25 January 2011

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - 30 January 2011

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Saint Matthew 5:1-12

Albrecht Dürer - Apocalypse

BACKGROUND – The Prophets I
It might be a good time to step back and think about the prophets, what they contributed to the Holy Scriptures, and how they were perceived in the time of their ministry.  The term, prophet, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Nabi’, which indicated some one who was considered to be an authentic spokesperson for a divinity.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, and indeed in early Christianity, it mattered not whether the prophet spoke for YHWH, but rather that he or she spoke the truth.  Thus both Balaam (see the First Reading for this morning) and the Sybil are honored along with the prophets who saw themselves as agents for the Most High.  The notion that prophets were diviners of the future is a much later development.  The original concept was that these men and women spoke God’s will – directed to the time and situation in which it was spoken.  Good examples are the oracles of Jeremiah and I Isaiah, and the confrontation of David by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah, and the adultery with Bathsheba.  There will be more about the prophets in coming weeks.

Micah 6:1-8

Hear what the LORD says:
 Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
 and let the hills hear your voice.
 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
 and you enduring foundations of the earth;
 for the LORD has a controversy with his people, 
and he will contend with Israel. 
"O my people, what have I done to you? 
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
 and redeemed you from the house of slavery; 
and I sent before you Moses,
 Aaron, and Miriam.
 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
 what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
 and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, 
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD." 
"With what shall I come before the LORD,
 and bow myself before God on high?
 Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
 with calves a year old?
 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
 with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
 Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, 
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
 and what does the LORD require of you
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,
 and to walk humbly with your God?

There is a classic form in the Hebrew Scriptures that the prophet Micah uses to great effect.  It is called the rib or controversy form.  In our reading for today, a cosmic courtroom has been assembled.  The mountains and foundations of the earth are to hear God’s controversy with Israel.  Like his neighbor, Amos, Micah regularly took Israel to task for her injustices to the poor.  There are three parts: a summons, the legal brief that YHWH submits, with it’s probing questions, and finally an exposition of what religion is really all about.  Micah hears G-d’s push back to Israel – “remember what I have done from you, from the very moment you entered this land!” (from Shittim to Gilgal).  Micah then anticipates the response of the audience, and dissuades them from what they are inclined to do.  The sacrifices will mean nothing.  The good, righteous, and noble response is recorded in Micah’s eloquent statement about “doing right”,  “loving goodness”, and “walking humbly” with God.

Breaking open Micah:
  1. In your mind, what does it mean to “do right”?
  2. What do you see when others “do right” to you?
  3. How do you “walk humbly”?

Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the LORD.

He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.

He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

The Singer - Ernst Barlach

The psalm for this morning mirrors some of Micah’s themes, with the introductory lines announcing the standards that the righteous should follow.  The first verse has a sense to it that is lost in the English translation.  The verb “dwell” is better translated as “sojourn” which makes better sense with “tabernacle” (read “tent”) – the real situation of a nomadic people.  The second half of the verse expresses a more permanent situation with images of the temple building.  In this elegant manner, the psalmist embraces a span of Jewish history.

Breaking open Psalm 15
1.     What are the values that the psalmist enunciates in the psalm?  Write them down?
2.     How many are evidenced in your life?
3.     Which ones are challenges to you?

I Corinthians 1:18-31

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 
 and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Crucifixion - Paul Gibson

In last week’s reading from I Corinthians, Paul derided the Corinthians for their “party spirit”, their distinctions from one another, rather than their unity with one another.  In this section Paul notes the distinctions of those who follow Christ and who find in the cross the power of God.  Our understanding of the church at Corinth from last week’s reading is that it was a diverse group, comprising slaves, freemen, Jews, Greeks, and others.  Paul now wants to show them how their faith distinguishes them from others, or how their faith has changed their orientation within their own tribe or family.  For Paul it is all about knowing – “how do we know God, how to we apprehend God?”  Paul surmises that the Jews have knowledge about God through the Law, and that the Greeks attempt to know God through philosophical dialogues.  Into this sophisticated world, Paul inserts an embarrassing and even upsetting notion – that the cross (stumbling block and foolishness) is the real wisdom of God.  So the boasting from last week’s reading (“I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas”) gives way to boasting in the cross, which Paul calls God’s foolishness and weakness, which makes for true Wisdom.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How wise are you given the standards of our world and culture?
  2. Is the cross an embarrassment to you?
  3. How do you reconcile your own faith with your own technical or cultural knowledge?

