Epiphany 4

February 2, 2025

Lectionary Texts

Jeremiah 1.4-10 — The call of Jeremiah.

Psalm 71. 1-6 — “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame…. You are my hope, my trust from my youth.”

1 Corinthians 13. 1-13 — It’s all about love.

Luke 4. 21-30 — Jesus having announced God’s grace for all people—not just insiders—his hearers want to throw him over a cliff, but he “goes on his way.”

Preaching Thoughts

       Jeremiah says “Surely I’m too young!” But God’s call is irrespective of our human standards, including class, gender, status, training or age. It is larger than our own life. “Before you were born I consecrated you.” (And as the gospel reading will remind us, God’s call also comes irrespective of other people’s opinions of it.) Whatever your call is, it transcends the boundaries and categories of your life. It’s not about you; it’s about God’s grace flowing through you.

       Notice how the Psalm picks up on the theme of youth that shows up in Jeremiah: “You are my hope, my trust, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth.” God accompanies us from long before we’re aware, and guides us to where we are. I don’t think it’s true that we’re always exactly where God wants us—sometimes we’ve strayed, resisted or simply not heard God’s call or followed God’s nudging. As God says to Jeremiah, “I have been with us all the way, and have given you gifts from the beginning that the world needs.”

1 Corinthians
       The whole point of our faith is to be loving: nothing else, nothing less, with no compromises, caveats, conditions or competing agendas. God’s lolve is absolute, and God asks for our love to be absolute.(“Be perfect—as in perfectly loving—as God is perfect.”) This is what it means, and all it means, to be Christian. Our faith is a way of living, not a set of religious opinions. Scripture’s definition of love is so different from our popular notion. We say “I love pizza,” or “I love the Red Sox”—but we don’t mean love. Even in our romantic movies and love songs “I love you” usually means “I want you (for myself).” But true love is not the same as appetite, or even longing. It’s concern for the other. It’s a recognition of our oneness, and desire for the other person’s wholeness. It is without expectation of return or reward. And here’s where it challenges us: it’s not a feeling; it is independent of my feelings toward another. This is how I can love my enemies. I can care for their wholeness and well-being even if I dislike them, distrust them, or even fear them. I might continue to distrust them, but I can still care about their wholeness.
       We believe, as scripture says, “God is love.” According to our theology, this passage is a picture of God. (Below is an affirmation paraphrasing this passage, using the word “God” for “love.”)

       Like all of us, Jesus’ hearers in Nazareth are hoping for a message that favors them. Jesus makes it clear that God’s Realm of Grace is for everybody, including the ones we usually omit. Liberation isn’t for the inside group, but for outsiders, like gentiles such as Naaman and the widow of Zarephath. The heart of Jesus’ ministry is the announcement and the initiation in both words and deeds of a realm of grace, justice and covenantal love he calls the “Kingdom of God.” A chief characteristic of it is its radical inclusivity. Everybody belongs to God. There are no insiders and outsiders.
       Oops. That gets the audience riled up: if Jesus is for outsiders, they’ll make Jesus an outsider. Here’s an early foreshadowing of the cross: God acts for the oppressed, and we don’t like that, and so we oppress God. But God is still God. “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” God will pass through our oppression and go on, healing and liberating, in defiance of our opposition, even our violence, even death itself. God will pass through the midst of us and go on their way.

Call to Worship

Leader: Holy Mystery, Loving One, God beyond our imagining,
All: you create us; you include us; you love us.
Christ, living body of the love of God,
you heal us; you unite us; you give us to one another.
Holy Spirit, breath that breathes in us all, and makes us one,
you break every division among us; you bring us home to each other.
We thank you. We worship you. We open our hearts to you.

