Monday, January 25, 2016

What is Love, Really? – 31 January 2016 – 4th Sunday after Epiphany

Carol J. Noren reflects on all three of the readings for this Sunday, focusing on the meaning of love. Given that Jeremiah’s call story describes the power of God’s word to: “pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant,” Noren notes that God’s word of love is not simply nice. God’s word, after all, sends Jesus to the edge of a cliff. And Paul reminds us, love “bears all things…”

Luke 4:21-30

If the epistle and gospel lessons are read back-to-back on this occasion, the listeners' initial response might be to ask, “Where's the love among the people of Jesus' hometown?” Not only did the folks show no love toward Jesus, they were downright hostile and rude, in response to his interpretation of scripture. . . .

First, while it often seems that people are easily offended these days, taking offense at the words of another is a human trait that has been around as long as people have lived in community with one another.

Second, we confuse love with niceties, yet being “nice” has nothing to do with being loving, and is as bland a behavior as there can be. The title of Al Gore's movie (and book) about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. . . highlights a characteristic of love that cannot be ignored. If we love (and in the case of the movie, it would be if we love the earth), then that love will move us to words and actions that are challenging, difficult, and downright inconvenient, but necessary, for us and others. The idea that God's truth and justice applied to all people, regardless of their political or social status, proved to be too difficult for the people of Nazareth to accept, but to hide that truth from them would not have been a loving act for Jesus to do. Recent surveys among Americans in the United States have shown that a majority of people believe it is okay to lie if the lie prevents hurting another's feelings, or the lie enables one to be “nice” in a particular circumstance. How can we promote the deep, abiding, totality of love with prevailing beliefs such as those?

. . . While Jesus did not set out to offend others or step on their toes, at times that was a consequence of his words and actions. Congregations are accused of being nice up front, but nasty in covert ways. Is that because there is a misplaced emphasis on being “nice” without the courage to be truly loving? – Carol J. Noren

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Third, Paul's description of love is one of the biblical gems that many people are moved to memorize. The reading of it, both publicly and privately, is inspirational and calls us to a higher standard than we typically set for ourselves in our relationships with others. Yet, it is not the final word on love. One quality of love that Jesus demonstrated was to call others beyond themselves to accomplish far more than was previously expected. – Carol J. Noren

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Fourth, the Old Testament lesson provides another example of the love God demonstrates, which is the calling of God's chosen servant Jeremiah into a difficult and dangerous profession that would not result in a comfortable life, but would lead to a chaotic and disturbing existence among people who continually rejected Jeremiah and the message God placed on his lips. – Carol J. Noren

Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is the Wesley W. Nelson professor of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. She served chuches as pastor in Minnesota for twenty years.

Homily Service 40, no. 2 (2007): 57-66.

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