24 January 2019

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 February 2019

TheFourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 February 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Saint Luke 4:21-30


 Background: Speaking in Tongues

 

One usually associates glossolalia or xenoglossia with the early Christian Church, and then largely in Pentecostal churches. It was known, however, in the ancient world, as either the speech of “divine beings”, or as the speech of humans blessed with divine speech. We know it in a non-canonical book, The Testament of Job, where the daughter of Job are blessed with this ability. It was not always held in high regard in the ancient world. The Greek philosopher Celsus derides the speech of several early Christians by saying that “they then go on to add incomprehensible, incoherent, and utterly obscure utterances, the meaning of which no intelligent person could discover.”[1]One might see a reference in Isaiah 28:11. The instance of glossolalia or xenoglossia in the New Testament are:

 

1.     Mark 16:17

2.     Acts 2

3.     Acts 10:46

4.     Acts 19:6

5.     I Corinthians 12, 13, 14

 

The Christian understanding of this phenomenon was that it was evidence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – the breath and the Word understandable to any who might receive it.


First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the Lord said to me,

"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord."

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.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."


 

Jeremiah was born in parlous times, and called to serve in an even more dangerous time as Judah hung in a balance of a geopolitik that involved the Egyptian kingdom, the collapsed Assyrian Empire and the resurgent Babylonian Empire. The realities of the time are reflected in Jeremiah’s own sense of himself which becomes evident in his reaction to God’s call to him. As a theologian he is desperate to explain how God has not met the test in this new world of political ambition and expansionism. These events are wrapped by him in a theological understanding of the covenant between God and people, and the faithlessness of the people’s response to God.

 

The first three versesof the chapter that precede our pericope give us a portrait of the prophet, and a sense of the time in which he was called and then served as prophet. Of interest is that Jeremiah is not only prophet, but a priest as well. Thus he is doubly touched by YHWH. In this call we see the usual reaction to such a call:

 

1.     Divine Initiative, verse 5

2.     Human Resistance, verse 6

3.     Rebuke and Reassurance, verses 7-8

4.     A Physical Act of Commissioning, verse 9a

5.     The Substance of Commission, verses 9b – 10.

 

Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Jeremiah[2]characterizes this call as being so stylized that one might call it an ordination service, in which he receives the authority to speak the divine word. Whether or not this was a personally understood experience in the life of the prophet, it does function to authenticate the material that will follow as the Word of the Lord.


Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. How long have you known God?
  2. How long has God known you?
  3. What have you been called to do?

Psalm 71:1-6 In te, Domine, speravi

 

1      In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
     In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
     Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
     Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
     For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
     I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.


 

The psalm was chosen for this day in that its sixth verse revisits the realization that Jeremiah has about his own birth, and God’s participation in that reality. This is a psalm of supplication, and request that God continue to shelter and protect the psalmist. The images of protection come from both nature and from human intervention: a rock, a crag, a fortress. God is not only protection from evil-doers but is the fount of hope as well. What is desired is a continuing sustenance that helps shape the life of the psalmist. The continuum is one that begins at birth, goes on through youth, and stands by through all of life.

daily by Jewish worshippers. In the end it is God’s strength that buoys us up in life.


Breaking open Psalm 71:
  1. From what do you need protection?
  2. How will your faith help?
  3. How can you protect others?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 13:1-13

 

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.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.



With this pericope we reach the heart of Paul’s exhortation on spiritual gifts. Some have called it the guide to the instruction that both precedes and follows it. The use of this pericope in countless marriage ceremonies has perhaps dulled its effect. One might want to read it in a different translation to sharpen it up a bit. The idea of agape “love” is mentioned nine times in the thirteen verses. Paul sees love as the operative element in the spiritual gifts – they are best expressed in love, “but do not have love, I am a noisy gong.” Perhaps it would help us to reverse the phrases in order to better understand the power of love, as Paul sees it. Thus it would be, “Patience is love, kindness is love, being envious is not love,” and so on. Like the call of Jeremiah, and the psalm for today, Paul sees a continuum of life – of living, really, during which love in connection with the gifts is manifested in various ways. We understand the gifts and the love partially. But it lasts until and vivifies the end – “then we shall see face to face.” 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Where is love found in your spiritual gifts?
  2. Where is love found in your actions with others?
  3. What is the fount of love in your life?

The Gospel: St. Luke 4:21-30

 

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.



Luke sets the stage, as we will recognize from the first reading and the trepidation that Jeremiah experiences in his call to speak YHWH’s word, and in the psalm, where the psalmist begs for God’s continuing protection. Here Jesus is about to experience what the prophets experienced – the wrath of the people. Last week we heard his interpretation of the reading from Isaiah, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today however, we will witness the consequences of Jesus’ interpretation of the text. This is no surprise to him, for he has seen it and recognizes it from the Scriptures. He gives examples of the dishonor that prophets experience even in their own home town: the time of Elijah when only a gentile woman came to his aid, or the cleansing of the gentile Namaan the Syrian. The rebuff is not received well, and Jesus is threatened with harm. 

Often Luke reminds us of the time in which events happen, and here we are aware of the time as well. “Today,” Jesus says when bringing the hopes for tomorrow into the reality of the presence. Initially they are pleased for Luke says that they were “amazed,” his code word for believing. Jesus, however, is the radical – the one who gets at the root (radix) of things. Jesus wants them to see him as prophet, and to understand the difficulty that this designation and recognition brings. It is, in a way, a sort of passion prediction, and he uses difficult language and situations to make his audience aware of the distinction. Yes, indeed, the Spirit is a disrupter. I am reminded of the testing of Jesus that appears in Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel The Last Temptation of Christ. He describes Jesus coming to an understanding of his mission in these words in the Prologue of the book:

“My principal anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh.”[3]

It is good for us, following the Christmas feast, and deep into the Epiphany manifestations to know the difficulty in following Jesus. He wants the congregation in the Synagogue to understand that honoring him and following him will not be an easy thing. The Spirit is leading all of us into the difficult.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What conflicts of faith do you experience in your life?
  2. What does Jesus say with which you have difficulty?
  3. What great promises and hopes have been fulfilled in your lifetime?









Principal Idea:            How can we be the prophet?

Idea One:                     Knowing ourselves as the one whom God calls (First Reading)

Idea Two:                    Knowing ourselves as the one whom God continues to protect (Psalm)

Idea Three:                  Knowing that we are blessed with spiritual gifts made manifest through love (Second Reading)

Idea Four:                    Knowing that Jesus wrestled with the same call.



After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 



Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller



[1]     Martin, D. (1995), The Corinthian Body, Yale University Press, New Haven, page 90.
[2]     Brueggemann, W. (1998), A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, Page 24.
[3]     Kazantzakis, N. (1960), The Last Temptation of Christ,Simon & Schuster, New York., page 1.

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