Sermon Epiphany 4C 2019
The Rev. John M. Atkins

The readings

Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 1:4-19
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,  5 “Before I formed you
in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated
you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  6 Then I said, “Ah,
Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a
boy.”  7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for
you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak
whatever I command you,  8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with
you to deliver you, says the LORD.”  9 Then the LORD put out his hand
and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put
my words in your mouth.  10 See, today I appoint you over nations
and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to
overthrow, to build and to plant.”

1 Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 13:1-13
13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not
have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  2 And if I have
prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have
love, I am nothing.  3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand
over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain
nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or
arrogant  5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable
or resentful;  6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the

truth.  7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an
end.  9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;  10 but
when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.  11 When I
was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned
like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish
ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face
to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I
have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these
three; and the greatest of these is love.

Gospel of Luke 4:21-30
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at
the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not
this Joseph’s son?”  23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to
me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here
also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at
Capernaum.’”  24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted
in the prophet’s hometown.  25 But the truth is, there were many
widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up
three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all
the land;  26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at
Zarephath in Sidon.  27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the
time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except
Naaman the Syrian.”  28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue
were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and
led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that
they might hurl him off the cliff.  30 But he passed through the midst
of them and went on his way.

+ + + + + + +

“I have learned over the years
that when one’s mind is made up,
this diminishes fear;
knowing what must be done
does away with fear.” Ms. Rosa Parks
Jeremiah was just a boy in the year 645 BCE.
Even so, the God of Abraham
called him out
to be a voice to Judeans,
for some had abandoned
their covenant with God.

Disappointment, hardship and suffering
accompanied Jeremiah
all of his prophetic life.
Even so, he never backed away out of fear.
Jeremiah was faithful
in voicing God’s truths until his death as a foreigner in Egypt
near the year 570 BCE.

One day, early in his ministry,
Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth.
His reputation of being a healer
and miracle-worker
was beginning to spread.
The people of Nazareth
were impressed
with their hometown boy,
that is, until Jesus taught
in their synagogue on the Sabbath.

Jesus read from sacred scripture.
Then, he expounded in a manner
that was threatening to the status quo of traditional Judaism.

Jesus reminded the people
that, during a time of famine in Israel, Elijah the prophet fed
a Gentile widow, not starving Jewish widows.
And, while there were many lepers
in Israel, Elisha the prophet
healed only a Syrian named Naaman.

For Jesus’ audience,
the meaning was clear.
Birthright, inheritance and lineage
ultimately signify nothing to God.
Those who are receptive to God
and God’s possibilities
are those whom God will use and bless.
This message infuriated
the Jewish community in Nazareth.
But Jesus wouldn’t be sabotaged
by people he knew and love
trapped in their traditions and angered by God’s reality.
Jesus refused to give in to
anything, including fear.
As Ms. Parks said:
“…Knowing what must be done
does away with fear.”

Our second reading this morning
from Paul’s first letter
to the Corinthian Church
sounds familiar.
This passage is read at weddings,
funerals and other gatherings
where love is celebrated.
And, that’s a lovely thing.
But Paul’s intention was not to write
a beautiful, poetic verse
for such celebrations.
Rather, his purpose was to remind
those who call themselves
Christians
of the Christian values
they must live.
So this reading is timeless
and a reminder to you and me.

It tells us of the values we are
to prioritize, embrace, and reflect.
This passage is not about loveliness.
Rather, Paul’s writing is a guide.
It is a brightly shining star
illuminating the path
for daily living the essentials
of the Christian life.

Today we honor our Scouts: Pack 101 and Troop 101.
As the Scouts honor and live out their values
among them: truthfulness, loyalty, (helpfulness, friendliness,)
courtesy, kindness, (obedience, cheerfulness, thriftiness,)
bravery, cleanliness and reverence,
so Christians have values
we must honor, embrace, prioritize
and live.
Faith, hope and love.
These Christian values abide together
because they work together.
A person cannot have faith without hope.
A person cannot have hope without faith.
Love gives meaning to faith.
Loves provides confidence for hope.
Love is at the center of faith and hope.
Love is the most essential,
most powerful,
most influential value
of the Christian life.

Love tells us what must be done – and casts away fear.
Without living the values of faith,
hope and love
there is no relationship with God.
(The Following Quotes and Paraphrases from article in The New York
Times by Rabbi David Wolpse, Oct. 15, 2018)

“’Even a hunter cannot kill a bird that flies to him for refuge.’ This Samurai
maxim inspired one gifted and courageous man to save thousands of
people in defiance of his government and at the cost of his career.”
“The astonishing Chiune Sugihara raises again the questions:
What shapes a moral hero?
And how does someone choose to save people that others turn away?”
Last Sunday was Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I read about Chiune Sugihara this past week.
He was an unconventional student,
defying tradition and his Father’s wishes of becoming a medical doctor.
Rather, Chiune chose to immerse himself
in languages, literature and travel.
He entered the “diplomatic corps and, (became)
vice minister of the Foreign Affairs Department for Japan in Manchuria in
1934, (but) resigned in protest of the Japanese treatment of the
Chinese.”
“In 1939 Sugihara was sent to Lithuania,
where he ran the consulate.
There he was soon confronted with Jews fleeing
from German-occupied Poland.”
“Three times Sugihara cabled his embassy
asking for permission to issue visas to the refugees.
The cable from K. Tanaka at the foreign ministry read:
‘Concerning transit visas requested previously. (Stop)
Advise absolutely not to be issued any traveler not holding firm end visa
with guaranteed departure ex (by way of) Japan. (Stop)
No exceptions. (Stop) No further inquiries expected. (Stop)’”

“Most of the world saw throngs of
desperate foreigners.
Sugihara saw human beings
and he knew he could save them through prosaic (ordinary) but
essential action…”
“Sugihara talked about the refusal with his wife, Yukiko,)and his children,
and decided that despite the inevitable damage to his career, he would
defy his government.”

“Day and night he wrote visas. His wife, Yukiko, massaged his hands at
night, aching from the constant effort.
When Japan finally closed down the embassy
in September 1940, Sugihara took the stationery with him and continued to
write visas that had no legal standing
but worked because of the seal of the government and his name.
At least 6,000 visas were issued for people to travel
through Japan to other destinations,
and in many cases
entire families traveled on a single visa.
It has been estimated that
over 40,000 people are alive today
because of this one man.”
“It was not until 1968 when a survivor,
Yehoshua Nishri, found him,
(making public his incredible) contribution.
Nishri had been a teenager in Poland saved by a Sugihara visa and was
now serving at the Israeli embassy in Tokyo.”

Was Chiune Sugihara a Christian?
I don’t know.
But I do know that respect and love
for all humanity motivated him
to risk his own life for others.
That kind of courage, respect and love
doesn’t just pop up inside a person.
I believe, God quietly motivated Sugihara;
and many were blessed because of Sugihara’s faithfulness
to his conviction.
As Christians, we’ve been given the gifts
of faith, hope and love.
If we make up our minds
and accept what must be done
for the sake of healing the world,
we will prevail.
With the gifts of faith, hope and love
guiding us toward God’s possibilities,
fear and hell’s forces
will never prevent us
from planting and nurturing
potent, influential seeds
of God’s incredible grace and healing love.

As Christians, we have values
intended to guide our lives.
They defeat fear and empower us to live God’s will
and so make God’s presence and grace come alive

in the world.
“Faith, hope and love abide,
and the greatest of these is love.”