This sermon is based on the following scripture passages:
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."
1 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.
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.
Let me state some obvious facts that need to be restated from time to time.
One, God is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party.
Two, Jesus does not belong to or work for the Democrats.
Three, the Holy Spirit is not a Tea-Partier, a Libertarian, or affiliated with any other political movement.
Let me go even further in stating what should be obvious:
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not citizens of these United States.
And all of these things are true even if the Republican, Democrats or other parties and movements would like to lay claim to the divine presence.
And though we may print “In God we trust” on our currency,
and though there are many who confuse the priorities of our nation with the mind and purpose of God,
God is not confined to any nationality or people.
I bring this up because I believe that people can be very parochial,
and I don’t mean Catholic school system parochial either.
You see, parochial come from the Late Latin word parochialis.
Dating back to the 14th century, it did originally refer to a church parish,
but later it defined a unit of local government,
and then, finally, it came to mean “confined or restricted as if within the borders of a parish: limited in range or scope,”
and even “a person of local or restricted interests or outlook.”
That’s what I mean when I say this morning that people can be very parochial
I remember that, when I was in High School, the state of Kentucky,
issued new license plates for cars.
They were beautiful things . . . with an outline of the state,
the imprint of a running horse and its foal,
and the twin spires of Churchill Downs for a top border.,
There was just one problem.
For the first time in as long as people could remember,
the plates left off the county names.
You see, people in Kentucky are quite proud of where they are from,
and this includes the counties they live in.
Kentucky has 120 counties, second most of any state in the U.S.,
and its good folk like to show where they’re from on the cars they drive.
To say this caused a brouhaha would be putting it mildly.
In just a matter of days legislators were inundated with calls and letters,
and in about a week the state began issuing stickers with county names that people could apply to their licenses.
And you know what?
Everybody did just that.
I can’t remember seeing a single car without the county name on it after the stickers were mailed out.
And while on one hand this was all about pride of place,
on the other hand it was little more than sheer parochialism.
After all, one of the reasons people liked the county name on the license plate was so they could tell where other people were from.
You knew immediately if someone was from out of the area.
You knew right away whether or not someone belonged.
In a sense, you knew if a person was one of your people or not.
All that, just by looking at their license plate as they drove down the road.
Of course, parochialism is nothing new.
Narrow mindedness and prejudice has been part of the human race ever since Cain was exiled from his homeland for killing his brother Abel.
You probably remember, for instance, that one of our readings for last week was from Nehemiah.
The passage we heard described how the people,
newly returned to their homes after years of exile in a foreign land,
listened to and took the words of the law to heart as they were read to them.
It is a beautiful passage in many ways.
In it we see the power of God’s word,
and how it can reach out and touch those who hear it.
But all was not a bed of roses for the people of Judah upon the exiles’ return.
A little study of both Ezra and Nehemiah shows us that those who returned home had more than a little bit of a superiority complex when it came to how they treated those who had been left behind for all those years.
In fact, the exiles were deeply suspicious of them,
and ultimately Ezra, their religious leader,
issued a decree that he hoped would set some things right.
You see, many of the people who had been left behind during the time of the exile had begun to mingle with people from some of the surrounding nations.
Eventually some of them actually married foreign wives from Edom or Moab or elsewhere.
This did not set well with Ezra and others who had returned home.
They saw this as a dangerous practice.
They felt that being chosen by God meant that the Jews should keep their race and nation pure,
and so, shortly after the Temple was rebuilt,
Ezra ordered all the Jews who had foreign wives to divorce them and send them back to their former homelands.
Imagine the turmoil that this decree caused.
One wonders how many families and homes were destroyed because of this narrow-minded view.
How many lives were shattered because the religious leaders believed that this was what God wanted for his people?
And is that what God wanted?
Let’s look at scriptures for today for a answer to this question.
For instance, when the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in our first reading, what did God say to him?
Did he say, “I am going to make you a prophet to Judah?”
Did he say, “Look, I want you to only prophesy to my chosen people?”
No, this is what Jeremiah records:
The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I consecrated you;
and I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
To the nations . . . to all people. . . not just to some.
Even the idea of being chosen,
which goes all the way back to Abraham,
has, at it’s core, that the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people,
were chosen for a purpose far greater than just their own good fortune.
As God told Abraham:
“I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation.
You will become famous and be a blessing to others. . .
and all the families on the earth will be blessed because of you.
All the families on the earth will be blessed because of you.
What a wonderful purpose and mission!
And yet this grand purpose was often forgotten over the ensuing centuries.
This truth may be what prompts Jesus to say the things he says in the synagogue at Nazareth.
If you remember the gospel from last week,
you’ll recall that it ended on a high note.
