When I was a child I spoke as a child, understood as a child, reasoned as a child. I knew my parents loved me best. I mistook abundant love for especial favor and blessings for entitlements. I mistook good fortune for God’s approval and worldly outcomes for the will of God. Kennedy won because God was on our side. When my grandfather died, I assumed it was me—something I’d done or failed to do. Maybe the first time I ate meat on a Friday, at Bobby Bacon’s house. It was baloney.
When I run across texts like these from Jeremiah and Luke, I’m always asking, “What kind of community does it take to raise prophets like Jeremiah and even Jesus?” Being a Baptist, I have few doubts about God calling prophets, preachers, missionaries and everyday Christians. The call of God tends to be very personal, but it is not private and does not come in a vacuum.
Those of us who have been trained to make rhetorical peace with the congregation marvel at the freedom of Jesus to preach over their heads, to wound in order to heal, to use their own beloved texts against them. How sly of the common lectionary to pair this linguistic assault by Jesus at Nazareth with Paul’s pretty words on love. Poor preachers. Sometimes we love our people in the name of Christ, enduring just about everything with them, and sometimes we love them by throwing the Book at them.
Early on, even Jeremiah could have located himself somewhere within Frederick Buechner’s pithy essay on vocation in Wishful Thinking. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” says Buechner.
"Love never ends,” St. Paul writes in the lesson we read from 1 Corinthians 13. Or, put more positively, “love abides.” What does that really mean—to say that “love abides”? Or, indeed, what possible sense could it make to say this in a world in which the truth so clearly seems to be that love quite often does not abide?