“I am Only…”

i-am-only.jpgOur deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within all of us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let out own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Those words, written by Marianna Williamson and quoted by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as the president of South Africa, are words that could be said by many of us. How many of us ‘hide our light under a bushel?’ How many of us have things untapped. Listen to Jeremiah, as he expresses those same feelings to God, it’s recorded in the 1st chapter:

1:4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

1:6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

1:7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 1:8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”

1:9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.1:10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Let’s listen to Jeremiah tell what that was like:

Do you know what it is like to have God’s words burning on your lips? To feel compelled to say something even knowing that some, or maybe even most, people will have a hard time hearing it? I am a reluctant prophet… I told God I was too young… but God’s answer was that when I was knit together in my mother’s womb, God already knew me… that it was part of my destiny. God put words in my mouth… words of challenge to my community…  I didn’t want to be the one to call people to dispute the status quo… I didn’t want to be the one who called upon friends and neighbours and members of my faith community to examine our ways of living… Ways of living that weren’t compatible with God’s plan for us…  Ways of living that separated people into haves and have nots. But, I was the one that God called… and you may be too…  

Jeremiah voiced reservations… but he couldn’t keep silent. Paul’s letters were a different way of not keeping silent. Paul wrote advice to many of the early churches and it’s important to remember that we only hear one side of the conversation, we never see the letters that were written to him. Let’s listen to these words, written to one of the early churches:

13:1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

13:2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

13:3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

13:4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 13:5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 13:6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 13:7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 13:8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 13:9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 13:10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

13:11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13:13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Do you have a hard time hearing that reading about love without immediately associating it with weddings? I confess I do and as one who is divorced, I have often found myself internally wincing when couples whom I marry chose that reading for their wedding ceremony. The words, “love never ends” can be especially painful because all of us here have experienced some sort of love ending. But the love between two people is not what Paul is writing about in this letter. This morning I am going to let Paul speak and set the context for this reading. Let’s listen to what Paul has to say about love:

This part of my letter to the people of Corinth is part of the same letter in which I speak about valuing all the gifts of the community… About how no gift is greater or more valued than the other… that they all work together like the parts of the body work together… I think you heard it last week. You people only have one word for love… but you see I wrote in Greek… and in Greek there are different words for love… I didn’t write about Philia which is friendship and familial love… I didn’t write about Eros… the passionate love that binds two people together physically… I wrote about agape (ah gah’ pay), the caring, unconditional love for another… This is the love that God has for us and Jesus had for the people around him. I didn’t write that letter to be used at weddings… I wrote that letter to remind the people of   Corinth that the greatest thing they can offer one another is love… love that was demonstrated by Jesus.

That love never fails… because it is not dependent on a loving feeling towards others, but is a conscious act of compassion towards others. Compassion… agape love…

Listen to some of my words again, this time changing the word love to compassion: Compassion is patient, compassion is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Compassion does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Challenging words to live by…

What do these voices say to us today? Jeremiah… called by God when just a young lad…Paul, a converted Jewish scholar… one who turned from a life of persecuting Christians to following Jesus…

What I hear is Jeremiah and Paul telling us not to accept the status quo… to question and transform practices that prevent anyone from full participation in life, in our faith community and in the world. Paul’s words to the divided and troubled community of Corinth are just as important now as they were then. He tells us to bind ourselves together in love. Love that seeks the best for the life of the community. Love that is beyond our romantic notions of what church is… love that can bear disagreements… can bear hurt feelings… can bear discomfort. Love that is compassion… Love that risks being in deep relationship with one another… where we see each other clearly… but with the eyes of God’s love… see each other in the image and likeness of God…

This is something to strive for… I don’t pretend that is easy… and it is no easier for me than it is for you… I hope you know that I am preaching just as much to myself each week as I am to you. It is said that the role of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable… and I have done both in my time with you… And I have been comforted and afflicted in return. I have spoken words of challenge at times… and I have spoken words of comfort… I do it out of passion and zeal for God’s ministry…

Ministry that we are all called into… young and old… those who have been part of this faith community or decades and those who have just started that journey… and all in between… A ministry of agape love… the love that is compassion.

Love’s prophetic voice, calling us into community with one another and the entire world. Love that pays no attention to our ‘I am onlys.’ God’s love never ends…

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

1 Corinthians 10: 1-13


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