14 January 2019

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 20 January 2019

TheSecond Sunday after the Epiphany, 20 January 2019

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
I Corinthians 12:1-11
Saint John 2:1-11

Background: Marriage in Israel


Marriage was a young person’s affair in that it mainly centered about children and a future for a family, and thus it was an arrangement between two families. Once the choice of young man and woman had been made there was a year’s period of engagement or bethrothal during which time families negotiated the dowry. The dowry was compensation to the bride’s family for the loss of a family member, a purely economic consideration. During this time the couple lived separately. When the marriage was celebrated, usually in the autumn following the harvest. The wedding could last from five to seven days. Two processions, one of the bridegroom to the bride’s home, and the other of the bride to the bridegroom’s house, brought the couple together. The day following there was a wedding feast – an affair for the entire community. There was wine and food and general merry-making. Later in the evening, the couple went to a room where the marriage was consummated. 

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5


For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.


In these chapters the latter Isaiah sees an Israel redeemed and speaks of themes of light, righteousness, and salvation not only Israel but to all nations. Our pericope has a vocabulary that relates it to the notion of marriage. Both bride and groom are mentioned, but also the crowns or diadems that sat on their heads, the processions that brought the bride and groom together (later stanzas), the reality of naming and of names, and the hope for progeny. Our reading this morning is the first stanza of a more extensive hymn. The second stanza is verses 6-9, and the third is verses 10-12. These verses seem to be answers provided to the question that follows from a reading of chapter 61, will all of these promises be made real? The intimation of chapter 61 is that they will be made real and we will celebrate as if at a marriage feast.


It is the prophet himself who “will not keep silent.” He wishes Jerusalem to understand not only its fate but its restoration as well. The whole enterprise is to be a witness to all the nations, a sign of the developing universalism, especially in the Isaiahs. The whole character of the nation will be changed, just as the character of a couple is changed in marriage. The prophet uses symbolic names to accentuate this new character and aspect: what was desolate becomes “My-delight-is-in-her,” and the land itself shall signal the new circumstances, being called “Married”.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What in your community is being oppressed or being held captive?
  2. How do you hope your community will be redeemed?
  3. How will you be a part of that redemption?

Psalm 36:5-10 Dixit injustus


5      Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
     Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save both man and beast, O Lord.
     How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
     They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
     For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.
10    Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
and your favor to those who are true of heart.


You may want to take some time and read through the initial verses of this psalm, as you might be surprised by the contrast that if offers. The psalm makes an effort to compare wickedness with righteousness. Our selection delights in the righteousness of God, while other verses describe the perniciousness of evil. This contrast is beautifully described in verse 6 with a comparison of “the strong mountains” with “the great deep.” If there is a key word here it is “abundance”, for the psalmist is hopeful that the reader will recognize God’s abundance of grace not only in the words of the poem, but in the realities of life as well. If the “strong mountains” are the quintessence of “mountain”, then all things that God gives are the perfect example and manifestation of God’s generosity, for example “in your light we see light.” 

Breaking open Psalm 36::
  1. How is God like a “mountainy mountain”?
  2. What do you see in God’s luminescent light?
  3. What is the opposite of this light?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 12:1-11


Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

In this reading, Paul seeks to answer the question, “What does it mean to be the Body of Christ?” From chapter 11 through chapter 14 he explores the answers to this query. In this pericope the answer has to do with spiritual gifts. He argues that we need to not boast of these gifts, but to understand their diversity and their use for the common good. He begins by highlighting the notion of the Word – that which is spoken and heard; the word that they did not hear as pagans for their gods “could not speak.” Yet there is the Holy Spirit who gives believers the power of discernment and confession.


What comes from the same Spirit is a variety and diversity of gifts, which Paul urges the Corinthians to recognize. All of these gifts are a “manifestation of the Spirit.”And in usual Pauline fashion he provides a list of these various manifestations. There is unity in that the Spirit provides them, and diversity in that individuals will be given certain gifts. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What are your spiritual gifts?
  2. What makes them spiritual?
  3. How do you use them?

The Gospel: St. John 2:1-11


On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So, they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Book of Signs (John 1 – 12) follows the great prologue, and in the subsequent sections recall the witness of the Baptist to Jesus, and the calling of the disciples. Once all of that is accomplish, we are ready to read the signs evident in Jesus’ ministry with people. Our first sign is at Cana in Galilee, at a wedding. The focus, however, is not upon either bride or groom but on something entirely different. The celebration and the characters involved have something to say, showing a divine mystery. The Cana mystery begins on the Third Day, with the earlier two days being devoted to John the Baptist’s witness, and the revelation to the Disciples. In Exodus 19, on the third day, Israel gathers at the foot of Sinai in order that God’s Law might be revealed to them. Sinai meant covenant and relationship – as does Cana. That we are at a wedding banquet also seems to refer to Isaiah (see First Reading, above). This is all about something new, restoration, relationship. 

More symbology – why is Mary present at this wedding? Is she just a guest, or does she represent something – perhaps the whole people of God, faithfully attending to God’s will. John wants us to see the symbolic import of time, the third day, and Jesus wants us in his rejoinder to Mary to understand the meaning of time and of the hour. Jesus says to Mary after her concern about the wine, “my hour has not yet come.” One commentator suggests the possibility of reading this phrase different, as a question, “Has not my hour already come?” Ministry begins here. Mary expands the ministry in her instructions “to do what he tells you to do.”

Again, we see the theme of abundance in Jesus’ providing for a lavish overabundance of wine – enough for those who will be called to the wedding feast? A good prophetic comment in Joel might accompany this abundance – “On that day/the mountains will drip new wine.” (Joel 4:8) Not only are the circumstances for humankind new, but the wine is new – superlative – abundant. This is the beginning of signs, and now we can begin to understand the ministry of Jesus with the people.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What other symbols do you see in this story?
  2. How do you understand Mary in this story?
  3. What do the servants symbolize?

