1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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I want to begin this morning by talking about the liturgy. So open your BCPs for a second to page 355. This is the beginning of our celebration: the Holy Eucharist: Rite Two; very nice. And how does it begin: the priest stands in front of everyone and says, “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And the people say, “And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.” Now, why do you think we begin this way? Because we could begin in a lot of different ways. I could say, “Hi there, everyone.” “Hi Father Tim!” or “How was your week?” “It was great Father Tim!” But we don’t. We begin with this. How come?
[pause and listen to answers]
Okay, now turn the page over to 357. Here in the middle we have the lessons, right? A member of the congregation gets up and reads part of the Bible. And when they’re done, what do they say? “The Word of the Lord” “Thanks be to God.” Why do we say that? [pause] Again, we could say something else. We could say. “That’s all, folks” or “That’s all I feel like reading.” No, we say “The Word of the Lord.” Why?
[pause for answers]
Okay, one more. Close your BCP and look up. This is something I was taught in Eugene and found in Sewanee a lot, too. Did you notice that, every now and again during the liturgy, I bow. Do you know when? It’s at the name of Jesus Christ. “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit” etc. Why do you think I do that? [pause] This is something I’ve taken on. You see, I have a wayward mind. And as I lead you in the liturgy, often my mind says, “Hey, what’s up next” and “Are you ready to read the collect” or “Oh no, should I be standing up right now?” I try to focus my attention, but sometimes – maybe I’m sleepy, maybe my mind just is on overdrive – I can’t. And so I bow at the name of Christ. I bow as a physical prayer, and that prayer, if I put words to it, would be: Jesus, focus me on you, and you alone. And that gives me focus, so I can lead you all in prayer. Praying in the name of Jesus Christ, and focusing on his name specifically, is a powerful, powerful thing.
Where we start is important. Howwe begin is important. Now, we humans are so often doers. And we sometimes get caught up in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and we forget about what’s most important: Jesus Christ. I had this problem often when teaching. There was always just so much material to get through, so many lectures to give, so many parts of grammar or writing or books to explain, that I often fell into thinking that just “giving information” was my job. I had forgotten that my job wasn’t just to explain how to use commas correctly or the themes in Beowulf but to nurture the living image of Jesus Christ in my students. And when I taught that way, when I tried to stuff commas and proper thesis statements and the form of a sonnet into their heads, I always failed. But when I started (as I was reminded by some good teachers) when I started by loving Christ in my students, then, and only then, was I able to really teach. Because knowledge isn’t only just facts; it’s love.
We hear this same thing in the Bible quite often, and especially in our readings this morning. For God comes to Jeremiah and says, “I’ve got something for you to do.” And how does Jeremiah respond? He says, “But I am only a boy.” I’m just a kid. How can I be a prophet like you want me to be? And what does God say? “Ahh, well that’s what you are now, but I’ve known you before you were a boy, before you were born, before you were even conceived, I knew you. I know your foundation, and it is from here, not from you boy-ness, that I tell you: go and be a prophet for my people.
It’s in the gospel, too. Jesus stands up and proclaims that he is the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah. And the people around him say, “Wait a second. We know this guy. He’s just Joseph’s son.” Or in the same scene in Matthew: “Isn’t he the son of a carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son?” And Jesus may have said, “Yes, but I am more. Look at the foundation I stand on. Look at who I am.”
Ministry is about Jesus. Our liturgy is about Jesus. Church is about Jesus. We can’t forget that. And that doesn’t mean that we always have to be talking about Jesus. When we’re at the food bank, we don’t sit people down and ask, “Have you heard about Jesus?” as if he were a movie or a new book. No, we hand hungry people a bag full of food and we let them know, whether it be with words or without, that they are safe and loved. In doing so, we’re telling them about Jesus. And for Soup Suppers or Prayer Breakfast, do we drag people in and say, “Here’s who Jesus is”? No, we invite them to come, pray that they will, and eat with them first. We share our time, our resources, our gifts, and our love, and on this foundation – which is Jesus – then we begin teaching about the faith.
And don’t get me wrong: there are some people who need to hear the name Jesus and to hear it directly. I’ve had many times, especially in my hospital chaplaincy, where people would talk about their grief and sorrow and depression and loss and I’d just have to stop them and say, “Jesus loves you.” And this wouldn’t cure their illness or their depression, but you could see, visibly, a weight lifted off their shoulders. And there are some days for me when things are going just terrible, I feel wayward and exhausted. Then I remember, bow slightly at the name of Jesus Christ, and set my heart to Sunday and the Eucharist. And I am fed.
But whatever the case, we always start with Jesus. And we do this not because he was just a good teacher or said some great things, but because Jesus Christ is the foundation of all Creation. Do you remember the beginning of St. John’s gospel? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus isn’t just our co-pilot or a friend we go to when we’re in trouble. No, Jesus is the source of life – all life. All our effort, all our ministry, each time we feel joyful or hopeful, each instance of healing, be it a miracle or just nature going its way – all of it is because of God in Jesus Christ, through the Spirit. It’s all about Jesus.
And so as we live our lives as Christians, start with Jesus. The BAC and I are going to take that awesome ministry board we created last week – the one with all those ideas and prayers and gifts and hopes – we’re going to take it and look at how we can do better and further ministry in Coquille. And we’ll begin that effort with Jesus. And in the year to come, we’ll be walking with God and with the people of this city in those ministries. But whatever we do, be it Soup Suppers or Thursday Eucharist or something we haven’t even seen yet but that God has in store for us – whatever it is, let us always begin with Jesus.