The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Deacon Anne Flynn
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditation our hearts be acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.

Think about how quickly the scene changed in today’s gospel.

The first response to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue was positive. All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. He was recognized as Joseph’s son, one of Nazareth’s own.

We know at this point in Luke’s gospel that Jesus had been baptized by John, retreated to the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil and was then filled with the power of the Spirit to begin his ministry in Galilee teaching in the synagogues. Reports about Jesus spread throughout the country and when he was led by the Spirit to his home town of Nazareth they knew that he’d come home. Their expectations were set. They had heard of the signs and miracles and that is what they expected but instead of miracles Jesus preached of God’s love for all people and of his mission to bring this message of love to all. Jesus provoked them when he reminded them that although there were many lepers in Israel, God healed Naaman the Syrian, the other.

They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

How did it go so wrong so fast?

Lucky for us, this isn’t the end of the story.

Jesus makes us partners in this mission with his death and resurrection.

As partners, we are not alone. God has equipped us with all we need to make this love known and yet we struggle. They struggled then, we struggle now. They heard the news of the kingdom of God and we continue to see glimpses of the kingdom of God.

God is with us every time we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

But how do we go beyond those glimpses? How do we bring the kingdom of God more fully to the here and now? How do we make Jesus’ words in that synagogue in Nazareth work for us today?

We might look to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for some guidance. Paul speaks of God’s love and reminds us that God’s love never ends. God’s love is patient and kind and endures all things even our failure to love.

Today we are most likely to encounter these familiar words in the context of a wedding service, celebrating the physical, emotional, and spiritual bond of love between two people. It is beyond question that this passage has much to say about marriage and the habits and practices that nurture and sustain such commitments. However, Paul was addressing the people of Corinth and talking about their life in community. In the opening verses of the letter, Paul directly confronts the disputes that threatened to divide the Corinthian church. He stressed that the many gifts of the Spirit given by God are intended to build the kingdom of God. He was telling them — and we are reminded still — that each of us is gifted. But we are not all gifted in the same way. How boring would that be! It is when we put our gifts together we can make God’s love known. The experience of God’s love transformed Paul. Today, the experience of God’s love still transforms us and through us the world.

One thing that also hasn’t changed since Jesus’ time is that we humans are impatient. Likewise, too often we are unkind. Too often we are envious or arrogant or rude. We like to get our own way. We may measure our success by the world’s measure not by God’s measure.

We want Jesus to come down to earth in a fiery chariot, set everything right and we’d like that today, thank you very much.

But that’s not exactly the way it works. My husband tells me every once in a while that he thinks there is a special back door into heaven for clergy spouses. I tell him I’m not sure that’s the way it works and that he probably shouldn’t count on that.

But Jesus did tell us the way things do work. Jesus let us know that the kingdom of God is coming and that we have a vital role in it.

The message of Jesus and the hope that we have in Christ is that we can bring the kingdom of God to the grocery store, to the stop light, to the playground, to the work place, to our everyday lives and in doing this we make the world more like what God intends it to be. It is not only possible, but we have examples all around us of people doing just that. Some are quiet and simple — some are extraordinary and mind bending. Often it starts with the simple act of listening to each other and forgiving each other for being human.

In his book, “No Future Without Forgiveness,” Desmond Tutu tells the story of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped facilitate healing post apartheid and helped birth a new South Africa.

He writes: As I listened in the TRC to the stories of perpetrators of human rights violations, I realized how each of us has the capacity for the most awful evil – every one of us. None of us could predict that if we had been subjected to the same influences, the same conditioning, we would not have turned out like these perpetrators.

He goes on to say: And mercifully and wonderfully, as I listened to the stories of the victims I marveled at their magnanimity, that after so much suffering instead of lusting for revenge, they had this extraordinary willingness to forgive. Then I thanked God that all of us, even I, had this remarkable capacity for good, for generosity, for magnanimity.

It is Archbishop Tutu’s belief, even in the face of all the evil in the world, that God created us for goodness.

We look in the mirror and what do we see reflected? On our best days, we see the face of God. On other days we see God’s hope for the time when we will see God face to face.

As Paul told the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind….Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love never ends.”

When we leave here today, I hope we take that message with us. Take the love that we find here today and help spread it around the world. Because, of faith hope and love — the greatest of these is love.