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Epiphany 4, 2022

Updated: Jul 31, 2022

4th Sunday of Epiphany

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 & Luke 4:21-30

The Rev. Cameron Partridge

January 30, 2022

Good morning, St. Aidan’s, and welcome to the fourth Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Our journey into this shining terrain thus far has brought us from the Magi’s gifts to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, to the Wedding at Cana, and then last week to the Synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and preached, “today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The scripture he had just read declared the year of Jubilee, the healing and rebalancing of the world. Good news would be brought to the poor, the imprisoned would be set free, those without sight would have it restored, the oppressed would be released. It is a vision of beloved community, as Elaina preached last week together with Margaret, as we commemorated the poet Mary Oliver whose feast day – should the Church one day decide to add her to our calendar of saints – would likely be January 17. Bringing together last week’s Gospel passage with the vision of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians about our membership in Christ’s collective body, Margaret and Elaina asked us to embrace the freedom of God’s love, our expansive welcome, as members of that body. As Margaret asked via Mary Oliver’s words, “Do we always feel that we are clear about our place in the family of things?” Or, to route this question through Epiphany, does the deep truth of our belovedness and belonging in God’s creation resound within us and through us to others? This embrace and sharing of God’s love sounds so simple – and in many ways it is. And yet our call to this embrace, reflected in today’s readings, acknowledges that it can also be a struggle. In recognizing the challenge of our membership in this expansive, loving body, we are brought deeper into our call to bear witness to that love in the world.

Our gospel passage from Luke picks up where last week’s left off, in fact beginning with the declaration from Jesus that last week’s passage concluded. If only the story ended with last week’s inspiration, we might think. The Jubilee proclamation paints such an inspiring picture – can we not leave it at that? But no. It’s back to the oh so human reality as the story continues. Initially the community seems to be filled with pride at one of their own who has succeeded. We’ve known this guy since he was a kid, and now look at him! “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they ask. This is not the kind of recognition Jesus is looking for, and it sets him off. Reading this passage, one might wonder why. The quotations and stories Jesus goes on to cite suggest that he wants to radically reset their expectations and push the communal borders of his mission. His hometown should not expect him to set up shop there, as if Nazareth would now rise on the tide of Jesus’ growing recognition. The stories Jesus tells about Elijah and Elisha highlight how these prophetic predecessors supported people beyond the borders of their immediate communities. Elijah assisted a Gentile widow at Zarephath and Elisha healed Naaman, a general whose army was a traditional enemy of Jesus’ community. However proud Jesus’ hometown might be of him in that moment – and they were right to be! – they could not limit his mission by a narrow frame of reference, remembering him from his childhood days.[1] They would not get special treatment. This provocative declaration sends the crowd into a terrifying rage, and they drive Jesus to the brow of the town’s hill. Thankfully somehow, at least at this point in Jesus’ story, he manages to pass peacefully through the crowd to continue on his way. Yet the challenge Jesus has issued to all in earshot, including us, is to not overly narrow the scope of Jesus’ vision and mission. The good news he declared was not containable, issuing a call to deep and expansive liberation, to what our second reading renders as a love more expansive and transformative than our minds can fully fathom.

Our passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is likely very familiar to us from weddings, where its beautiful language inspires beloveds as they braid new kinships into being. Pauline scholarship has actively wondered about the origins of this passage, noting that in some ways it seems to have been spliced into the letter, even if the passage was originally written by Paul.[2] Notably, it comes directly after the passage we heard last week about the collective body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-31a). As you may recall, in that passage the various members of the body are uplifted as all necessary for the functioning of the whole. Skills and gifts are all part of this picture—the whole is enriched by its multiple parts, becoming something richer and truer. As Elaina and Margaret emphasized last week, this vision of collective embodiment is a call is to belonging, to truly embracing one’s part in the whole. This week’s passage sets the tone of that call to fully embrace our belonging, and to do so in and with love.

