Readings for the day (4th Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 3, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Shortly after we got married, my brother-in-law came to live with us for a few months. I was a recent college graduate looking for a job and Stephanie was still in school. So we didn’t have a lot of money and when we were at the grocery store and we would treat ourselves with a small bag of treats like M&Ms or something similar, that was a big deal for us. Normally we only got the essentials that we needed. Candy and other sweets were not necessary. So we usually didn’t purchase any. And when we did splurge a little and treated ourselves to something sweet, I would hide and protect our recent purchase like it was gold. I would hide these snacks in our bedroom closet instead of leaving them in the kitchen. I didn’t want to share them. I certainly didn’t want to share them with my brother-in-law who nearly polished off a box of Girl Scout cookies that was accidently left in the kitchen. I wanted to keep these treats all for myself. Any sweets that we had, we hoarded.
When Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth, the people are left amazed by Him. They questioned if this man standing before them who read the scripture reading during worship was really Joseph’s son. He did such a wonderful job that they all spoke well of Him and were amazed by His words. This Jesus was their hometown boy. In that moment, they were so proud to say that they were from Nazareth and remember Jesus when He was a child growing up. They would be famous. Plus they figured that since Jesus was theirs, He was from Nazareth, that they could keep Him all for themselves. And He would be able to cure their sick and perform miracles like they heard that He did in neighboring towns. “Hey Jesus, do that water into wine trick you did in Fairmont. You’re from Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont. This is your hometown. Don’t you think you could give us something too?” The people of Nazareth thought they could hoard Jesus for themselves. That God’s promises were exclusively for them and no one else. They wanted to hoard this Good News. They liked what they heard in this sermon from Jesus about this Good News that God will be releasing those who feel they are in bondage or who are oppressed or who are unable to see clearly. The people approved of what they heard. This was good stuff they were hearing.
Later though, they didn’t like Jesus anymore. They didn’t like what they heard. They disapproved of what they heard so much that they got up, drove Jesus out of town, and led Him to a cliff to hurl Him over the side of it. They turned on Him because Jesus told them that God’s promises reach beyond themselves. That this Good News is not just for them. It is not something that they can hoard for themselves. Rather it is intended to be shared, and shared abundantly.
Now as we are called to share this Good News abundantly, we tend to resist this call like Jeremiah did. We come up with excuses, one after another. Back in the summer of 2006, I was doing some office work at the campus ministry that I worked at. The phone rings in the office and on the other end of line is the senior pastor at the neighboring church just a few blocks away. He asks if I would be interested in being the high school youth director at his church. Without any hesitation at all, I flat out told him no. I told God no to doing His work. And you know what my excuse was? Besides not having a clue as to what to even do as a youth director, my excuse was that I was already working two jobs – one at the campus ministry (which I enjoyed doing), and the other was a job at a local grocery store (which I despised doing). So I told God no to doing His work because I preferred to keep a job that I was unhappy in rather than do ministry that I enjoyed. About a week and a half later I did accept the job offer and terminated my employment at the grocery store.
The excuses that we come up with are usually ridiculous when we take a step back to look at them. Jeremiah told God that he couldn’t be God’s prophet and messenger because he was just a boy; too young to know how to speak. Peter told God that he couldn’t follow Him because he was a fisherman. Moses told God that he couldn’t lead His people out of Egypt because he didn’t have a very eloquent speaking voice. So Moses pleads with God, “Lord, please send someone else.” How many times have we said that phrase? Or even just thought that phrase to ourselves? “Lord, please, please, please send someone else.” What are your excuses? I’m too old. I’m too tired. I’ve done my time. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough experience, or knowledge.
Putting all of our excuses aside, Paul tells us all that we need to know. Instead of focusing on what love is, Paul focuses on what love must do or not do. The way Paul describes love is through verbs, words that describe action. Not just a concept, but actual action. Love is not just something that is spoken; it is shown through our actions. Eight out of the fifteen actions that Paul lists are things that love must not do. If we have love for one another we do not envy or boast. We aren’t arrogant or rude. We don’t seek our own way. We aren’t irritable or resentful when we don’t get our way. And we don’t rejoice in the wrongdoing of others.
Paul says that if those are the things that love does not do, then to love is to be patient with other people, including your spouse. To love is to be patient with children. To love is to act kindly to others. When we have love for one another we rejoice with each other. We share in the struggles of today and we share with one another our hopes for tomorrow.
Where is God calling you today? Who are you being called to love today? What is God calling you to stop hoarding and to let go of today? When God calls us to do (or not do) a certain thing, He does so with a purpose. And that purpose is for the betterment of His kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven. May we continue to serve Him joyfully with faith, hope, and love. Amen.
© 2019 Anthony Christoffels. All Rights Reserved.