1 Corinthians 13.1–13
Good morning! My name is Jeremiah. No, not that one, not Jeremiah the prophet! I’m Jeremiah the boy who lives in the village of Nazareth. What’s that? How old am I? I’m fourteen! I live with my parents and sisters in a normal kind of house—a few rooms, a courtyard, a few animals, a place to work, and a hiding place in case Roman soldiers come looking for rebels. But why would they ever come to little old Nazareth? I mean, only about four hundred people live here. But my dad says better safe than sorry, so we have a hiding place. I go there when I want to be alone for awhile.
You want to know life is like at Nazareth? There’s not much here—a stone quarry, farmland on terraces, a wine press. Oh, and watch-towers. (I’m not sure what they’re watching for in this out-of-the-way place.)
We eat pretty much the same thing every day— flatbread made with barley, and lentils with fruit and goat’s cheese. Sometimes, we have dried fish. On special days, we get a bit of lamb. That’s my favourite!
There’s not much to do at Nazareth. Something did happen the other day though, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Jesus came back. He’s quite old, nearly thirty I think. His family just live three houses down from ours. His father Joseph was a good carpenter so my dad says, and he thinks Jesus should’ve carried on the family trade.
It created quite a stir when Jesus returned, because people all over Galilee have been talking about him. He’s been teaching in synagogues all over the place, and healing people of all sorts of things. He’s famous! They said he was going to put Nazareth on the map!
When he came back home, it was decided that he should preach in our synagogue too. The reading that day was from the prophet Isaiah, and they gave the scroll to Jesus. We were all looking forward to what he had to say.
It was that amazing passage about the Spirit of the Lord anointing his messenger to bring good news to the poor, to release captives and let the blind see. Jesus said “The year of the Lord’s favour” was here, right now! Everyone thought they’d never heard a better preacher, even at the Temple in Jerusalem. I heard my dad say, I always knew that boy would go far!
Then Jesus went and ruined it.
Everyone thought if the year of the Lord’s favour had come, it should start here in Nazareth. Charity begins at home and all that. Physician, heal your own! After all, this village knows Jesus and has been part of his growing up.
But Jesus said that it was happening everywhere, not just here. The Lord would even favour foreigners over us.
My dad muttered Ungrateful thing, after all we’ve done! I always knew that boy was no good!
They drove him out of town and it looked like it might get ugly. But he just calmly looked them in the eyes and walked away.
I haven’t seen him since, but I can’t forget what happened. People have said to me that God might be calling me to do something, like he called Jeremiah the prophet. Maybe I am being called—but I don’t know…I don’t want to end up like Jesus.
Let me speak for a while as myself, and not as a spotty-faced youth of Nazareth some 2000 years ago.
The people in Jesus’ home town only missed one thing—but it turned out to be the most important thing.
The people of Nazareth were blessed. They were blessed to have Jesus grow up in their midst, they were blessed to be part of the story, but they weren’t blessed for their sakes alone. They were blessed to be a blessing to others. That’s what they didn’t get.
They knew Jesus, they’d watched him grow up. He was one of them. They felt they had some rights over him.
But Jesus wasn’t ‘theirs’.
It wasn’t about them.
It wasn’t about Jesus either. What had Jesus just read from the prophet Isaiah?
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me 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 favour.
It wasn’t about them. It was and is about God, and God’s mission to the poor, the blind, the captives. The Spirit of God had come upon Jesus at his baptism for this mission. The Spirit of God had driven Jesus into the wilderness testing time for this mission.
We heard the story of the call of Jeremiah the prophet today. It wasn’t ‘about’ Jeremiah either. He wasn’t called because of his achievements—God already knew him “in the womb”. It didn’t matter that he was “only a youth” in a time when grey hairs were far more respected than they are today. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t confident about speaking publicly. God was with him, and God put words upon his lips. God equipped Jeremiah to bring a message of both judgement and grace.
In calling Jeremiah, God was telling him “It’s not about you. It’s not about your achievements, or your limitations. It’s about the mission.”
Don’t get me wrong. God loved Jeremiah, God blessed Jeremiah, but Jeremiah was blessed to be a blessing to others.
And God declared Jesus to be the “Beloved Son” at his baptism. Jesus was the beloved Son so that in him we could find ourselves as God’s beloved sons and daughters. Even Jesus was blessed to be a blessing to others.
When I was a young Christian, I was taught that it actually was all about me. They didn’t mean to teach me that, but that’s what they did.
I was taught to keep asking myself, Am I really saved? Have I given my whole heart to Jesus? Can I be sure that I’ll go to heaven?
I could never truly be sure. I couldn’t believe I’d given my whole heart to Jesus. So I felt I had to keep giving it and giving it over again, and one wonderful day I’d know I’d given the whole thing to the Lord.
Except, I could never be sure.
I was learning that it was all about my response, my sincerity, my faith. Since then, I’ve learnt differently.
It’s not about me. It’s not about my grasp of God, which is sometimes strong and sometimes weak. It’s about God’s grasp of me, which is always firm and steadfast.
I make mistakes, I’m not ‘there’ yet, I’m on a journey of faith. I am part of what the Basis of Union (para. 3) calls “a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal”.
We’re on the way, and we’re on the way together. We make mistakes, we’re not ‘there’ yet, we’re pilgrim people on a journey of faith.
And on that journey we are called with Jesus to bring good news to the poor, the blind, the captives. We’re called as Jeremiah was called, even though the way may be narrow and the path steep, even though others may not understand, even though they think us odd or strange.
At Centenary Uniting Church, we express this odd, pilgrim journey in these this words. It’s our vision statement:
Living the mission of God
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit.
This statement is more about God and God’s mission than it is about us. It says what God calls us to do, here and now and as 2013 progresses. It says how we are to “live God’s mission”—“as disciples of Jesus, united in the Spirit”. The Spirit keeps our eyes on Jesus, so that we “may not lose the way”. (Basis of Union, para.3)
We’re not a group of like-minded people. We’re not united by our political or theological opinion. Jesus Christ unites us in the Spirit. We are diverse in theology, in politics, in our place of birth and in so many other ways. But God has called us and God equips us.
Now, I expect someone is thinking, Saying It’s not about you, it’s about God is too black and white! Surely it’s not that simple!
That’s a good point! It’s not that simple. It’s better to say It’s about God-and-us. It’s about God drawing us along the pilgrim journey together, helping us to grow in faith and hope and love together, and opening our eyes to the poor, the blind, the captive, the asylum-seeker, the long-term unemployed, the environment… Even if if others don’t understand.
What it’s not about is God requiring perfection before we can do anything.
We are God’s beloved children. We are called to join in God’s mission. We are blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.