Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 Luke 4: 21-30
There are any number of popular songs that speak about love, describing in all kinds of ways what a wonderful emotion this is. Yet the tension between that longed-for state and reality is sometimes sadly a huge gulf. We have all come across instances of people who have made promises to each other during their marriage services and then found it difficult to honour those promises; which may go some way to explaining high divorce rates and shocking murder statistics by partners.
And yet, I can’t help thinking about that wonderful poem in 1 Corinthians 13 which is so often read at weddings. Here is just a little part of it:
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 is revolutionary
Take the first statement ‘Love is patient’. Of course, we are all extremely patience with the nearest and dearest! Yet what parent, in the midst of tantrums from their toddlers or misbehaviour from their teenagers has not prayed this prayer, ‘O Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now!’ Although often prayed with humour, this is a prayer about bringing change within us.
So the longer I consider it, real love is neither mushy nor sentimental, and in terms of Luke 4 we discovered last week that it is to start a revolution of epic proportions. The earlier part of Luke 4 last week told of Jesus’ return to the village of Nazareth where he had been brought up. There on the Sabbath day, he attended the synagogue as was his custom. That he returned home, attended worship and was invited to read the scriptures is probably no surprise, but then he continued by sitting down to preach – just as any other visiting rabbi would do. Watch their faces – here is the carpenter expounding God’s word!
- Love is dangerous
Jesus’ home-coming incited his friends and family so much that by the end of the reading we discover that, in their rage they drove him out of town and would have thrown him over the cliff’s edge, but he escaped them. (v 28) This is not an image of cosy domesticity or congratulatory indulgence of local boy made good!
The difficulties of rising above expectations and the impact on your hometown was especially noted amongst the prophets: it was perceived that everyone knows everything about you and therefore not only can support networks be good, there are times when they are just suffocating.
Perhaps that’s what happened here; the good citizens of Nazareth were not about to hear the lesson from this young upstart even if he has been trained in his absence. Yet I think it goes further, for Jesus tells them that this prophecy, so long indicating the arrival of the Messiah, is coming true before their very eyes.
The words from Isaiah read by the carpenter turned rabbi have a remarkable parallel in the Magnificat – Mary’s hymn of praise, that is equally revolutionary – you can certainly tell that this is Mary’s son! But it leads me to wonder, what did we learn from our parents; and what are we handing on to our own children and grandchildren I wonder?
Jesus read Isaiah 61 – a passage articulating certain well-known ideas concerning the coming Messiah to his hearers, and then declares that this new age is unfolding before their very eyes. So when we think of Jesus beginning his ministry, the congregation suffered sermon-rage. We catch a glimpse of the passionate portrayal of God’s love; they saw nothing except the red mist of burning anger.
Yet this is the kind of love speaks about releasing people from anything which prevents them reaching their full potential. Opening their eyes to seeing the full possibilities open to them, and lifting the burdens that hold them back.
But the people of Nazareth are not ready to examine the truth offered to them and so reject it. And what about us??
- Love is community
It seems to me that we too are invited to examine the truth about Jesus, to experience this love for ourselves, and then to begin to make it available to others. So how do we begin to reach our own potential in Christ and how do we help others on the way?
I think the secret is tied up in this dangerous yet domestic love. The domestic side of love concerns the way in which God is invites us to be at home in the divine presence and love. One of the best descriptions of the Trinity I ever heard describes God as community, forever self-emptying for the good of the other. Daniel Migliore affirms God as trinity in this way:
- The eternal life of God is personal life in relationship
- God exists in community. The divine life is social and covenantal
- The life of God is essentially self-giving love (Daniel L Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: an Introduction to Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. 1991), 67-72
One of the best descriptions of the work of salvation I know is the picture of a father patiently waiting for a wayward child to return. Sometimes we see young people far from home – either in a literal or metaphorical sense or both. We know the dangers they are facing, but we also know that they may not appreciate concerned help of any sort. Sometimes they must make their own painful way in life. But it is not just the young who are ensnared by bad habits, refusing to look up, unable to cope with burdens. God is longing for our return, when confidently and maturely we walk home with no expectations and no hidden agendas and realise that our place is here in that what it is we have longed for all along.
Finding your home in the community of God is one of the most liberating experiences you can hope for. But there are responsibilities to be shared; there are others who may be looking for someone to point the way.
- Love is giving
So real love is truly dangerous, but it is also designed for sharing. The poet Catherine Baird described love as a ‘sacred gift’:
Love is the gift of the Spirit treasure beyond all compare, sent from the heart of the Father, talent most sacred and rare. Though I grow daily in wisdom, toiling new knowledge to prove, these cannot succour the neighbour Jesus has bid me to love. How shall I love my Creator, Author and Giver of grace, love him with heart, mind and spirit when I have not seen his face? Jesus, thy cross is the answer, weeping I witness thy pain, through the dark hour of thy suffering death cannot threaten thy reign. Humbly I kneel, my Redeemer, waiting and looking above, here, in the hour of thy glory, watching the triumph of love; small though the chalice I’m bringing, offering all that is mine, pouring my talent for loving into the ocean of thine. Into the ocean of thine, into the ocean of thine, pouring my talent for loving into the ocean of thine.
Baird’s poem senses the enormity of God’s love and describes it as an ocean, but at the same time suggests that our only response should be to respond with our own gift of love.
It is vital (literally) that this is a gift given to God that will enable the good news to be made known to the spiritually impoverished. It is a lifetime adventure! It is dangerous because love is about learning just how precarious building relationships can be, yet still being prepared to take risks.