The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – January 31, 2016

Reading 1:  Reading 2:  Reading 3:  Reading 4: 
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4:21-30

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – January 31, 2016

By Bruce G. Epperly

January 31, 2016

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany invites us to reflect on God’s inspiration at every stage of the journey. God presents us with provocative and enlivening possibilities and the energy to embody them in every season of life. While we may not always feel up to responding to God’s call, we can do great things when we remember that the “world lives by the incarnation of God” (Alfred North Whitehead) and God is incarnate in our lives, not as an abstract and uninvolved spectator but as an intimate and passionate companion. Divine possibility always asks for more than past achievement, and that can be daunting. Yet, when we take a chance on God, we will discover that our times – and our imaginative actions –are in God’s hands.

I think many of us can relate to Jeremiah’s confession of inadequacy. As he considers God’s call, he realizes how young and inexperienced he is. He doesn’t feel up to the task of speaking God’s word and wisdom – God’s prophetic challenge – to his nation. He is “only a boy,” that is, the youngest of his colleagues. Still, God picks him out. Divine possibilities have been at work in his life from conception and these are coming to fruition in his prophetic call.

The story of Jeremiah reminds us that God is calling each of us. God’s call is intimate, unique, and lifelong. We don’t need to worry about today’s scripture’s suggestion that God calls us before we were in the womb. This is the poetry of providence. What is important is that God seeks healing and wholeness in our lives and the lives of our parents from the very beginning of our journey. Each of us can be a “prophet,” that is, someone embodying God’s provocative possibilities in our life situation, regardless of whether we are on a sports team in high school, challenging the status quo in college, affirming the value of black lives as a middle aged-middle class European-American, or considering going on a mission trip after retirement. And, as the saying goes, whomever God calls, God also equips. When we say “yes” to divine possibility, new possibilities and new energies – new people – enter our lives who can be companions in fulfilling God’s dream for our lives.

Psalm 71 expresses God’s faithfulness in every season of life, from conception to death. Divine protection does not guarantee that we will live without pain and conflict, and of course the mortality rate remains 100%. Divine protection does not insure we will not be diagnosed with cancer, escape gun violence, or avoid terrorist acts. But, it places these in perspective, for nothing can separate us from God. Contrary to much political rhetoric, we cannot be ruled by fear nor can we succumb to fear-mongering. We are safe in God’s care, in the arms of the one who companioned us from the beginning and who will receive us at the end of days.

The well-known words of I Corinthians 13 remind us that love is the greatest virtue. Prophetic admonitions, success in business, and political power avail nothing if they are not grounded in God’s love. Love reconciles the separate, welcomes immigrants, forgives opponents, and challenges traditions that harm the vulnerable. An essential aspect of love, lifted up by the apostle Paul, is the agnosticism of love. We see in a mirror dimly. We never fully know another or even ourselves. We can suggest possibilities for our neighbor, spouse, or child, but “when we know best,” we ultimately objectify them and place them in our mold rather than God’s open-ended vision.

In the gospel reading, the prophet Jesus gets in trouble when he asserts that God’s grace embraces the foreigner. Prophets, he notes, speak a word of transformation to our enemies as well as our friends. In our increasingly xenophobic time, Jesus’ words are an antidote to religious and political behaviors that view otherness as a threat. God’s grace is broadcast to all peoples. God’s love goes beyond our borders. While this doesn’t give us instructions about public policy or vetting refugees, it challenges us to “treat everyone as Christ” and affirm the many faces of Christ in our world as a prelude to sound public policy and personal relationships.

Prophets take chances. They go against the grain of religious stereotypes, xenophobia, and fearmongering. Still, when we pursue prophetic possibilities we can trust that God is with us, giving us creative ideas, energy, and companionship through every challenge of life.