Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany
OT: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm: Psalm 71:1-6
NT: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
I am struck, as I read the passages for this week, of the wonder of knowing. Perhaps you’ve seen Moulin Rouge or simply heard the song Nature Boy, made popular by Nat King Cole, with the grand conclusion:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
is just to love and be loved in return.
I think the words of that song are incredibly true. It’s like that command Jesus gave, “Just as I have loved you, love one another.” (John 13:34). But what is even more impressive to me is to know and to love. Love by itself is a bit of a fluffy fantasy, but when it is paired with knowledge—true, gritty knowledge—it is incredible!
God Knows You
The first passage of this week is the call of Jeremiah. Each of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) has a story like this, but Jeremiah’s is unique in that it begins before he is born. God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” There is an incredible intimacy and nearness in this language. It echoes back to creation when God formed Adam from the dust and Adam knew his wife. Part of God’s call on Jeremiah’s life was to build and to plant. The same call on Adam in the garden. God is saying to Jeremiah that he wants to use him to restore the beauty and intimacy of Eden to the world.
This is the longing of God’s heart from the day that creation was shattered by sin. His desire has been to put things right ever since. He longs to restore creation to the beauty and goodness it once held. And even though creation was broken and shattered, he never left it.
He never left us. He has been walking closely with us all along. In the tragedy and pain of the world, God has always been a safe place. It is why the psalmist writes, “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge…be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come for you have given the command to save me.” The psalmist knows the heart of God. He knows that God’s desire is to save and to restore. So the psalmist clings to God for safety. He says, “Upon you I have leaned from before my birth. You are the one who took me from my mother’s womb.” Again, God’s knowledge of his creation is from before birth. God never left. He still walks closely with his creation.
It is important to emphasize, I believe, that this kind of knowledge is not the controlling knowledge of the relationally-void predeterminist God. It is the knowledge of an old friend or of a loving father or of a couple who has been married for nearly sixty years and has forgotten how to not know each other. The kind of knowledge that God has of us is the kind that enables him to say, “I knew you before you could know me.”
“I know you. And I love you.”
Do you know God?
Our reading of Luke picks right back up where we left off last week. Jesus has just read, before the people in the synagogue, a passage from Isaiah that so clearly communicates God’s desire to restore the world. And after this reading the God who has such intimate and special knowledge of his people says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, “I am he! I am the one who is here to proclaim good news, to give you sight, and to set you free! I am the one who will fix this broken world!”
In this moment of wonderful, gracious self-revelation everyone misses it. They say to one another, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” And they totally miss the grand invitation he just gave them. You see, Jesus was right in front of them and told them plainly, “I’m here to fix this.” But they didn’t know him. Jesus grew up in their town, but they didn’t know him. He played in their streets, went to school with their kids, celebrated Passover with them, but they didn’t know him.
It is unsettling to me to think that some of us could have possibly grown up with Jesus—maybe we grew up in church, we learned the Bible, we know all the songs, we even served communion a few times—but not know him. It’s especially unsettling to me because all along Jesus knows you and so eagerly desires for you to know him. He desires to fix what is broken and put things right.
Oh God, give us grace to know you!
We Shall Know Fully
I love the passage from 1 Corinthians. It, like these others, is all about God’s desire to repair the world. It is about the means by which God is already at work mending the mess. Love. The solution isn’t cool spiritual gifts. They’re fun, kind of like a drumset could be fun to sit and play for a little while. But drums alone don’t make a symphony. Love is the thing that gets stuck in people’s heads and loops over and over in their mind and heart and takes glorious control of them. Love is like that tune that you tap your pen against your desk to without thinking. Love is that melody you find yourself humming when your brain goes numb. It is the raw stuff of life.
The crescendo of this grand passage about love is the ultimate culmination of it. “…when the perfect comes…” It is that moment when the melody of love ceases to be an echo that we try to remember and whistle along to. It is that moment when the orchestra takes the stage and finally plays. It is that moment when the audience erupts in a joyous applause! It is that moment when we are no longer holding on to that tattered and worn photograph of our beloved. It is that moment that we finally see their sweet face again and rest in their arms and all is right!
In this moment, Jesus returns and he is no longer an echo. The restoration of the world is no longer God’s desire alone, but it is our reality. In that moment, we will no longer be confused about God, for “we shall know fully as we have been fully known.” God’s intimate knowledge of us and our confused knowledge of him will be joined together. We will again walk with him in perfect, wondrous relationship! We will know him! How beautiful it will be!
Until then, we shall love. We shall work our best at getting that tune stuck in as many other people’s heads as we can, for it is an infectious and delightful melody. It is the antidote to this sick world. We shall love and be loved. Just as he has loved us we shall love. So that all people will know. (John 13:35)