Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Walking toward love

Wicker Park Lutheran Church

Vicar Sarah Derrick

February 3rd, 2019

Many of us might remember where we were on September 11. We might remember where we were, maybe we remember the fear we felt, the confusion, the anger. Maybe we had a loved one in New York or Washington and we waited to hear whether they were okay.

This weekend, I heard a story of a Muslim woman in New York on the day of September 11. Her brother was a doctor and her family waited anxiously to learn if he had headed into the towers following the attacks, ultimately they would learn that he had not survived. In her waiting, she received a call from her children’s school that there were mobs gathering outside. When she arrived, she had to fight through angry crowds, in her own neighborhood, making her way inside to retrieve her children. As she left the school with her children, she recalled an encounter with an angry man yelling at her and saying all kinds of terrible things to her—about her hijab that covered her head, about Islam, about her family. She recalled her decision to get out of her car and walk back toward this man, her decision to testify to who she was and what the religion she followed stood for—love and peace. She described the sheer rage in this man’s eyes, and how in their encounter, she saw his eyes change. When the police arrived, and moved toward the man to arrest him, she pleaded with the officer not to arrest him, and they didn’t.

Rohina’s story[1] is a story that moves between love and rage, fluidly. Love and concern for her brother, rage at a tragedy of catastrophic proportion, love for her children, the rage of an angry crowd, love and respect of one’s own self, the rage of a man who is fearful.

It isn’t a story that begins in rage and ends in love. It is a story that oscillated between the two.

And I wonder if the relationship between love and rage isn’t what the creators of the lectionary (this shared order of readings from week to week) had in mind this fourth Sunday in Epiphany.

Who’s been to a wedding? There’s a really good chance you heard Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we hear today at that wedding. It’s all about LOVE! 

Love is patient

Love is kind

Love is not envious or arrogant

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

It’s beautiful. It’s exactly the kind of thing you come to hear at a wedding… let’s hear about that love! It’s also wildly unrealistic if we are using it to talk only about the love between two human beings. While I am not married yet, I can say pretty confidently that it is near impossible for two people to always be patient, to always be kind, to never be envious or arrogant. You can talk to my partner Josh and I feel certain he’d tell you I fall short of those descriptors often, namely patience.

But this passage isn’t really about the love that is just between two people; its about a love that is ultimately of God and from God, a love that is practiced in community with God’s people.

God is patient.

God is kind.

God is not envious or boastful.

And it is only by God’s grace that we are able to reflect the love shown first by God.

That’s the love we celebrate in weddings, in times of joy and in times of struggle and sadness. God’s love isn’t going anywhere.

Now, when was the last time you left a wedding having heard all about love and walked straight into an angry mob?

That’s kind of what the transition between today’s epistle and gospel feels like… to me at least.

Love never fails… except when you’re Jesus and you’re back home surrounded by people who knew you in diapers, apparently. Kind of feels like love failed Jesus a little bit.

We move immediately from the warm feelings of love into a pretty inflammatory encounter with Jesus and folks in his hometown.

Honestly this story seems to escalate so quickly that it is hard to know how it got to the point of Jesus about to fall into the abyss at the hands of an angry mob.

Things are going well, people are amazed at this articulate man they’ve seen grown up before their eyes… that is until he begins to speak truth to them in love. He knows that these people who know him and love him, and who he knows and loves will ultimately not approve of who he is now, the messages he teaches.

And when Jesus says this, they don’t like what they’re hearing. And they get up and drive him out of town to the edge of the cliff.

But Jesus doesn’t fall off the cliff.

It might be hard to see the surprise here, because we know that Jesus didn’t die by falling off a cliff in his hometown, we know the story continues, but it is surprising that the story concludes in a much different way than the plotline suggests. If watching cartoons as a kid taught me anything it is that cliffs are usually the end of the story for a coyote or any other unfortunately fated character. 

Instead, he “passes through their midst and goes on his way”. The anger, the rage, the fear of the mob… it doesn’t win out. Because Jesus walk ahead in love. The same love that Paul writes about is present even in the face of an angry mob. Love never ends.

Love drives us to do some pretty bold things in the face of fear. It drives us to walk through an angry crowd toward our children. It drives us to stand up for ourselves and those we know and love. It drives us to be the person God has called us to be even when those we have known and loved the longest won’t agree or understand. Love drives us to walk toward Christ.

I want to pivot a bit here at the end and take a minute to briefly introduce you to a new practice we are beginning as a church this week, it is a practice of walking toward love. Each week, we will be praying for different countries through the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Prayer Cycle. This is something like the common lectionary of world prayer. Around the world, each week, different churches of different denominations and expressions pray for the same countries, together. This week, churches around the world are praying for Andorra, Italy, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Vatican City. In one year’s time, all the countries of the world will be prayed for. What does will this do? Prayer moves us outside of ourselves, it orients us to God’s love active in the world. And so as we move through this cycle, we pray for people and places, we share in another’s joys and burdens. In a culture that tells us to fear what is beyond our borders, we walk toward our siblings around the world in faith that God’s love never runs out, God’s love connects us, and God’s love walks with us no matter what we face.