reaching issues.” (3) Jesus’ friends wanted to claim him for themselves alone, but his mission of love was not their prime motivation. Like my little hometown in East Tennessee, things around them was changing, and they needed to look outside the local streets and adapt.
Paul reminded the church in Corinth, and he reminds us that Christ's mission of love is not merely for ourselves. It is a far-reaching, expansive, beyond our four walls heart altering movement. Jesus is not our own personal homeboy that brings miraculous mission success to us, nor is his mission merely to benefit the home team. Our purpose is to take that mission on ourselves and bear that kind of love in the world. We must not be distracted from that mission.
Distractions from the Mission
Last week's Old Testament reading was about how the children of Israel became distracted from their mission, when they built a Golden Calf. They were having an identity crisis because they forgot who they were and whose they were. They wanted some tangible object that would define them, something they could get their hands on; a golden idol. They forgot that it was not a distracting idol, but God who defined who they were, and God alone clarified their mission. Tanner Smith in his blog explains, “Who you think you are shapes what you think you should do. Your perceived identity—whether human or organizational—shapes the questions you ask about the community you live in, and the future you hope for.” (6). Know who we are and our purpose defines how we live out our mission.
Simon SInek, in his book Start with Why, tries to explain Apple Computer company's success. Sinek explains that Apple’s mission approach is NOT, “We make great computers. They're user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?" Rather, he says Apple’s mission is defined as, “With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user-friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?"
Do you see the difference? The why of Apple is “we aim to challenge the status quo, we aim to think differently.” Through most of its history, Apple has stood out as not merely a purveyor of good electronic devices, but rather it advertises itself as a company focused on innovation, quality, and cutting-edge marketing. They know their purpose and their mission and they innovate as the technology industry changes around them. You may be sitting there thinking, "thanks for the business lesson Canon Eric, but what does that hae to do with the church, love, and our mission?"
We live in a time when the church's mission field has changed and is changing. A global pandemic and the declining American religiosity is impacting attendance and participation in church as we know it. So, we need to begin asking ourselves more and more about our mission of love. Like Apple Computers need to be clear about who are we, and whose are we, and what does God want us to do? What is our mission?
The Mission has a Church
Theologian Dennis Bratcher explains, “A true embrace of mission, a true vision of the future will call us out of our comfort zones, may propel us into places that we would not choose, or may call us to paths that we would not walk if we had a choice.” (3)
We live in challenging times and some people have not yet come back to church as we continue to fight this pandemic. However, I believe there is great hope! I believe people are yearning for connectedness. I believe people are seeking deeper meaning. I believe the church's mission is needed now more than ever. We must never forget that we are on God's mission of transformational and life-giving love, a mission that began when Jesus unrolled that scroll in that Nazarene synagogue. Our mission is clear, but we may need to adapt.
Your mission statement is, "St. Patrick's Episcopal Church will carry out the mission of the church by building a welcoming community where all people can find Christ in themselves and others by practicing the Gospel in the world." God is calling us forth, to live by virtues of mission: “faith, hope, and love, these three.” With God’s help we are will not distracted from God’s mission as long as we remember that the greatest of these virtues of mission will always be love; God’s love.”
(1) Baawobr, Richard K. “Opening a Narrative Programme: Luke 4.16-30 and the Black Bagr Narrative.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 30, no. 1, Sept. 2007, pp. 29–53.
(2) Lovell, Arnold B. “I Corinthians 13.” Interpretation, vol. 48, no. 2, Apr. 1994, pp. 176–180.