SERMON Epiphany 4C 2/3/19 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
God’s Mission of Love
In Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding last year 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.” In today’s New Testament reading we heard words of love, those most often read during marriage services. The wisdom found in those words are not mere sentimentality. This poetic masterpiece was intended for a Christian community that was most likely planted by the Apostle Paul himself. Back in Paul’s time, that little community was quite troubled. There was conflict, “upsmanship,” and just plain nasty behavior happening in good ole Corinth. Paul wrote to them to remind them that their mission and purpose was all about LOVE. Paul said, “you can speak eloquently, you can be as smart as a PhD, you can have the faith of Job, 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 because of love, you are just making noise and you are not following the way of Jesus.”
The church in Corinth forgot that Jesus had given them a mission of love, but they had become distracted from their purpose. When it came to caring for one another, sharing the Good News of Go’s love, it all became about “what they wanted,” and not “what God wanted.” Paul redefined love (Jesus style) for them. He wrote, “Love is patient, kind, it bears, believes, and hopes for all things. Love never fails.” Paul held up a mirror for them to see themselves “face to face,” because they were having an identity crisis or better yet, a mission crisis.
This church universal has always been, is now, and will always be on a mission of love, which 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. Maybe after last week’s sermon you were left with this question, “So, Jesus has proclaimed all these things, what do we do now?” In today’s gospel, we hear the second half of that same story, and if you were listening, we will have a better understanding of the mission for this local branch of the Body of Christ.
Jesus Mission Focus
A couple of years ago, I returned for a visit to my hometown, a quaint little village located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. When I arrived, my home was not the same, because I was not the same. I changed and grew up and yet, the town was still self-absorbed and missed opportunities to participate in the improvements and progress all around her. My hometown lost its sense of itself and the people had forgotten what made it a quaint village in the first place. The little village was not the same, because she never adapted to the change around her.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus came back to his home (Nazareth) and in its synagogue, after he rolled up that 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 there pride in him had an underlying motivation.
When our old friends do well, we may brag a little and say, “yep, that’s my friend, I’m sure she’ll not forget me.” We hope for some of our friends’ success for ourselves. Dennis Bratcher asserts that Jesus’ homeys 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 and to make things right for them first, before going off and doing things for others. Jesus knew what was in their hearts, when he said, “Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard that you did in Capernaum.” Jesus knew that God’s mission was not their motivation, because they wanted only what they wanted. His friends thought, Jesus, “why didn’t you start out doing those things here first, Jesus? After all, charity begins at home!” (3)
We must remember that Jesus’ mission is far-reaching, expansive, worldwide, creation inclusive, and not limited to one little town, one little community, or one group’s self-interested desire. Jesus was not and is not our own personal homeboy that brings miraculous mission success to us, or is his mission merely to benefit the home team. Jesus had, has, and will have a much bigger mission and we have a part in it.
Distractions from the Mission
Last week, I mentioned the story of the people of Israel who became distracted from their mission, when they built a Golden Calf and almost missed God’s purpose for them. They had an identity crisis because they forgot who they were and whose they were. They wanted something tangible that would define them, something they could get their hands on. They forgot that God defined who they were, and clarified what they were supposed to do in the first place. 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)
Simon SInek, in his book Start with Why, explains how the corporation Apple is clear about its purpose and identity because they know their mission. 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, Apple’s mission is stated 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 (even if they are getting a little distracted lately) is that “we aim to challenge the status quo, we aim to think differently.” Through most of her history, Apple has stood out as not merely a purveyor of good electronics, but a company focused on innovation, quality, and cutting edge marketing. They know their purpose, and well that brings us back to exploring what defines the purpose of the church. St. Monica’s, who are we, and whose are we, and what does God want us to do?
The Mission has a Church
Bishop Graham Cray (Bishop in the Church of England) once said, “It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission, who has a Church in the world.” (5) 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) Like Apple, St. Monica’s once again is becoming clear about who we are, whose we are, and what on whose mission we are focused.
Have you noticed that God is doing something amazing in our midst these days? Honestly, it has nothing to do with having a new rector, nor does it have anything to do with the material and outward elements of our community. God is creating a new future for this community right here and right now. St. Monica’s is growing and expanding our reach beyond our four walls in new ways. Did you know that our Radical Welcome team’s report shows that we have approximately 70 new folks who have decided to take this journey with us, all in the last 11 months? Did you know that we have new people taking on leadership positions in the church and helping to lead us on a new path? Did you know that folks who have been around for some time are excited and energized and dreaming of God’s possibilities? Right now, there is energy, passion, and commitment emerging in our midst, because we are following God’s mission, and God has a church ready, willing, and able to join that mission. However, we must not forget that we are not on a mission to merely have a great worship service, some really enlightening education classes, some delicious meals and fun activities, or to be a religious social gathering place. We are on a mission of transformational and life-giving love, a mission that began when Jesus unrolled that scroll in that Nazarene synagogue.
This year we will begin the hard work of listening prayerfully for God’s renewed call on our community, and we will do so in interactive, tangible, and prayerful ways. We will begin to discern prayerfully what Godwants us to do, what Godwants us to become, and howGodwants us to be on this mission of love he has given us. Do not forget “that Jesus (needs) disciples who listen to him and obey him, and he (will) form them to continue the mission after him.” (1) We need to get ready my sisters and brothers, because the Missio Dei (God’s mission) does have a church to carry that mission into the world; God has us. God is calling us forth, and we have all tools, resources, and energy that we need to live by “faith, hope, and love, these three.” With God’s help we are not going to be diverted from God’s mission for us, as long as we remember that the greatest of these virtues of mission is 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.