2. (adapted from Psalm 71.1-6)
In you, O lord, we seek shelter
All: In your love, hear us and receive us.
Be a rock to us, a strong, safe place, for you are our hope.
Rescue us from the power of selfishness,
the grasp of injustice and cruelty
For you are our life, our way of being, our hope, our light
Alleluia! God of the forgotten and the outcast,
you receive us.Transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

3. (from Psalm 71.1-6)
Leader: In you, O Love, I take refuge;
All: deliver me and rescue me;
listen to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
For you, O Holy One, are my hope, my trust.
My praise is continually of you.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of love, our tradition both assures us and challenges us. Open our hearts to receive your peace and to hear your nudging. Shape us by the power of your word. We pray in the name and the company of Jesus, our loving prod and our living comforter. Amen.

God of truth, we confess that we want your Word to fit our desires; we distort your will to suit us. We are blind to your grace, and we repent. Forgive us, and open our eyes; let us see by the light of your compassion. In those whom we have rejected, let us hear you voice and encounter your presence. Speak your Word to us, God, for we are listening. Amen.

Loving God, in Christ you have taught us to love. But we are still beginners, still learning. Show us your love again: in Christ, in your scriptures as they are read and your Word as it is proclaimed, in our worship and prayers, and in our daily service. Give us your love, so that we might live with your love all our days, in the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, your love draws us in and confounds us. It is alluring and frightening as a burning fire. By your grace rekindle the flame of your love in us. Chase away all that diminishes love and set us free by your grace to be loving people, in the name and the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, Jesus taught that your grace was for everyone. But those who wanted special privilege rejected him and his message. Bless us with open hearts and minds, that we may never reject you or your Word. Grant that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed we may hear with humility and joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.

God of love,
Jesus’ hearers did not always want to hear of your infinite love.
Quiet our doubts and open our hearts
to hear your love, to receive your love,
to trust that we and all people are your Beloved.
God of love, your beloved children are listening.
Speak to us. Amen.

Listening prayer

1. [Luke]
God, I confess:
I don’t always want to hear your word
unless it favors me.
Give me courage to listen,
to accept,
to let your Word speak to me.

2. [Jeremiah]
Holy One,
you call me,
despite voices within and around me
that doubt.
You have claimed and called me
from the beginning;
your call is greater than my life.
Give me faith to listen, to trust,
to respond.

3. [1 Corinthians]
you who are pure love,
pour your love like light into me;
erase the darkness of my fear,
fill the shadows of my doubt
and let me receive your love.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: God of love, we confess the fragility of our love.
Reader: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Congregation: We confess those times when as have been impatient, unkind, arrogant or rude. We confess the times we have been irritable or resentful, or have insisted on our own way. Our love is imperfect. Forgive our sin, heal our hearts, and renew in us your perfect love. (Silent reflection…)
Pastor: I gladly affirm to you that by the grace we know in Christ Jesus, God forgives all your sin entirely, and sets you free to love deeply, by the power of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.


1 Corinthians 13 – a paraphrase

If I speak in learned or mystic languages
but do not speak in love,
it is all just clatter and chatter.

If I know everything
and understand life completely
and have miracle-producing faith
but do not act in love
it’s all for nothing.

If I give away everything I own
and die a heroic martyr’s death
but do it without love,
I have just wasted my time.

Love is kind.
Love has time for the other.
Love is generous, humble and gentle.
Love does not keep score of faults,
but rejoices in what is good and true.
Love bears willingly,
trusts deeply,
hopes boldly,
endures patiently.

Love does not die.
Beliefs will end; languages will fade;
knowledge will exhaust itself.
We know only partly; we believe only partly.
But there comes a time of wholeness,
when we let go of the part for the whole.
When I was a child,
I spoke and thought like a child.
Becoming an adult, I abandoned those ways.
Now, we see as if through foggy glass;
but in time we will see clearly, face to face.
Now I know only partially;
in time I will know fully—
and know that even now I am fully known.

