Sermon – 4 Epiphany

4 Epiphany

North Shore Baptist Church

31 January, 2010

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

And the World is About to Turn!

(Read Jeremiah passage)

Let us pray: Lord God of the prophets, may the words I speak and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your purposes of Grace and Love. Amen.

***

The passage read by Carol is one of the most well know pieces of Scripture; known by almost anyone who has ever been to a wedding. I read this passage 5 nights a week for a year and a half when I was in Tony n Tina’s Wedding. The words have become so enmeshed in our minds with weddings that when it comes up in the Lectionary; how is one to talk about it?

Well, for starters I will say that this passage should be stripped of the eros that is has received over the ages. Many of you know that while there is only one word in the English language for love; in the Greek of the New Testament there are three words that can be translated to love. They are Philia, Eros, and Agape.

Philia is an Aristotelian concept that is reminiscent of the kind of feelings that one would have for a friend; it is a general dispassionate love. It is loyalty to friends.

Eros is commonly thought of as romantic, sexual love, but it is more than that. While in a contemporary context that is its meaning in the context of the New Testament it was the kind of love that one would feel towards friends, more meaningful than philia, but not necessarily romantic. Lovers and Philosophers seek truth via eros; for as Plato said about eros, it helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth.

Agape is the third form of Love in the Greek of the New Testament. This is the love we are most familiar with in the church world. It presents us with a deep, genuine affection that goes beyond that of eros. It is the deepest kind of love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes Agape this way:

Agape is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, but he loves every man because God loves them. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.

It is agape that Paul is referring to in in this passage. So, lets get rid of the sentimentality of this passage and look at it as the “creation of a vision of love that rejoices in truth and bears all the suffering of Christ!”

Paul was holding up a mirror to the people of Corinth, and in turn is doing the same things to us.

Paul is holding up the mirror to the Corinthians and reminding them, that, yes, the gifts of the Spirit are great and important things; but they mean nothing unless there is love. Love, to Paul, is the only thing of permanence. It is the only thing that will remain when all else is gone.

When Paul tells the church that love is patient; it is because they have not been patient.

When love is kind; they have not been kind.

When love is not envious, boastful, or rude; they have been all of those.

This mirror held up to us helps us to see whether or not we are holding ourselves to the standard that God has put before us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This church is a wonderful place and does much great work, but we must stop from time to time and look into that mirror. We must make sure that in all we do there is the love. When we open our doors to the world: we must be a place of patience, kindness, hospitality. We must become a sanctuary. It is our call! We are that kind of place, but we must not forget it, and even if times get tough and belts need tightened we need to remember our call.

This is a call the entire church universal must live into.

So often the church acts like Jeremiah from todays text: “But I am just a boy. I don’t know how to speak!” We forget that God has had this calling on God’s people since before creation: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you a prophet to all nations!.”

Friends, part of being a body of love is to find our prophetic voice. We need to hold God’s mirror up to the world, and not be afraid of what may happen.

We must find our voice and use it!

2009 saw 460 murders in Chicago. Nearly 50% of the victims were between the ages of 20 and 30.

352 of the victims were black; 106 white or hispanic; 1 Asian; and 1 race unknown.

In the 2008-2009 school year over 36 children were killed…many by other kids.

In our own neighborhood, a nursing home is being threatened with closure because of its extremely poor treatment of patients.

People, our neighbors, are loosing their homes because of deceptive banking practices.

Shelters are closing left and right leaving our homeless with no place to stay.

Politicians are debating whether or not someone should have the privilege to be covered by insurance when they become ill.

Students are going broke going to college.

We open the newspaper and we see stories of disappointment, distress, and distrust.

Sisters and brothers, being a place of God’s love extends beyond the walls of our building and the buildings of other churches. We must begin to use our voice. We must speak truth to power and look at the systems that are the cause of such injustices.

This is why we must hold this mirror up to ourselves first! For we see in a mirror dimly, but when the room is ignited by the light of God we can begin to see clearly. We can begin to speak not as a children, but as an adults.

The church must get her hands dirty and call our leaders out when they are acting unjustly. When the voices of power become so loud that they begin to cover the cries of the children in the streets; when the voices of the “reasonable” drown out the voices of the hurting; when the shouts of MORE, MORE, MORE overwhelm the cries of please, please, please. We must hold up that mirror and say ENOUGH!

MP William Wilburforce said enough and fought parliament. He fought for the abolition of the slave trade and argued for the love of God…and this led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 which led to the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire.

Mamie Till said enough and demanded her brutalized son’s casket remain open forcing people to see the horror of racism. She demanded the world see what they did to her baby.

Brother Bill Tomes said enough and walked into the killing fields of Cabrini Green. In is cassock made of blue jeans he would be an angel of light. He would deal with gang members in only one way…the love of Christ.

Parents all around this city are saying enough and gathering together to reform their schools. Getting involved in the local schools councils, and holding the mirror to the administrations and teachers.

We must follow their lead and tell those who hold power: look at yourselves. You, Mr. Politician, you are one election away from becoming obsolete if you do not start acting in love! You, Mrs. CEO, are one share-holders meeting away from being unemployed if you do not start acting in love! You, Bank Lender, are one deceptive loan away from closing your doors if you do not start acting in love!

This is what being the church is! We are God’s voice for the voiceless! We are God’s hands and feet! We, Sisters and Brothers, are the Body of Christ!

Love is the only thing that can change the world. We can prophecy; speak in tongues; teach; preach; do miracles; but none of those things are of any use unless they are rooted in love.

Like the Jeremiah, we may continually moan about having to do this job, but the LORD has touched the church and given us given us the words and authority “to pluck up and to pull down; to destroy and overthrow; to build and to plant!”

No one said being the church was an easy road.

But, there is to joy in our work. Though sometimes the road is daunting, and the hill steep: when we hear of a child making it home from school safely; when a friend gets a job; when the ill are able to get treated; we are given a glimpse of the world as it should be! We are given the hope that will help us to continue. Our faith is restored. The great gift of love is present!

It is with these words that I urge you all to go to the polls on Tuesday. Look beyond all the vitriol spewed on the television. Learn what the candidates stand for. Then hold the mirror up to their positions. Are they acting in love? Will their policies attack they systems that have done the damage, or are they the status-quo? If you find none that meet those standards, there is the blank line for a write in. Make your voice heard. Let the world know that the love of God influences your decisions. And when the decisions are made and the general election is held in November: Keep the elected accountable. Keep on them. Hold the mirror to their actions, and if they are not acting in ways that show the love of God; let them know!

It is with these words that I urge you get get involved in neighborhood associations; local school councils; write letters to the editors; get involved. Be a prophetic voice; hold up the mirror, and do not forget to look into it yourselves.

It is with these words that I urge us, as a community of faith, to not be afraid and speak out against injustices in our neighborhood; city; country; world: for if we proclaim the love of God nothing else matters.

Agape is a transformative, redemptive love that will change the world. It is our job to make that Agape known!

If we do that, can you imagine how the world might change?

It will not happen overnight, but we can be a people of transformation and renewal. We can be a people of hope; we just need not be afraid. Sisters and brothers…faith, hope and love remain…love being the greatest. With it great things will happen:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears,

For the dawn draws near,

Friends, And the world is about to turn.

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