If you were here at worship a couple of weeks ago you may remember the children’s message. The second reading for that day was about spiritual gifts. There were half a dozen kids up front and I asked them what they’re good at—what gifts they have. There were different answers but one three year-old replied, I’m smart!
And I thought to myself, “This child has a bright future.” If, at age three, he can already start to understand his God-given gifts and without embarrassment celebrate those gifts, God will be able to do a lot with that little guy over the years.
The rest of us are probably more likely to say something like what the young prophet Jeremiah says to the Lord in today’s first reading: Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy. Or, you can substitute different words: I am only…one person…I don’t have enough…
Now, if we were hoping that God would be sympathetic to our situation and our excuses, we might be in for a bit of a disappointment because God will have none of it! 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…”
Early on young Jeremiah learns what it means to grow up. He learns to welcome his God-given gifts. He learns to pay attention to God’s will because God always sets the bar for us way higher than we would set it if it were left up to us. In today’s second reading St. Paul writes to the Corinthians words of power that, in our time, have been robbed of their power and replaced by sentimentality. Love is patient, love is kind…
But Paul’s words are not sentimental; these are words to live by:
Love is patient and kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Sometimes in our day it seems that these commandments have been abandoned, not only in our world as a whole but including Christ’s own church—especially the part about love not insisting on its own way; especially the part about love not being irritable or resentful. Who asks what God’s will is? Who takes the time to ponder, to listen, to study, to pray, to practice the disciplines of faith that will get us good answers?
When I was a child, Paul says, 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. What are childish ways? Well, he just told us! To be childish is to be impatient, unkind, arrogant, rude, envious, boastful, irritable, resentful, to insist on one’s own way rather than God’s way—these for Paul are examples of what it means to be childish. To be childish is to put oneself or one’s group first. These are attitudes and habits that disciples of Jesus Christ work hard to leave behind.
We strive to leave behind childish habits not for our own sake but for the sake of the one who showed us the way. Today’s Gospel reading continues the story of Jesus’ homecoming. This story, too, is about leaving behind childish ways.
The hometown crowd is excited to see Jesus because they’ve heard about the great things he’s done in other places. They’re confused, too, because they thought they knew him. Is not this Joseph’s son? they ask. They’d grown up with him. He was the guy who sat next to them in math class. He was on the baseball team; not a starter but “okay.” He worked in his dad’s woodworking shop.
Jesus sees their excitement but he also sees through their excitement. And he sees that they’re not asking what God wants. They’re interested in what they can get for themselves: Do here in your hometown what we have heard you did at Capernaum, they say. When he reminds them that the mission of Jesus Christ, and the Body of Christ, is to serve beyond one’s own needs, beyond one’s own people, their excitement turns to rage so intense that they try to throw him off a cliff.
I suspect that, growing up, Jesus was like the rest of us. At first his world was small. Like young Jeremiah he saw limitations more than possibilities; he was sincere, he had good intentions, he loved God but, like most people, he was most familiar with and interested in his own kind, their wants and their needs. This was the Jesus the people of his hometown thought they knew. This was “Joseph’s son.”
But the Scriptures reveal a man who was not a finished product; from the time he was a child and throughout his short life he learned and grew. Somewhere along the way Jesus had put an end to childish ways. He’d grown into a man whose life, as the words in today’s opening hymn put it, “reached beyond the wood and stone”–beyond the limits of what he thought he could do or even beyond what he wanted to do! His vision was for God’s work beyond his own group. His first priority had become asking what God wanted.
Another way to put it is this: Like Paul after him, Jesus grew in his ability to ask one of the most important questions any human can ask: “What does love look like?” What does it mean to reflect the grace of God—to be the face of God!—for a world in need?”
When we pay attention to asking what God’s will is we will surely get answers. Over the years this congregation has gotten better about asking what God’s will is. And the one who is faithful, who calls us by name–who loves us–has been answering those prayers in ways that have become clearer and clearer.
But that’s a subject that’s the focus for next week’s readings. Stay tuned!…