Epiphany C4

by Matthew B. Harper

January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4–10
Psalm 71:1 –6
1 Corinthians 13:1 –13
Luke 4:21 –30

Fear, Love, Wombs. today’s readings offer us a great deal to wrestle with.

God’s call is a scary thing. Scripture repeatedly shows God calling upon otherwise ordinary people to do extraordinary things through His power. Fear seems a logical response. Fear, the ever-present human emotion. Fear of not being good enough, of not measuring up. Fear of moving out of your comfort zone, into the unknown. Fear of being rejected, of being found wanting. Fear of bodily harm.

God speaks to us in our fear: “Do not be afraid.”

Why not? Why shouldn’t we fear? All our fears are entirely predictable, entirely reasonable.

“Do not be afraid” says the Lord, “For I am with you.”

WITH me? With ME? You don’t know me.

“I have known you,” Says the Lord, “since before you were in your mother’s womb.”

The words that are calling and anointing Jeremiah are unexpected. Jeremiah is a young man on the path to the priesthood when God interrupted his life. God challenged him, anointed him, and called him out of his comfort zone to serve as God’s Prophet. The rest of Jeremiah’s writings show us how powerfully God used him. His words convey the deep love God has for His people, as they are carried away into captivity. Jeremiah’s tears convey the depth of his own love for God and for God’s people.

God has known each of us since before we were formed in our mother’s womb. It is a shocking statement, a declaration to God’s omniscience. Many of us fear being that well known, that intimately watched over. We fear that if we are so well known, we will no longer be loved. We don’t want others to know our weaknesses and sins.

The psalmist, crying out for deliverance, again speaks to our fear, reminding us “I have relied upon you from my mother’s womb.”

God doesn’t just know us, God gives us life, sustains us each and every day, and gives us the love that makes life worth living. From the moment of conception we are dependent upon God for all that we are. As Christians we seek to always remember and honor that. As the psalmist finds himself beset by fear and in need of deliverance, he is comforted by the reminder of God’s omniscience and providence.

We can trust God’s knowledge of our lives because it isn’t voyeurism. God is neither “Big Brother” nor a ‘peeping tom.’ God knows us so intimately simply because God loves us. The love of God is reflected in the eyes of young lovers on their honeymoon and old lovers celebrating 60 years of marriage. It is in the face of a mother seeing her baby for the first time, and in the look of agony upon her face as she watches her son hang from the cross. It is in the eyes of Christ, on that cross, looking down upon the woman who is both His mother and His child.

A mother’s love is a special reflection of the divine love. Yesterday I had a visit with my mothers. One woman, who gave birth to me, raised me, and has never stopped loving me; and the other, who with her husband and children has chosen to love me as if she had. It was a visit full of love and laughter.

Looking around the prison visiting room, crowded on a New Year’s holiday, I was struck by how many mothers and sons I saw. These women know us. They changed our diapers, nursed us, and still stood beside us in court. When others abandon us, they visit. When the world chooses to forget us, they hold our memory precious. It is a love that was born in the womb, yet one that transcends it. As Paul reminds us, it is that love that gives value to this life and endures into the next.

Yet not every story is a good one, and so God’s work must continue. Mother’s deliver babies alone and afraid; too often mother’s die. Children are born sick, addicted, and are too often abused. There is work yet to be done.

God is calling us out. Go forth and proclaim the gospel. Do the work of loving service. Transform the world.

Fear not.

Yes, God really does want us, for God knows us and loves us from before the womb. God is with us and, when all else passes away, that love endures.

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