Jesus has come to his hometown, goes to church, so to speak,
and is asked to read the scripture and preach a short sermon.
When he is finished,
everyone there is amazed at and pleased with what he has said.
As Luke records it:
“And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
But then Luke adds: “And they said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’"
It’s almost as if they cannot believe that Joseph’s boy could be capable of doing and saying what Jesus did and said.
Everyone there, after all, knew all about Mary’s unexpected pregnancy before her marriage to Joseph.
To them, Jesus was probably little more than an illegitimate son.
And we all know the word that is used to name an illegitimate boy, don’t we?
Their amazement at and pride of Jesus is mixed with more than a little prejudice,
and perhaps that explains what Jesus says next:
“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.’
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."
What Jesus does here is to confront head-on their prejudices and narrow-mindedness.
He tells them that God has no use for their parochial attitudes,
and that God’s love and care is bigger than their tiny, constricted hearts.
He does this by picking out two foreigners, two non-Jews, from the Old Testament that received God’s favor over or instead of those who were “God’s Chosen People.”
Needless to say, this made the people in church that day very angry.
None of us like to have our prejudices exposed.
None of us like to have someone call us narrow-minded.
And yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.
It made the good church members so mad that they, in Luke’s words,
“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”
Now that is angry.
Thank God I have never preached such an inflammatory sermon myself.
I doubt that I could get away from an angry mob as easily as Jesus did.
But you see, don’t you, what Jesus is doing here?
He is doing something that has been described as the prophet’s and preacher’s job throughout the centuries:
comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
Jesus is challenging them to remember why they were chosen in the first place.
He is trying to get them to see that God is bigger and better than their image of the divine.
That God is not just a reflection of what they think and believe.
God is not a Jew. He is not Israelite.
Further, God is not a Pharisee, nor a Sadducee . . . not even a Scribe.
God is above and beyond all those labels and human distinctions,
and God calls his children to be above them too.
And lest we think this problem of narrow minds and constricted hearts ended with the advent of the Church,
Paul shows us in his letter to Corinth that this isn’t the case.
All through Corinthians Paul has written about the things that have divided the church, divisions that threaten to destroy the very body of Christ in Corinth.
In chapter one he points out that just because a particular Christian was baptized by Apollo or Peter or some other church leader doesn’t make that person better than those who were baptized by somebody else.
As he says,
It has been reported to me that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ."
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1Co 1:10-13)
Paul then goes on to address the fact that some Christians in Corinth think themselves better than other Christians because of their wisdom and knowledge.
Paul also confronts those Christian men who think themselves better than others because they have been circumcised.
Still other believers are chastised because consider themselves above the newer Christians because they have rejected the religious laws of Judaism,
In effect, they ridicule those who still follow the law,
and in their “freedom” they cause some of their weaker brothers and sisters in the faith to stumble,
Even the celebration of the Lord’s Supper has become an opportunity for those who have in the church to lord it over those who do not.
And that finally brings Paul to a discussion of spiritual gifts.
And again, some Corinthians seem to have a knack for finding a way to look down their spiritual noses at those who don’t have the same gifts they possess.
I speak in tongues and prophesy, says one Christian,
so I am better or more spiritual than you.
Another counters, “Yeah, well I can heal people, so I am better than you.”
And on and on it went.
By this time, I would be ready to wring a few necks,
but Paul is better at dealing with this type of thing than I am:
He tells the Corinthians that they are all part of the body of Christ,
that none of them are better than the others,
and that each of them have been given a gift or gifts,
not for their own good or spiritual pride,
but for the good of the body.
He then tells them that the real problem is their narrow minds have led them to have constricted hearts,
although he puts it in a different way:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts,
and I will show you a still more excellent way. (1Co 12:27-31)
And what is that more excellent way?
And what is also the cure for narrow-mindedness and hearts that are three or four or five times too small?
It is the way of love, of course.
And this is what Paul writes about in today’s epistle reading.
I close my message with my own paraphrase of text.
If I speak with great eloquence, conviction and beauty, but do so without love, my words are little more than bombastic bellowing or a grating noise.
And though I have the power to speak for God and understand every mystery and comprehend all knowledge, and if I have all the faith that could move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
And though I give away everything I possess, and even if I offer my own body as a sacrifice to the flames of fire, but have not love, I have gained nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind. Love does not envy, love is not arrogant or proud. It does not act unseemly; it is not self-seeking, not easily provoked, and does not dwell on evil. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, has faith in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
As for prophecies, they will vanish away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it too will end. For now we know in part and prophesy in part, but when all is brought to completion, then all that is partial will pass away.
When I was I child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I put away childish ways. For now we see as in a mirror darkened and distorted, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know even as I am fully known.
And so it is that faith, hope and love live and dwell within us, these three; but the greatest of these is love.