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Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
JANUARY 28, 2018 – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Love is a gift from God. It makes us whole. It makes us present. It makes us open to whatever comes next. It makes us whole.
We can seek it but we cannot earn it. In the end we can only accept it. Even then we cannot possess it. It is the ultimate human emotion, but we can only experience it by giving it away.
Paul writes to us and the amazing church he planted in Corinth this morning. They are a congregation that is even more diverse and amazing than ours. Out of many nations, many professions, many social classes, a sizeable community has found themselves one in Christ.
Some are rich. Some are poor. Some are Greek. Some are Jewish. Some are slave. Some are free. But here they are…together…free at last…one people professing Jesus of Nazareth…as Christ their Lord.
The common loaf makes them one. The common cup is a holy chalice from which they drink. They understand that they have many different ideas and customs and cultures, but there is something more important than all of that to make them one.
They all believe in Jesus. They know enough to:
Put their hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, and
Put their hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea.
They have taken a look at themselves and they can look at others differently. They just want to be sure they are putting their hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.
Some of them have heard the whole story now, from Paul and maybe from others. They are convicted by it. It is not the life they have led, but it is the life to which they have been called.
It makes the world more understandable…more conquerable. There is something about it that is larger than their life, but his life is offered to them now, here, in this time and place.
A door is opened and they don’t even know they were knocking on it. Suddenly everything is different …brighter…bigger…more abundant…eternal.
No matter where they have come from or what life experiences have caused them to find this man…this community…this wholeness…this freedom…they are one.
There are many differences between them and us, but there are many similarities. We come from many places. We even come from different cultures, especially when we think of those who come to visit us from different continents.
And it is Jesus Christ who has called us to be one in him, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world…just like the Corinthians.
But the great difference between them and us is that they took on Christ when the whole world is against him…when it would cost them dearly to proclaim him Lord and Savior of the world.
On the other hand, we have received Christ and the understanding of his place in heaven and on earth as the common view. There was nothing novel about it. He was ours because he first loved us… and our parents and grandparents and everyone else we knew.
We would have risked something to deny him. They risked everything by proclaiming him.
Now we live in an era when believers are suspect. Because we have been branded with all who proclaim Jesus whether we agree with them about anything else, we are pushed away from one group.
Because we do not agree with all who say ‘Jesus’, we find ourselves pushed away from them…pushed away by them.
But we do not find ourselves alone. We still have Jesus, even if others would deny that he speaks to us… that we hear him at all.
That is the community that Paul writes to today. How do we remain one when there is so much we do not know from each other? How can we call ourselves one in Christ when there is so much we do not share?
But we are not the one who calls Christ to us. Christ calls us to himself. How are we to get along?
Paul writes us about what we eat today, but he writes to us about much, much more than that. Eating is one thing we all do, but we eat different things, prepare them in different ways.
Eating is a metaphor for how we all in this world. Paul understands that the immediate issue is eating, but he also understands that the ultimate charge we have is to call all people to Christ.
Some of us have heard about Jesus for so long that we can fall into thinking we are an authority on the subject. We know what we do or we know what happened to us and that’s the way it should be for everyone.
You have to do this to be in, or if you do that you are out.
We aren’t sent here to be know-it-alls. We are sent here to be the children of a God who loves us. We are sent here to be the children of a God who loves everyone, who wants everyone to grow in knowledge and wisdom and be a part of the great destiny of the universe. As Mother Teresa put it, ‘We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.’
We are like Muldoon’s priest. Muldoon lived alone in the Irish countryside with only a pet dog for company. One day, the dog died, and Muldoon went to the parish priest and said, "Father, my dog is dead. Could ya' be sayin' a mass for the poor creature?"
Father Patrick replied, "I'm afraid not. We cannot have services for an animal in the church. But there is a new denomination down the lane, a little Methodist Church, there is, and there's no tellin' what they believe. Maybe they'll do something for the creature."
Muldoon said, "I'll go right away Father. Do ya' think $5,000 is enough to donate for the service?"
Father Patrick exclaimed, "Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus! Why didn't ya' tell me the dog was Catholic?"
When we think we know something, we bind ourselves in and shut others out. We pre-qualify them.We turn them away at the gate, before they can get to the door and knock.
But that is the approach of the Pharisees, not the way of Christ. He doesn’t see someone who has been abandoned by God, but someone who is going through the world without knowing how much they are loved by God.
He sees a man today who is possessed by an impure spirit…and they see him and know him. He casts out the spirit but he does not reject the man.
He has authority not because he rejects the spirit, but because he can see past them, to the goodness in the man. He came to save people, not to turn them away.
When we look at people with the eyes of Christ we see an unfinished story. They are a parable that has not yet been completed. The only question is who is going to do the writing.
We want to give them the greatest writer we know to help them finish their story. We want to invite them to hear a story that was written so that everyone can hear God’s voice in it, see God’s hand in it, and receive love through it. And that can happen anywhere, any time.
Viktor Frankl wrote about a day he was marching to work…or being marched to work…at a concentration camp. The capos were speaking gruffly to the men and anyone who fell or failed to keep up got a kick or a rifle butt.
The man next to him said, “If only our wives could see us now.” That caused him to think of his wife and how great their love for each other was…how important love was… even then.
He wrote, “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.
“The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
Paul writes to us about that today because he has been seen and loved by Jesus Christ…and called by him, in love. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Jesus calls us to answer that question even as he called his enemy, Saul of Tarsus, to answer it. Why do you reject me? Why do you fail to see me in others? Why do you fail to ask me to help you through this day…this hour…this moment?
Is it because we know better? I close with this understanding, again from Viktor Frankl, a soul who saw love in the harsh life of a death camp.
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him.
“By his love he is able to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized.”
We are not called to judgment in the life of Christ. We are not called to know and be puffed up by our pried in our knowledge.
We are called to step deeper into the mystery of life and creation. We are called to love, and love builds up our spirit, our neighbor, our community and our world.
Let us be the builders God called us all to be. Amen.