Saint Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sermon on the Mount - Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Like St. John the Evangelist, Matthew uses a device that presents Jesus in a historic role that would have meaning to his readers.  Here Jesus is the new Moses standing on a new Sinai (The Sermon on the Mount), announcing a new set of values for the Reign of Heaven.  If you have the time, compare Luke’s structure and wording, for they are quite different.  Luke uses the style of “Blessings and Curses” and his language is blunt and spare.  Matthew, however, only speaks of blessings, and each of his virtues is spiritualized – Luke’s “Blessed are the poor” becomes Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.  However, despite the warmth of Matthew’s expressions, these beatitudes represent a revolution in the mores of the Jewish and Greco-Roman world.  In fact these values are revolutionary in our own time as well.  The danger in reading Matthew’s beatitudes is to not sentimentalize them but rather to recognize in them a quite real challenge to our own behaviors.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Which do you like best, Matthew or Luke’s version?  Why?
  2. How are you “blessedness” to others?
  3. What is your understanding of being poor in spirit?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

20 January 2011

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany - 23 January 2011

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Saint Matthew 4:12-23

BACKGROUND – The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Beginning on Tuesday, 18 January, The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle, and lasting until 25 January, The Conversion of Saint Paul, there is an observance of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  This observance, which attempts to keep the hope of Christian Unity alive amongst the various churches, was begun in 1908 by the Graymoor Friars (Franciscan) and the Sisters of the Atonement held the first observance of the octave.  Since that time, through the efforts of the World Council of Churches, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Churches, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Reformed Churches, Baptists and others have prayed for the unity of the Church.

Isaiah 9:1-4

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

The Tribe of Naphtali - Chagall

It has not been all that long since we last heard these words from Isaiah.  They comprise the first reading on Christmas Eve (9:2-7) and again on this Sunday (9:1-4).  They lead up to Isaiah’s oracle about the birth of a new Davidic heir (unto us a son is given) and attempt to illustrate the chosen nature of the Davidid kings.  Why then this text again, on this Sunday?  Here the focus is on the last three verses, which may be a liturgical piece chanted or said at the accession of the king.  It is not only about the king (idealized, not a particular king) but also the people, “who walked in darkness”.  Isaiah talks about a new kind of light that brightens the joy of a people brought into freedom.  That these verses are quoted by Jesus in the Gospel for today is probably the primary reason for this reading, however the prophet’s insight into the nature of leadership and people form a deeper commentary that is used by Christians to understand the nature of Jesus leadership and ministry.  It is for the benefit of those being led, for the people who follow, that Isaiah’s ideal king, and Matthew’s messianic Jesus exercise their authority. 

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Have you “walked in darkness”?  What is your darkness?
  2. How has your Christian faith made you free?
  3. What still oppresses you?

Psalm 27:1, 5-13  Dominus illuminatio

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? *
the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper; cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Sometimes the theological words that we have become accustomed to can obstruct our understanding of what a biblical author really intends.  Such is the case in the first verse of the psalm where the translation of “rescue” is rendered as “salvation.”  Rescue speaks volumes and becomes more immediate to our understanding of what the psalmist is celebrating.  That God should be a “shelter” (tent) or that God should conceal us from the evil all about us becomes something that we can rejoice in given the difficulties that confront us in our daily life.  These verses (5 and 6) rejoice in God’s rescue, but also (verses 9-13) convey the immediacy of the request.  God is needed in the life of the psalmist now and not tomorrow.  Interestingly the use of the word “tent” (translated as “shelter” in the BCP) allows a double meaning.  Tent can be the household in which we rest and are refreshed in, or it can mean the tent (tabernacle) which was God’s presence with Israel in its wanderings through the wilderness.  Where shall we meet God?

Breaking open Psalm 27
1.     Is your home a shelter for you?  From what does it shelter you?
2.     Is your church a shelter for you?  How?
3.     When or where do you feel closest to God?