So we have these three great gifts: faith, hope and love.
And the greatest is love.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.             [1 Corinthians]
       We give thanks for the grace of God, for God is love.
       God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on their own way. God is not irritable or resentful. God does not keep count of wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all of us, believes in all of us, hopes in all of us, endures with all of us.
       God never ends. As for our faith, it is finite. As for knowledge, it does not reach God, for we know only in part. But in God’s fullness the finite is enfolded. Now we see God only dimly, as in a clouded glass. But seeking grace, we see God face to face. Now we know only in part, but we seek to know fully; giving thanks that we are fully known.
       So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

      Divine Lover, God, we give our hearts to you, Creator of all, Lover of all.
      Heavenly Lover, we give our hearts to Jesus, who lived your love: who loved the guilty and the twisted, the outcast and the demon-possessed. He ate with them, he healed them, and he empowered them to proclaim the good news of your love. He loved those who opposed him, even those who crucified him. And in love you raised him from death, for love is immortal. He lives among us still, with us and within us, in our love for one another.
      Eternal Lover, we give our hearts to your Holy Spirit, empowering us with your love. We devote ourselves to compassion for all people, especially those who are not loved in this world; trusting in the life-changing power of forgiveness, our connectedness as the Body of Christ, the reality of resurrection, and the eternity of love. We pray that we may love you with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and that through us you may love all living beings, even our enemies, and all Creation, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

      We love and trust God, who is love. God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on God’s own way. God is not irritable or resentful. God does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.
      We love and trust Jesus, who embodied love. His love saves us—not his glorious speech, nor his understanding of all mysteries, nor his mountain-moving faith, but his love. In love he bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things. In love he bore the cross and died; and in love God raised him from the dead, for love never dies.
     We love and trust the Holy Spirit, who gives us life. Our knowledge is finite; our religion will end; but the love of the Spirit is infinite. By the Spirit we leave behind childish things, and what is partial, and grow into what is whole. By the Spirit we trust that now we know only in part; in time we will know fully. For in the Love of God we are fully known, and we give thanks. We have the gifts of faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Eucharistic Prayer

God of love we thank you,
for in love you create us and claim us as your Beloved.
In love you confront all that oppresses us and all people,
and in love you set us free.

Though we reject your love for us, and for others,
still you are faithful.
So, with all Creation, we sing your praise:

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who loved beyond all boundaries,
who included the rejected and blessed the broken,
who invited all to his table of grace.

For his generosity of love he was opposed;
he was scorned and crucified.
But you raised him from the dead,
and still he invites us to the table he shares
with all your Beloved of every tribe and tradition.

     (Blessing and Covenant)*

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in love, in holy self-giving,
in union with Christ’s self-giving,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     (Memorial Acclamation)

We give thanks that at this table all are invited, all are welcome.
For your love is for all people, and no one is excluded.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

made one not by our faith but by your grace,
fearless in love, inclusive in generosity,
and courageous in the face of opposition,
for the sake of the wholeness of the human family,
in the name and the company of Jesus.

* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”

Prayer after Communion

Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You come to us in humble bread, and feed us with unexpected grace. Send us into the world, to serve among those who are overlooked and rejected, to meet you among those who are not loved, to receive your grace from those who are outcast. Lead us by your Spirit, in the name of Christ, to bring good news to the poor. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view on the Music page)

At Your Feet (Original song)

Jesus, at your feet I bow.
I am yours completely now.
By your mercy show me how
to be loving.

Jesus, Master, you who save,
you have served me as a slave.
This, the perfect gift you gave:
to be loving.

In each hurting one I meet
it is you, O Christ, I greet.
Make my faithfulness complete,
to be loving.

Children of the Heavenly Mother
(Tune: Children of the Heavenly Father)

Children of the Heavenly Mother,
gather gladly with each other,
for you call us to your table
bringing gifts as we are able.

You have held us and caressed us,
washed and taught us, healed and blessed us;
now you cherish and adore us
and you set our lives before us.*

You have birthed us, and have freed us;
with your body now you feed us.
In this grace, O loving mother,
we are one with one another.

So we praise you, heavenly Mother,
Holy Spirit, Christ our brother,
All Creation sings together
honor, thanks and praise for ever.

* With communion: “and you set this table for us.”

