Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010
John Wesley, along with his brother Charles, founder of the movement in the Anglican Church that became the Methodist Church. He once said that the devil can enter the church through the organ! He was referring to the reality that, so often within Christian communities, it is differences of opinion about the liturgy that produce the most strife. The famous passage about love that we read today from 1st Corinthians was written by Paul in just such a context. Paul was responding to serious conflicts in the Church at Corinth when they gathered for the Eucharist. There was particularly a disregard for the poor. A minor issue was whether women should have their heads covered at the Eucharist. There was a real lack of unity within the Church. They did not love one another. So he says it is not the Eucharist that they celebrate. It had become a bit of a lie.
We have learnt much about the Eucharist from St Paul because he his trying to get the people in Corinth to understand what their participation in the Eucharist means. He takes two chapters to talk about his concerns. We have heard some of it in the last couple of weeks. He concludes with the passage we read today. So even though it is an appropriate reading for weddings, as it often is, the heart of it is trying to place unity in love at the heart of the Church.
This hymn of Paul, and it seems to be based on some kind of hymn, speaks of love in an abstract way. It is presented in a very movingly. And even as it moves us when heard at a wedding we may think it is an impossible dream for the young couple who will have to face many trials in life together. Love is certainly not a common theme in business or politics. It is sometimes suggested that such ideals are not part of the real world.
There is so much empty rhetoric around. So many high pitched and persuasive promotions that bombard us daily speak of love but their intentions are far from it. In our world there does not seem to be much rejoicing in the truth. Rather, deception seems to be an undercurrent if we believe what we are told about our parliaments, business and courts. Words so often hide a different agenda.
Patient and enduring love is not valued generally these days either. We seek unlimited and unrestrained choice in what we do. It has been said that the basis of the evil of our consumerism is not so much because we want to accumulate more and more possessions, but because we settle for so little. In other words we settle for things that do not really satisfy our longings. And we do it again and again. It is like a small child who screams to get a toy he wants. And when he gets it after a few minutes of play discards it. Our desires, our loves, are infinite and are not satisfied by toys.
Paul's words, are appropriate for a wedding liturgy, even though they were not addressed to that situation. Because even in the domestic liturgy of family life the same kinds of conflicts can occur.
Both Jeremiah, whose call to be a prophet we heard in the first reading, and Jesus, found themselves in conflict as people tried to confine them to familiar territory. After outlining his mission as we heard in last weeks reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus finds that his words do not meet with universal approval. His mission was to all the nations not just to the people of Nazareth or of Palestine. He puts it bluntly by telling of the actions of Elijah and Elisha who helped people who were gentiles. This infuriated his listeners. To them it was blasphemy for him to suggest that God would pass them by and offer salvation to the Gentiles. The took him outside the town to throw him off a cliff. His love, coming from God, is universal.
Love at the Eucharist is central. It is, after all, the prayer of love. It re-presents Christ's love for the Father into which we are summoned and immersed. That love is expressed and celebrated in Word and Sacrament. In that context it is inconceivable for Paul that there should be divisions in the assembly between poor and rich, weak and strong, male and female. May the love we celebrate here overflow into our families and homes.