I Corinthians 1:10-18

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Ss. Peter and Paul

The reading for today is a continuing reading during these Sundays after Epiphany from I Corinthians.  In these verse Paul outlines the problem that he needs to address with the Corinthians.  There is division in the church of Corinth, and Paul identifies four separate parties or factions:  a) those who “belong to Paul”, b) those who “belong to Apollos”, c) those who “belong to Cephas (Peter)”, and finally those who “belong to Christ.”  Let’s unpack this for a second.  Paul’s party consisted of the majority of the congregation, made up of both freed persons and slaves that were attracted to Paul’s message.  The party of Apollos was followers of a recently converted Alexandrian Jew who was an eloquent orator, whose teachings were especially admired by the better educated of the Corinthians.  The followers of Cephas (Peter) were Palestinian and Syrian Jews who identified with the leadership of Peter.  The finally party, those who “belong to Christ”, may not have been as righteous as their name might suggest, but rather those who sought to have direction only from the Risen Christ, and who dismissed the teachings of Paul, and his authority.  It is a complex situation, and one that is often shared by all Christian congregations.  Who shall be our leader?  To whom shall we listen?

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. Does everyone in your church agree on everything?
  2. How are disputes handled?
  3. How does Baptism and Eucharist heal these divisions?

Saint Matthew 4:12-23
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, 
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, 
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

There is a great deal going on in this reading.  First Matthew ties us into the Isaiah texts that we read in the first reading this morning.  This is not a random quotation but an attempt to make a theological assertion.  The tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun were among the first to feel the wrath of God courtesy of the Assyrian army.  And now these tribal areas, and Galilee are the first to hear the good news of God’s reign.  In this theological context, Jesus recruits those who will help him announce this new “reign of heaven.”  Jesus is a master of taking daily tasks and responsibilities and making them into signs and symbols of a higher calling.  The fishermen become fishers of men and women – of real human beings for whom the good news is intended.  In their own actions, the fishermen, James and John, leave one authority (their father) and follow another (Jesus).  And what is the good news that this small party begins to manifest and announce?  Action words quickly follow to explain the ministry of Jesus: teaching, proclaiming, and curing.  Such works ought to be known among us as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How does your faith call you to be in mission?
  2. What does the idea of a “reign of heaven” or “the kingdom of heaven” mean to you?
  3. In what ways have you shared good news with others?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

07 January 2011

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany - 16 January 2011

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
I Corinthians 1:1-9
Saint John 1:29-42

BACKGROUND – The Lamb of God
The Lamb both as symbol and as actuality appears in numerous places in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The reality of its use as a sacrificial animal (see the story of Cain and Abel, Genesis 4:1-5) is implied in this story, although both goats and sheep were regarded as wealth in the Ancient Near East.  A lamb, however, was the preferred sacrifice in the temple, and soon becomes a symbol of that sacrifice.  It is natural then that Christians quickly identified Jesus with such a sacrifice.  In addition there was the actuality of the Paschal Lamb, the lamb offered up at the Passover, whose blood was painted over the doors of the Israelites in Egypt.  IInd Isaiah in his Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 42-53) speaks of this idealized Israel (later identified with Jesus) as a “lamb led to slaughter.”  The lamb appears in numerous places in the Christian Scriptures, today’s Gospel being only one example.  The Revelation of Saint John the divine has several references as well.  

Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands, 
pay attention, you peoples from far away! 
  The LORD called me before I was born, 
 while I was in my mother's womb he named me. 
He made my mouth like a sharp sword, 
in the shadow of his hand he hid me; 
 he made me a polished arrow, 
in his quiver he hid me away. 
 And he said to me, "You are my servant, 
 Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
 But I said, "I have labored in vain, 
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; 
 yet surely my cause is with the LORD, 
 and my reward with my God."
 And now the LORD says, 
 who formed me in the womb to be his servant, 
 to bring Jacob back to him, 
and that Israel might be gathered to him, 
 for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, 
 and my God has become my strength – he says, 
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant 
to raise up the tribes of Jacob 
and to restore the survivors of Israel; 
 I will give you as a light to the nations, 
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. "
Thus says the LORD, 
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, 
 to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, 
the slave of rulers, 
 "Kings shall see and stand up, 
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, 
 because of the LORD, who is faithful, 
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