What I appreciate about this passage’s emphasis on love is its acknowledgment of complexity, including complicated emotions and reactions. By saying love is not envious, boastful, rude, or irritable, Paul acknowledges that human beings do in fact feel and act in these ways. I know I can get irritable and impatient, and any number of people I encounter day to day can as well. Even yesterday, as Margaret and I were digging a hole for a tree in the Little Red Hen Garden, we hit a momentary snag of misunderstanding from someone who is very protective of the space. The moment passed, as we indeed had permission to be digging, and all was ultimately well. In fact, I felt the love of God undergirding us, weaving deeper connection to the neighborhood, all the way through that process. It strikes me that Paul’s passage speaks through all our digging, that whatever we may be making our way through, we all are caught up in a love that knows and sees our grief, who knows our pain, our longing, our deep care and our struggle to express it aright. This is no simplistic love. It is not a love that ignores human reality but, knowing who we are and how we react, takes us deeper into who we are as members of Christ’s body, of God’s beloved community. God’s love “rejoices in [this] truth” (1 Cor 13:6). It glories in a truth so large that human beings cannot fully fathom it -- not on this side of the grave. And this limitation in our understanding is crucial to the love Paul describes and calls us to embrace. This love acknowledges the limits of our understanding and perception, and somehow manages to rejoice in that as well. “We know only in part, and we prophesy only in part,” Paul says, “but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end” (1 Cor 13:9-10). The word for complete, teleios, can also be translated as “whole.” It gestures toward a journey toward completeness, toward a fullness that God gifts to us as we draw nearer to God’s own heart. Our ultimate end, an end that extends beyond this life, is what the Christian tradition has called “beatific vision,” to see God face to face, to know fully even as we have been fully known. Yet even now this love, grounded in knowing and being known, calls our attention back to the present, to thismoment where we are invited truly to know our belonging, our belovedness as members of Christ’s expansive, collective body.

Even now we have this mirror or glass through which we see darkly – or obscurely, as the Greek can also be translated. Mirrors of the ancient world (including those made in Corinth) were not like ours—they were made of metal, not glass.[3] One saw a likeness in them, but not without some distortion, some obscurity. I am reminded of an odd discovery I once made as a child—I have a distinct memory of discovering that I could see my reflection in a doorknob. I remember telling my friends, hey look! Our faces looked so oddly rounded— funhouse mirror-like. We danced around in front of the doorknobs together. For now we see ourselves in a door knob oddly, we might say, but then, also, face to face. Now we know in part, strangely, humorously, sometimes challengingly, but then we will know and see fully, even as we have been fully seen. This is divine love. Love that we can manifest in this world out of the knowledge that we are in fact already embraced, already known, loved beyond the telling.

I felt that love yesterday both at the Little Red Hen Garden and here among many of you as we dug in the moist, wintry Bay Area earth, planting new life and possibility, love emerging out of grief. We planted a small Meyer Lemon tree just outside our doors, as we had long planned, to lift up “lives lost, lives changed by COVID,” referencing the “leaves of the tree shall be or the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2b). We dug in community, connecting in person, sharing stories, planting possibility as we begin to see the light at the end of this omicron variant tunnel. Even in the days and weeks to come, we know, new twists and turns will emerge. New occasions will unfold in which we will need to lean on our beloved belonging. Our call will remain to bear forth that love in the world, expanding beyond the known and familiar, calling us to be beacons of transformative possibility in this world. On this morning I give thanks for love expansive and comprehensive enough to carry all of who we are into that future, bringing us ever closer to God’s liberating good news in this world.

[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, Luke: A Theological Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 63-67. [2] Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, “1 Corinthians” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988, 2000), 1089. Also, Wayne Meeks, The Writings of St. Paul: A Norton Critical Edition (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1972), 41, n. 6. Meeks notes, “only one aspect of the prose-poem seems un-Pauline: Jesus Christ is not once mentioned.” [3] Schussler Fiorenza, “1 Corinthians,” 1089.

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