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Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Gift of Love

When we use our gifts for the sake of the other, and act out of love, we embody the love that Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians. With this love, anything is possible.

Vicar Anna Helgen
   The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, year C
   texts: Jeremiah 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“...For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

How often do we feel like Jeremiah? Inadequate, unprepared, and not ready for what God calls us to do. “But I’m only a boy!” says Jeremiah. If God said these words to me as a child, I’d come up with an excuse, too.
I’m only a kid!
I don’t know what to do!
I haven’t been trained for this!
I don’t have time!
Can’t you ask someone else?

The truth is that God calls all of us--the young and the old, the weak and the strong, the willing and the reluctant--to carry out God’s mission in the world. To go where God sends us and speak what God commands us. If you’re feeling a little unsure, like Jeremiah, find comfort in the fact that God knows us from the very beginning. Even before we are formed in the womb, God makes us holy, and equips us with gifts so that we might share God’s love with all the world. We might still have questions or hesitations, but we can trust that God works with us in our reluctance and uncertainty, helping us to discover who exactly God calls us to be in this time and place.

Through a family acquaintance, I learned the story of the Schuster family--a family that learned together how to answer God’s call and show God’s love to the world. The Schusters live near Bremerhaven in the northwest part of Germany. This mom, dad, and their 16-year-old son decided to volunteer to take in an unaccompanied refugee, a minor. It was an involved process--lots of red tape, background checks, education classes, and--most importantly--an agreement to accept the minor until he or she turns 18. They knew during this process that they’d have no say in the age or gender of this person. No say in anything about the person at all.

Finally, they were approved and soon after, the Schusters and this young refugee had a chance to meet one another and see if it would be a good fit. If either party was hesitant, then the process would not move forward. Thankfully though, that wasn’t an issue. The Schusters connected immediately with Sohrab, a 13-year-old boy originally from Afghanistan. After his father was killed, however, his family had escaped to Iran to flee the Taliban. Sohrab wasn’t allowed to go to school while living in Iran. So his mother put him into a refugee program so he would have the opportunity to continue in his schooling. He’d been living in Germany, awaiting placement, before he met the Schusters.

When the Schusters met Sohrab he could only speak Farsi and a few words in German and English. He didn’t have many of his own belongings, so the Schusters bought him new clothes and a smartphone, so he could feel at home and be able to contact his family in Iran. Together, the Schusters and their guest-son (that’s what they call Sohrab) use Google Translate, a smartphone app, so that they can communicate more effectively. Can you imagine the challenges of living with someone when you don’t know their language?

When Sohrab first arrived, he slept and ate. A lot. With all his traveling and time spent in refugee camps, he didn’t get much rest. Now that he’s arrived in his new home he’s catching up on sleep and eating like any other growing teenage boy. He has started to interact more with the family, too. He goes to a school with other refugees and is taking intensive classes in German, so his language skills are improving making it easier for him to communicate with others. He’s also playing soccer which he loves.

The biggest worry of these unaccompanied minors is that they’ll be sent back to the refugee center. But the Schusters have done their best to make Sohrab feel welcome. Some of their relatives in the United States bought Sohrab his own laptop, so he’d have something to use in school and could more easily keep in touch with his family. Sohrab loved the gift and couldn’t believe it that it belonged to him! His guest-mom also thought it helped him feel secure in his new home since his extended guest-family in the United States thought of him as a new family member and welcomed him with a gift.

The Schuster family likely didn’t know what taking in an unaccompanied refugee would mean for them. They had their doubts and likely wondered if they could handle this. Other friends and family probably had their doubts, too. But even in spite of these concerns, the Schusters practiced love. They used their gifts for the sake of the other.

When we use our gifts for the sake of the other, and act out of love, like the Schusters, we embody the love that Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians. This isn’t sentimental love, or romantic love, but love made known through our actions. The Corinthians were a squabbling bunch. They argued over what spiritual gifts were best and lost sight of how to use them. Paul tells them, and us, that if love is not at the center of all that we do, then we are nothing. Then our actions are worthless. Unproductive. Futile.

To embody this love in the world, we might have to take a risk, like Jesus. Jesus describes to the crowds in his hometown what this gospel-love looks like in the world. And he upsets them! Because this love propels us out of our hometowns--the places where we are most comfortable--and towards the other, into the unknown. It breaks down the barriers that place us against each other so that we can get to know one another and learn together how to live in community with all.

This kind of radical love is the purest expression of the gospel and is most fully revealed to us on the cross. It’s surprising and acts in ways we might not expect. It allows for disagreement, but does not create division. When this love flourishes and is practiced by a community, the gospel is made known to all. This is how love anchors us as a community of faith. There are no insiders and no outsiders. But all are united and included in the body of Christ.

When you doubt your place in the world or wonder if you have the gifts to share God’s love with others, remember what this gospel-love is like. With this love at the center, anything is possible.

In the words of Eugene Peterson:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Thanks be to God for this love made known to us through Jesus Christ.
And thanks be to God for you as you share this love with all the world.


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