Georges Rouault

With this reading we have the beginning of the second of the Suffering Servant Songs of IInd Isaiah.  Readers familiar with the prophetic work of Jeremiah will be struck by familiar themes here:  called before birth, known in his mother’s womb, called to the Gentiles as well, bringer of a message of both doom and gladness, he like Jeremiah is at time discouraged.  This servant, a collective of the whole of Israel, ponders what is to happen following the good deeds of Cyrus (Isaiah’s hero, and the liberator of Israel-in-Exile.  This reading is an excellent example of the universalism that develops under Jeremiah, and all of the Isaiah’s, an especially appropriate reading on this day.  Christians read in the final verse not only Christ’s selection as the Lamb, but also our being chosen in our own baptisms as well.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. Does the notion of “suffering” have a place in your personal theology?  What is that role?
  2. In what ways have others suffered for you?  Who are they?
  3. Who comes to mind when you read about Isaiah’s “suffering servant?”

Psalm 40:1-12  Expectans, expectavi

I waited patiently upon the LORD; *
he stooped to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; *
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the LORD.

Happy are they who trust in the LORD! *
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.

Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
there is none who can be compared with you.
Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.

In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);

Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, "Behold, I come.

In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
'I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart."'

I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O LORD, you know.

Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance;*
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.

You are the LORD;
do not withhold your compassion from me;*
let your love and your faithfulness keep me safe for ever.

This psalm is made up of three distinctly different contributions.  The first verses are indicative of a psalm of thanksgiving for an answered prayer.  Verses 7 through 11 almost have a prophetic tone to them (“In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure”) quite reminiscent of Amos.  The final section 13-18, not used this morning, forms a psalm of supplication.  Perhaps this psalm was chosen for the lectionary for the verses that imply the suffering of the psalmist (and by extension, Jesus, the Lamb of God).  The second verse recalls God’s acts of creation, in which the psalmist is pulled out of “the mire and clay”, or better put, “from the roiling pit (a reference perhaps to both chaos, and the place of the dead), and from the thickest mire” (Alter).  This is a God who stoops down to be involved with human kind in the worst of its distress.

Breaking open Psalm 40
1.     Do you wait patiently?
2.     If you wait on the Lord, for what do you wait?
3.     How has God delivered you?

I Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

With this reading we begin a series of continuing readings from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  This first section is noted for its thanksgivings, for God’s grace, and the fullness of that grace amongst the Corinthians.  Before beginning the bulk of his letter to this church, he wants to assure them of their stature and place. 

With this reading we begin a series of continuing readings from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  This first section is noted for its thanksgivings, for God’s grace, and the fullness of that grace amongst the Corinthians.  Before beginning the bulk of his letter to this church, he wants to assure them of their stature and place. 

Breaking open Acts:
  1. What kinds of grace has God shed in your life?
  2. What spiritual gifts have you been given?
  3. How has God strengthened you for life?

Saint John 1:29-42
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, `He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).


These verses that follow on the Prologue recently read on Christmas Day make clear John the Baptist’s sense of who he was and who he was not.  Prior to this reading he disclaims any role as the messiah, and in these verses begins by describing exactly who Jesus is.  The comparison to “the Lamb of God” is quite deliberate, and in it, Saint John the Evangelist wants his readers to understand exactly the nature of Jesus.  Although it might be easy and comfortable to compare Jesus to the Passover Lamb that saves Israel, John wants us to understand in this phrase the lamb that is offered on the altar of sacrifice, after the manner of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.  Following on John’s descriptions of the pre-existent Jesus, present at creation, we see John the Evangelist’s purpose – to root Jesus in the midst of Israelite salvation history, and to see Jesus as the sign (John’s code word) of what it is that God intends. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Lamb is one of several descriptors used to describe Jesus.  Which are the ones that you use?
  2. What role does John the Baptist see himself as taking?
  3. What do you think it meant to be “anointed”?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.