You are fully known and fully loved by God, and that love – as Paul so beautifully describes it – will open you to see it shared with and blessing everyone and everything.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Lect. 4 C
Texts: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Jesus’ neighbors thought they knew him, and they admired him.
Then they wanted to kill him. That’s a big shift.
Luke says they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” and they spoke well of him. So when they said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” it probably wasn’t “Who does he think he is?” It was more likely hometown pride that this kid they all knew was now an impressive rabbi.
So what happened?
Well, Jesus knew his neighbors, too.
The good people of Nazareth weren’t any different from any group of people in any towns and villages in history. Most probably cared for their neighbor, cleaned up after their dog, obeyed the law.
To these good folks, Jesus claimed – we heard his preaching in last week’s Gospel – that he fulfilled the Scriptures, that the Spirit anointed him to free the captives, to bring sight to those who couldn’t see, to proclaim good news to those who were poor. His neighbors loved that.
But Jesus knew them like he knows you and me. He knew that it’s one thing to admire someone. It’s a completely different thing to follow them, act on their words. He knew they weren’t ready for the full implications of what God’s love and healing meant for the whole world.
Because he knew them, he provoked them. And they got angry.
He reminded them that God’s love would be for all people, all nations. This wasn’t news to them. The prophets of Israel had long declared that God’s Anointed, the Messiah, even God’s people, the chosen ones, would be a blessing to all nations, all peoples.
The stories of Elijah and Elisha were known to them, too, of course. But Jesus pointed out that in those beloved stories God brought healing outside Israel.
Jesus’ neighbors could have rejoiced in God’s love extending to all. But they could find only rage.
Jesus said he’d give sight to the blind. He meant a lot more than physical healing.
He came to open the eyes of God’s people to see as God sees, to know as God knows. To rejoice that God’s love is not exclusive to one group of people but is for all. And to live that love.
In Luke’s Gospel, this promise begins at the beginning. God’s love is a light to the non-Jewish nations, Simeon sang (and we’ve sung every Sunday this Epiphany season), and also the glory of the people of Israel. Peace to all God’s people on earth, the angels sang to the shepherds.
This is what Jesus knew his neighbors would struggle to see and live, but needed to see if they were truly going to live in the warmth of God’s love.
For a moment they thought they saw God clearly in Jesus, face-to-face. But they weren’t ready for what he showed them about God. They were actually seeing him dimly, to borrow Paul’s words, as if in a mirror, distorted from the real truth.
True sight is needed to understand Jesus today – and Paul.
Paul’s beautiful truth is that nothing of what you or I do or think or value or build means anything if we’re not shaped by Christly love for all, infused with it, breathing it.
This is life or death for you, Paul says. The only thing of any value to your existence is dwelling in a love that is patient, kind. A love that’s not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. A love that doesn’t insist on its own way. A love that isn’t irritable or resentful. A love that rejoices in truth, not in wrongdoing. A love that bears all things, a love that trusts all things, a love that hopes all things, a love that endures all things. A love that never ends. Christly love.
Imagine what your life would be like if that love was your center, your heart, your reality. Not some fanciful list of unlikely what-ifs, but how you lived and moved all the time.
We’re not there yet. Sometimes we’d rather admire Jesus than follow him. We see him dimly, not face-to-face. We only know God partially, not fully. We may not want to kill Jesus. But we often ignore him when he inconveniently asks love of us we don’t want to do.
Here’s something that can open your eyes.
Paul says God fully knows you, even if you don’t know God fully. God fully sees you even if you can’t see God. That never ending love God hopes from you is in fact the never ending love God has for you. Even if you can only see God’s love in a mirror, dimly, even if God’s ways of loving all are hard for you to understand, you are fully seen by God, fully known by God, fully loved by God.
One day, Paul says, you will see fully and know fully, too. But he wrote this because even here, with our spiritual blind spots, we can start seeing, start knowing, start loving. If nothing can separate you from this love of God in Christ Jesus, that very love will be the thing that heals you, teaches you, opens your eyes.
Which, if you’ve been listening to Jesus, you already knew.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he told us and Nazareth last week, “because the Spirit has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus always promised to give you the sight you needed, to free you from anxiety and fear that keep you captive, to break you from any oppression that holds you. Jesus always promised that wherever you were poor, he was your good news.
He just needs you to know that everyone gets that, too. For you to see the Triune God in Jesus face-to-face and rejoice that all are embraced by God’s love in Christ. And to live that.
Paul’s right: now we see dimly, and know partially.
But Luke’s promise in Acts is that the same Spirit who anointed Jesus to this work has anointed you and me to the same. And the Spirit moves wherever she wants, and this is what she wants to do. Open your eyes and your understanding and your heart.
You can be outraged that you have to share this love with every one and everything. Or you can rejoice that this love is so great all God’s creation will be blessed by it. But Paul is certain that without this love, your life won’t have much meaning or use. Living it, you’ll be blessed beyond anything you can imagine.
In the name of Jesus. Amen