February 3, 2013
Luke 4:31-41, I Corinthians 13, Jeremiah 1:4-10
I wish I had a tally of all the weddings I have either officiated at or attended and what percentage of them had I Cor 13 for a reading. Probably most of them! It is a passage as familiar as the 23rd Psalm…
if I speak with the tongue of men and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…
The gospel reading is much more of a puzzle to our 21century minds. Jesus speaking to the demons, an exchange we don’t know what do with. Healing a fever…we can relate to that, after all we have all had fevers…
In today’s gospel reading, we see the love so eloquently described in I Corinthians 13 fleshed out by Jesus, the word made flesh.
Word and action are one
The private and public actions of Jesus are seamless
The natural and divine flow together.
The gospel text becomes a mirror for reflecting on our own lives.
We have often heard the clichés,
Do as I say, not as I do.
Or, actions speak louder than words.
That person walks the talk.
Jesus walks the talk, his words and actions reinforce one another.
“They were astonished at his teaching, he spoke with authority”.
“For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and out they come”
We all know people who do not do as they say. These people make us feel uneasy, we do not trust them.
Robert Wicks, the psychologist who wrote Riding the Dragon and The Resilient Clinician tells the story of eating breakfast with a self-proclaimed peace activist:
My God, was he intense. Asking him to pass the sugar was like an incoming nuclear war. When this person got up at the end of the meal to get a cup of coffee, Shawn, the little Irish priest sitting next to me said, Oh my God, when he talks about peace, it scares the hell out of me!
His actions did not match his words.
If I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels,
But do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
In Jesus we also see the private and the public as seamless.
He is the same person, he extends the same compassion in public and with his friends.
In the synagogue, a very public place, Jesus casts out the demon.
At the home of Simon he heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
He doesn’t say, I am tired, leave me alone. I need a break, I am off duty.
In public he rebukes demons, in private he rebukes fevers.
Recently I read of a pastor’s wife telling her husband:
“This week, dear, for a change, why don’t you reverse things? Try being loving, gentle, considerate and patient with the family at home and irritable, domineering and short tempered with the congregation at church?”
Get the picture? This pastor had one persona at work and another at home.
This past week I attended the memorial service of Linda, a long-time member of the cancer support group I lead at the hospital.
Linda chose not to continue treatment when her ovarian cancer returned. She said she wanted to live life fully. She didn’t want to be tethered to an I-V pole receiving chemo and living with the side effects. She was very much like Joan Weiss.
After the memorial service I sat with two of Linda’s cousins eating white cake with white frosting, one of her favorite foods. Her cousins told story after story that left us howling with laughter but also with tears running down our cheeks. I learned that Linda gave away all her books to friends and family, being very intentional about who got what which title. A woman who had tutored with her at the Masonic temple talked about a difficult stretch she went through and how Linda had sent her a very kind note and a check and what that had meant to her.
Linda’s words and actions matched, her life in the support group and in her family were the same.
If I give away all my possessions
And if I hand over my body so that I may boost,
But do not have love, I am nothing.
Lastly, in today’s gospel reading the human and the divine shape one another.
The gospel reading ends with Jesus healing far into the evening. I imagine him tired, aware that it had been a long day.
But the long day doesn’t prevent Jesus from getting up early the next morning and maintaining his spiritual practice:
Luke tells us that at daybreak Jesus departed and went into a deserted place.
Mark’s account is more specific:
In the morning when it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place and there he prayed.
Jesus has clarity about who he is and what he is to do. This comes from his faithfulness to his spiritual practice:
I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God in other places also, for I was sent for this purpose.
Jesus knew his calling:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has sent me to bring good news to the poor.
His clarity comes from his life of prayer.
He is able to stay focused and true, he is able to live with integrity and live what was ordained for him:
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you.
The human and the divine are one.
This past Friday a co-worker, a social worker, told me how she has been refining her practice of mindfulness. She has been more intentional in her listening, she has stayed true to her calling and her integrity despite some very real challenges and reasons to get discouraged.
She told me she has become more aware of moments of transcending the ordinary and times when she has been able to speak the truth and be truly present to others.
I told her I had seen this in her life and that her faithfulness was indeed bearing fruit.
For her the natural and the holy are intersecting and it is a joy to behold.
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.
It would be easy to lay a guilt trip on you (or on myself) and ask,
Do our words and actions match?
Are our public and private lives the same?
Are we grounded and centered?
We would leave here feeling a failure and with a huge burden, I am not good enough. I will never measure up.
Instead I want to introduce or re-introduce, for those who know this practice, the Ignatian discipline of Examen.
It is not about “shoulds” and “should nots” but of discernment which helps us to respond to God’s loving invitation in all our daily activities;
We reflect on all our words and our actions. We pay attention to the impulses that underlie them.
We ask, “How am I responding to God’s loving action in my life?”
At the end of the day or doing times of reflection, we ask questions such as these: (taken from “Another Look at the Examen”, http://www.diocese.cc/upload/images/originals/Examens070510A.pdf)
How was I drawn to God today: was it in a friend, an event, a book, the beauty of nature?
Have I learned anything about God and God’s ways, in ordinary occasions, in spare moments?
Did I meet God in fears, joys, work, misunderstandings, weariness, suffering?
Did God’s word come alive in prayer, scriptures, liturgy?
Did I bring Christ to my community? Did they bring Christ to me?
Have I been a sign of God’s presence and love to the people I met today?
Did I go out to the lonely, the sorrowful, the discouraged, the needy?
Have I had a keener sense of being loved, of sinfulness, of desire to give back what I have received, of dependence?
Is there some part of my life still untouched by Jesus Christ and where is he calling me to a change of heart?
These questions are questions that demand honesty. We must invite the Holy Spirit to illumine and direct our thoughts and feelings.
I imagine Jesus asking and reflecting on questions such as these in his quiet time.
As we ask such questions, we grow and become of aware of God’s transforming love in our lives.
We grow in our ability to live out the call we received, like Jeremiah, before we were conceived in our mother’s womb
We become, in the words of I Cor 13, adults, putting away childish ways.
Our lives become integrated; word and action, private and public, prayer and practice.
Now faith, hope and love abide these three
And the greatest of these is love.