A sermon preached on the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C, RCL)
at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
(Link to the audio of the sermon – click here)
I want to share with you a story that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave at his installation last year. I need to take you back to 1940’s, to a time when our armed services were still segregated, a time before Rosa Parks sat down at the front of a bus, a time when Martin Luther King was still in seminary, a time when it normal to treat black people differently. A young black couple we dating. The female attended an episcopal church, her boyfriend a different denomination. On this particular Sunday they decided to worship together at the Episcopal Church. This happened to be a Sunday when the Holy Eucharist was being celebrated, this was pre-1979, and when it came time to receive communion the girlfriend went up to the alter rail. The boyfriend decided to stay in his seat. He watched as his girlfriend knelt next to white ladies on either side of her, something that he was not used to seeing. She received the bread, and then to the boyfriend something amazing and unheard of happened. His African-American girlfriend received the wine from the same chalice that was being used for everyone one else. The same chalice that the white congregants were drinking from. He was amazed that such inclusive was being practiced. At that moment he decided to become a member of the Episcopal Church, the couple married and later had a son. That son, was our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Now when I tell you this story it may be hard for us to fully understand just how significant it was for a black woman to drink from a shared chalice with white men and women. But it was. I am sure that when that church first introduced the practice that the white men and women of the congregation would have been uneasy. I am convinced that the rector would have been challenged and sure that there would have been people, good people, who thought that he was committing some ungodly act. But that rector and the leadership of that church practiced dangerous love. They responded to the call of the gospel and of our scriptures to go out and work the love of Christ into the world.
That’s nice, we have learnt from it, that was back then.
I have a friend, who is a retired pastor, who ministered to people dying from HIV related illnesses in the early days of the AIDS crisis. Not many people supported him, many people found it easier to condemn and judge the dying than offer the hand of Christ’s dangerous love.
Our world is full of fear of those of other faiths. We are too willing to let the horrific actions of a few, taint our vision of millions of loving, good and honest Muslim brothers and sisters.
We live in a society where people still ask, do black lives matter?
Do we learn? Do we engage with those who society pushes to the margins? Do we actively go out and practice dangerous love? Yes we do, just look at the ministries that we have here at St. Peter’s. Helping Hands, Joy to the World Kinder Garden to name just a few. But as we gather our gifts for growth, as we celebrate 75 years worshiping here at St. Peter’s how will we practice and engage in dangerous love as we move forward?
In the Gospel reading that we have just heard Jesus is in his home town. Last week, our Gospel reading came from the same setting and we saw how pleased the people were to have Jesus with them. No doubt they were proud that the local boy had done good, no doubt they wanted to keep Jesus to themselves. But then we come to today’s reading. Jesus reminds them that no prophet was accepted in their home town. Sitting in the synagogue, that holy place, Jesus tells those people who love him that this was not the place where he needs to practice his ministry. I think that he meant this with all of his heart and said it forcefully. So much so that he not only upset those around him but he whipped them up into a frenzy so that they drove him not only out of the synagogue but also out of his hometown, running for his life.
Do not misunderstand me. The church is important. It is here that we come together as community, it is here that we come to be nourished by sharing in a Holy meal, it is here that we come to learn, to be energized, to be transformed. I like to think of the Church as a pair of lungs. Critical to all that we do. Every breath of air that we breathe in rushes through the lungs but then, and this my friends is important, that air is exhaled out back into the world. And so it is the same for us a Christians. We are drawn into the church, we are transformed by all that we do here but then we must return into the world. The breath of Christ, the breath of our faith the breath of you and me.
And so we go out into the world to love. How nice that the people who put together the lectionary then give us the passage from second Corinthians about love. Love is patient, love is kind, love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…. You know how it goes. We use this passage so often. We look at it and so often we see a beautiful rose. It’s nice, it’s comforting, it’s all about love. Yes, but there is also another way of reading it. As we celebrate our first 75 years, as we build on the gifts for growth that God has given to us, as we look to the future. I invite you to consider the passage again but this time consider dangerous love.
Love is patient, dangerous love is often practiced before the world we live in is ready for it. When we look at the world around us, at the margins of our society and around the corner of our street, our interactions of love may be seen as revolutionary. We need to trust that we are acting in God’s time. We do not like waiting and often it is uncomfortable whilst we wait.
Love is kind, when you have a moment this week stop and think about what kindness actually is. Where in our lives is there room to offer an act of kindness to someone else? No doubt the world will carry on if we simply walk on by, but how much better our world would be if we put ourselves out and offered acts of kindness.
Love is never envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. When we practice Christ driven dangerous love we will find ourselves in uncomfortable places and it will be easy to wish for an easier path. But we are not called to spend our whole lives as Christians sitting comfortably, we are called to go out into the world and be like Christ. There are times when we will want to shout about the good that we are doing and sometimes if it helps the cause we need to do that, but our true recognition comes from God. God sees all things and knows all things and that is our reward.
I could go on. I pray that the next time that we hear this beautiful reading that we will hear the call to practice love, even when that love takes us to dangerous places. Jesus knew that he had to take his ministry out from his hometown into the world, he knew that the love that he practiced would be dangerous. Are you ready to follow him? 75 years worshiping in this place, many years ahead of us. We need to continue to go and show God’s love. And if we truly want to follow Christ, let us never be afraid to practice a bit of dangerous love.