Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Readings – Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Psalm 71: 1-6; I Corinthians 13: 1-13; Luke 4: 21-30

Last Sunday we heard the beginning of this story.  Jesus, following his baptism, went into the wilderness to ponder how to live God’s declaration that he was the long-awaited Beloved of God who would:

bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and proclaim God’s grace to all.

The Messianic Age was to begin.  And the people of his home town, Nazareth, not only rejected him, “Is this not Joseph’s son”, but “were filled with rage”.  They pushed him to a cliff just outside of town, intending to push him over to certain death.  Then, there is this last line of today’s text:

“but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way”.

WOW!  In the face of a murderous mob, in serenity, Jesus “went on his way”; he began his mission as the Beloved Son of God. 

“Serenity” is not a word we hear or see much in our current times.  To use a bit from our Epistle reading, we hear a lot more “noisy gong(s)” and “clanging cymbal(s)”. 

On one of my pastoral visits with Willa Fae Baskin Danley, she presented me for my office, a beautiful calligraphy original of the writing of Teresa of Avila, done by her sister, June.  It reads:

Let nothing disturb thee. Let nothing dismay thee. All things are passing.  God never changeth. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing. God alone sufficeth.

Another rendition in the more contemporary language would be:

Let nothing disturb you.  Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing.  God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God, you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.

That writing of Teresa of Avila describes the serenity of Jesus as he walked through the enraged mob seeking to push him to his death outside of Nazareth.

So, who is this Teresa of Avila?  She was born in 1515 and lived until 1582.  She wrote this text shortly before her death.  She was born a Spanish noblewoman of Jewish Christian parents and was frail in body all her life, yet strong in spirit.  She became a Carmelite nun and exercised her calling as a mystic, a reformer, an author, and a theologian.  By the Roman Church at the time, she was called a trouble maker, and described as a “restless wanderer, disobedient, and a stubborn woman”.  It was the time of the Spanish Inquisition when over 150,000 people were persecuted, and an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 were executed.  The Spanish Inquisition ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to Roman Catholicism or be expelled from Spain.  While the inquisition continued into the 19th century, it was most intense during Teresa’s lifetime.  She founded seventeen convents throughout Spain, and taught, and wrote about the broadness of God’s love.  In so doing she defied the writing of St. Paul in I Corinthians, 14: 33b-35.

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in churches.  For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinated, as the law also says.  If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Finally, in 1970 Teresa of Avila was declared the first woman Doctor of Theology of the Church by Pope Paul VI, and today she is venerated in the calendars of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches. 

In a tumultuous time, against all odds, Teresa of Avila stayed the course.  She was sustained by God’s love that provided her with the serenity deep within.  She knew the words of God to the prophet Jeremiah

“I am with you”.

She knew the words of the Psalmist, 71: 6:

“I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you”.

She knew the serenity of Jesus as he:

“passed through the midst of them and went on his way”.

And she knew, cherished in her heart, and openly proclaimed the love that St. Paul wrote about in the thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians. 

Of course, we know this passage, the favorite for weddings, and for funerals, too.  However, this passage extends well beyond the love of married couples, and the love of family.  St. Paul wrote of love in the midst of the “noisy gong(s)” and the “clanging cymbal(s)” of everyday life.  He wrote of the love that embraces family, but also extends to neighbors of all variations.  Jesus himself extended this love to enemies as well.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive much again.  But love your enemies, do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High; for [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your [God] is merciful.  (Luke 6: 32-36)

For us, in our challenging times, to live in serenity, like Teresa of Avila, and like young Jesus of Nazareth just beginning his mission as Messiah, to live in serenity is to cherish the love of God at our very core, and to extend that love of God, the outreaching extending hands of God to ALL!

Remember, like Teresa of Avila and like Jesus of Nazareth, we are all the beloved daughters and sons of God, and we are all commissioned to share the love of God each and every day that we have been graciously given.

Let nothing disturb you.  Let nothing make you feel afraid. All things are passing.  God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God, you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.


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