Principal idea and theme:           Abundance

First Expression:                           Abundance in renewing a nation (Isaiah)

Second Expression:                      Abundance in the strength of God, and in the very light with which he illumines the earth and its peoples (Psalm)

Third Expression:                         An abundance of spiritual gifts (I Corinthians)

Fourth Expression:                       An abundance of wine for the Eucharist (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

07 January 2019

The Baptism of Our Lord, The First Sunday after the Epiphany, 13 January 2019

The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, 13 January 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Saint Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Something New: A Sermon based on these Texts: Baptism of Our Lord.

Background: The Baptism of Our Lord

This feast day which is central to the celebration of the Epiphany in the Eastern Church, has seen a great deal of evoloution in the Western Church. It was Pope John XXIII who began the revisions of this feast day as the “Commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ”, kept on 13 January, seven days following the Feast of the Epiphany. Later, Pope Paul VI reset the date as the first Sunday following the Feast of the Epiphany. The Baptism of our Lord is celebrated in Anglican (Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches following the Roman rule. 

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth--
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."

In this wonderful text, Isaiah explores the relationship that the Creator has with the created (see especially verses 1 and 7 which make for a chiasmus on this theme). There are references not only to the creation story, but to events in Salvation History as well: “You have passed through the waters, rivers, fire”. Redemption is taken quite literally with Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba given “in exchange for you.” The latter days are not forgotten either, as the prophet looks forward to the return of the exile – a universal expectation from both the north and south. This remembrance, and the new expectations urge Israel to review its relationship with God. The realizations are stated succinctly in the initial verses of the pericope. God redeems, calls by name, and intimately knows (calls by name) God’s people. These understandings of relationship are paired with God’s having created and formed the people. 

The water references certainly refer to the Red Sea story, and its subsequent events at the Jordan River. They also, in their intimation of God’s conquering of the deep see God as one who redeems from death (the sea). These references make this an appropriate reading for this feast day.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What does water mean to you?
  2. How does water save you?
  3. How do you remember your baptism?

Psalm 29 Afferte Domino

1      Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2      Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3      The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4      The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5      The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6      He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7      The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8      The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9      And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, "Glory!"
10    The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11    The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

We last saw this psalm on Trinity Sunday, where it was used to extol the greatness of God, and God’s power. In all three cycles of the lectionary, it is used on this feast day especially with regard to verse 3 and verse 8. Verse 3 reminds us of the ancient conquest of God conquering the ancient chaos, dividing the land from the water, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters.” There are several instances in the ancient texts where God prevails upon the waters both universally is in creation, and particularly as at the Red Sea and at the Jordan River. Even more evocative on this Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, is the reference to the writhing of the oak trees in verse 8. Robert Alter has an alternative translation that literally leaps off the page on a day such as this, “The LORD’s voice brings on the birth-pangs of does and lays bare the forests.”[1]Water is very much a part of birth, and the womb – baptismal font connection is helpful. I like Alter’s rendition in that it high-lights the role of God, water, mother, and birth – a helpful constellation on this day.

Breaking open Psalm 29:
  1. How is Baptism like a birth?
  2. What are the birth pangs that accompany it?
  3. What can women teach us about Baptism?

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

If the Epiphany makes us aware of the universal appeal of the Gospel, in this text we see both the spread of the Gospel and the evolution and spread of Baptism. Samaria would indicate the radical nature of the Gospel being given to those outside of the traditional realm of Judaism. Samaria, ancient capital of the Northern Kingdom, and seat of the Samaritans, target of the animosity of Jerusalem, becomes the place where a baptism has been celebrated. Peter and John bring an additional gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this quick comment, Luke makes us aware of how the understanding and practice of Baptism was changing and developing. Also of importance is the apostolic laying on of hands. We see a church growing not only in its evangelism, but liturgically as well. 

Breaking open Acts:
  1. When were you baptized?
  2. What do you remember about it?
  3. What gifts did the Spirit give you?

The Gospel: St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. " 

This reading begins with a crackle and buzz, “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning…” It’s a fluid situation that Luke presents here – Jesus’ baptism amongst an energized and wondering people. There is expectation about John which he quickly redirects to Jesus. What is grist for the mill here is the mindset of the people who witness the baptism – their hopes and expectation. John’s explanation is equally vibrant with the Spirit, the winnowing, the gathering, and the chaff burned in the fire. All of this surrounds the national quest for the Messiah – what will this Messiah be? Who will be this Messiah? John brings the question down to earth, down to sandals and threshing floors, down to the ordinary. 

Luke’s baptism happens in a flash, almost a sidelight in this buzzing scene of expectation. What the people are seeking, Jesus also seeks. However, what the people are hoping for will be radically changed by this Jesus who comes to the Jordan. In Mark’s version of the baptism, a great deal of it is an interior vision, “he saw”. Here in Luke the vision is shared with the people, the Spirit descends in bodily form, and the voice is heard. Is the creation story here as well? That possibility broadens Luke’s rendition of the Baptism of Jesus. All are involved, all are witnesses.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What did Jesus experience at his baptism?
  2. What did the people see and hear?
  3. About what do you have expectation?

Initial idea:                  The voice of God.

Idea One:                     The voice of God creates and redeems (Isaiah)

Idea Two:                    The voice of God makes things happen (Psalm 29)

Idea Three:                  The voice of God is universal (Acts)

Idea Four:                    The voice of God shows the way to come (Luke)

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

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location 2706.