Eternal Life (Original song)

This is how we will know eternal life:
we will love one another.
I lay down my life, all that is mine alone,
that we may be raised together.

We are not bound by any earthy thing
when our lives we surrender to God
whose love is eternal life,
and so we will love one another.

Fill Me, Love (Tune: Lead Me, Lord)

Fill me, Love, fill me with the oil of love,
may my lamp burn, burn long and bright.
For, Love, you fill me when my heart is empty,
so I may shine through the longest night.

Fulfill Your Love In Me (Original song)

Fulfill your love in me, O Loving Spirit,
fulfill your love in me, O Heart of Love.

Verses:Speak the name Beloved in my deepest soul.
Hold me in your heart, your gentle loving. (Refrain)

Heal me with your mercy and your tenderness.
Bring to life the grace in me to love you. (Refrain)

Give me grace to love my neighbor as myself,
freely, with the love with which you love me. (Refrain)

God of all Gentleness (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God of all gentleness, God of pure love,
you do not watch us from heights far above,
you are no tyrant, but patient and mild,
present with grace in the poor, in the child.

God of all mercy, may we be the ones
bearing your love to your daughters and sons,
not out of pity but humbly, with grace,
for in the poor we see your human face.

God of all justice, give us hearts to care,
hope to free prisoners of fear and despair,
courage to challenge the ways that oppress,
deep love to reach out to heal and to bless.

God of compassion, your Spirit now pour
into us all, for it’s we who are poor,
hungry for justice, for healing and grace,
and for full life for the whole human race.

Love Only          (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, may your deep love shine bright in my heart,
may it be always your love I impart.
In ease or conflict, your love be my stay,
as your Beloved, your love to convey.

When people scare me so I feel alone,
help me see they, too, have wounds of their own.
Help me surrender my sword and my shield,
love and love only by your grace to yield.

God, by your Spirit, fill me with your grace, to
love and to heal in each moment and place.
Love and love only, through conflict or strife,
sets us all free and gives healing and life.

O Faithful God (Tune: Finlandia)

O faithful God, whose steadfast love is sure,
O Loving Father, Mother kind and strong:
your Covenant forever will endure;
you bind us to your heart our whole life long.
No matter how rebellious is your child,
in you we are brought home and reconciled

You hold us, God, in kinship with each other.
We have been loved and held when we would run.
We all are siblings, all born of one Mother;
though we would flee, you join us all as one.
Our deepest wounds come from our deepest love,
and so our highest hope for life above.

So teach us God, to bravely love each other,
for all belong within your house of grace,
to give our enemy, who is our brother,
our steadfast mercy, and a wide embrace;
for in our love, though we be right or wrong,
we know the grace to which we all belong.

O Sovereign Love (Tune: Amazing Grace)

Beloved, you who guard and guide and give for every need,
reign in my heart, O Sovereign Christ; direct each thought and deed.

O Sovereign Love, my root, my sun, my purpose and my peace,
I spurn the world’s vain, anxious rule, and trust your Law of Grace.

The Empire of your justice, God, with mercy’s clear command
shall be my home; my loyalty is to no lesser land.

In humble and obedient thanks I pledge my life to you,
to join your work of justice, God, to make the world anew.

Reign in my heart, O Christ, my Rule. In faith I am compelled
to serve you, who by love alone have conquered all the world.

Set Me Free (To Love) (Original song)

From all that binds me, Love, set me free.
From all that binds me, Love, set me free.
Set me free, Love, set me free.
Oh Love, set me free for love.

From what I fear, O Love set me free….
From what I cling to, Love, set me free…
To live in perfect love, set me free….

Your Table (Tune: Amazing Grace)

Dear Jesus, when we break our bread with those who are in need,
we then by grace commune with God, and it is you we feed.

When we sit down and eat with those who hunger and who thirst,
we know that we are also poor, and you have fed us first.

So call us to your table, Lord, your grateful children, call:
where we receive your grace, unearned, and turn to share with all.

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