1 Cor 13:1-13
by Dr Elizabeth Perry, Advocacy and Communication Manager, Anglican Alliance, London
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Jeremiah 1: 4-10
The passage records Jeremiah’s struggle to accept God’s calling to be a prophet and to speak God’s words into the world. Jeremiah argues he doesn’t know how to speak… that he is too young. But God tells Jeremiah not to rehearse these negative arguments. Instead, God reminds Jeremiah that God has known him even “Before I formed you in the womb”, not to be afraid and that God will give him the words to speak. The passage ends with an interesting list of what words are able to accomplish. Through Jeremiah’s words, he will “pluck up and to pull down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant”.
Psalm 71: 1-6
The psalmist makes a heartfelt cry to God, seeking refuge and rescue in God “my rock and my fortress”. There is a strong sense of intimacy, of knowing God as a place of safety and shelter in the face of trials and enemies. Wickedness, cruelty and injustice are the psalmist’s lived experience – but so is God’s powerful and eternal shelter.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
This famous treatise on love as the all-important Christian virtue has been written about and preached about thousands of times. In the context of the other passages, the verse that jumps out here is the first: “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”. We do not communicate with words alone. What underpins the words – how they are spoken – affects the message and how it is heard. So even if we speak God’s message, or believe we are speaking God’s words into a situation, the way we do so matters. In fact, without the motivation and communication of love, the words become something unpleasant, discordant, something people will move away from.
Today’s reading is part two of the account of Jesus’ declaration of what he has come to do. In the preceding verses Jesus has set out his mission, using words from the prophet Isaiah. It is, “to preach good news to the poor… proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Preach, proclaim and release. Jesus’ words and actions are one. His words have power. This should not be surprising, given that Jesus is the Word of God, through whom all things were made (John 1) and that when God spoke the word, the thing was (Genesis 1).
But in this second half of the story, we see words having power in a different way. A few simple words turn a whole crowd, as one. At the beginning of today’s passage “All spoke well of him” but seven verses later, “All were filled with rage” and wanted to kill him. The turning point seems to be a question, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” and Jesus’ response. The crowd hears words they do not like: words about how wide and inclusive God’s love is. The stories Jesus refers to are stories of God favouring outsiders, not respecting boundaries, refusing to be the property of, or instrumentalised by, any one nation or town.
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
Words and speaking are the golden thread linking today’s four readings: the call to speak; the importance of how we speak; the power of words – to stir, to provoke, to effect change. The cost to those who are called to speak is also laid bare. Words can be rejected or met with hostility, even when they are the truth – even when they come from God.
There are many situations of injustice, of oppression, of degradation, in today’s world that need to be spoken about prophetically. The triple environmental crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution need to be talked about and acted on. Other forms of exploitation such as modern slavery and human trafficking, racism, gender-based violence – and myriad others – need to be addressed, and that can only happen when people speak out. As today’s passages make abundantly clear, speaking is hard and costly work. They also remind us that the basis of our speaking should be love.
Is there anything God is calling us to speak out about – where we see oppression and injustice? Are other people speaking words God is asking us to hear? Are there people speaking God’s word who we need to support in prayer or in other ways? Many people who speak out and advocate for change about climate change or in other situations of injustice face rejection and ridicule. Some face intimidation and threats. The number of earth defenders who lose their lives is shocking.
Let us pray for all who speak truth to power.
by Dr Elizabeth Perry, Anglican Alliance, London