21 January 2020

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 26 January 2020

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

Background: The Sundays after the Epiphany

These Sundays offer a unique perspective in the midst of the church’s year which seems dominated by events. Here, with the exception of The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February) and even that seems to fall within the general program of the season, we meet and experience the teachings of Jesus. It is the perfect time to devote ourselves to what he has said, and what he offers to his disciples and the general public. His teaching includes his call of the men, and surely the women as well, who follow him to learn from him and to be guided by him.

First Reading: 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.

What first Isaiah wrestles with here is the question of trust and faith – In whom or what shall we believe – where shall we place our trust?  In the verses leading up to our reading we hear: “He will look upward, and will gaze at the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, oppressive gloom, murky, without light.”  In our reading we have a reversal of this condition, namely the gift of light to those who have walked in darkness. The nation which was troubled is now increased and given the gift of joy. The difficulties which distressed them have been lifted from their shoulders. This Isaiah looks forward to the redemption and salvation that will be given to the people of God’s promise. Today’s Gospel will look at this reading again, and will see it with different eyes, but with the same hearing of promise.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            In what ways are you a lost person?
2.            What is the darkness in your life?
3.            Where do you find light?

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.
10    Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.
11    You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12    Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13    You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

There are two parts to this psalm, 27:1-6, and 27:7-14, perhaps originally two separate psalms. The general theme is shared: God will be our rescuer, which we see in the first verse, and then the missing verses of 2-3. In verses 4 through 6 we hear the psalmists desire to dwell in the Temple of God, and “beholding the fair beauty of the Lord.” The vocabulary here is very interesting in that it alludes to the nomadic life of the nation in earlier days. God’s shelter is a tent, and then later the shelter is a rock. 

With verse 7 we begin the second section of the psalm where God is seen as protection and redemption. There is a sense here that goes beyond a spiritual presence since the text refers God’s face, “Hide not your face from me.” There is almost a desperate need for God’s presence. 

Breaking open Psalm 27:
1.        Where are your safe places?
2.        How is the church a safe place for you?
3.        How do you provide safety to others?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 1:10-18

Now 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.

Apparently, things are not going well in Corinth – there are reports of division and dissention. So Paul in this beginning part of the letter calls for unity among the Christians of Corinth. It is not enough to be of Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter). One must be of Christ. Attention must be paid to the body, that is to Christ. Paul appeals not to baptism but to the Gospel which he is called to proclaim. There is a realism about what he and they are up against. Their message may be foolishness to some. He counters that it is really “the power of God.” 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What divisions do you see in your church?
  2. How are you a part of the problem?
  3. How are you a part of the solution?

The Gospel: St. 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.

We pick up after the Temptation in the wilderness, and the arrest of John the Baptist. Jesus heads back up to Galilee, and encamps at Capernaum. Matthew sees in this a keeping of the promise in Isaiah, which he then quotes (see the first reading above). In this Jesus moves from a quiet village (Nazareth) to a more vital town close to the Via Maris, a Roman road that connected the fishing communities of Galilee to Syria in the north. 

Zebulun and Naphtali were occupied in ancient times by those tribes until they were overrun by Assyrian troops who resettled the resident tribes into other lands. Thus in the quote from Isaiah, Matthew sees Jesus’ activity there as a “return” from the ancient exile. The poor who were left behind, are the first to see God’s new light. What is not explicitly stated is that this area was now also home to both Greek and Roman settlers, an indication of the future appeal of the Gospel to the Gentiles. 

The focus in the meanwhile, is the house of Israel, and Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. Accompanying Jesus, they see his ministry of preaching a message of repentance, and healing. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        Who are the “left behind” people in your life?
2.        Who are the preachers in your life?
3.        What is God’s call to you?

General Idea:              Not forgetting the lost in darkness

The Situation:             The darkness of Assyrian Expansion and the Promise of Light (First Reading)

The Hope:                   God as Protector and Redeemer (Psalm)

A Problem                   The darkness of division and the light of unity (Second Reading)

The Call                       Jesus’ presence with the lost, and the call to accompany him. (Gospel)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

15 January 2020

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 19 January 2020

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

Background: The Lamb of God

Biblical references to sheep and specifically to lambs are numerous. The story of Cain and Able is essentially the story of the conflict of ranchers and farmers, and the lamb seems to have won out. The Passover story revolves around the Lamb and the offering of its meat and its blood as a sign over the doorway. David’s story begins with his association with the sheep, and later in the Temple the offering of lambs, and other animals becomes the center of the Jewish sacrificial system. In Isaiah the lamb becomes one of the signs of the peaceable kingdom, and is also associated with the Suffering Servant. In the Gospel of John (see today’s Gospel) John the Baptist sees Jesus and associates him with the Lamb of God. Like the sacrificial lamb, John sees Jesus as salvation itself.

First Reading: 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.”

The message of comfort gives way to a message that may be seen as a sharp sword, and the descriptions of the Servant which preceded these verses take a different tone. The Exile and Babylon are left behind as is the focus on Judea’s captivity. Now the prophet wishes to focus our attention on spiritual things, not only in Israel, but universally in the world. Thus it begins, “Listen to me, O coastlands.” The reference to the Servant’s birth, his being known from the womb, is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s experience as well. And what will this Servant do? He is not a warrior, but one who deals with the Word – with his mouth. These are not to be idle words, but rather a message that makes one ready and prepared for what is to come.

The Servant is named as Israel, but what is Israel’s task? And what about all that faithlessness in the past? This is the new ideal Israel, the pathway to God. The whole people take on a uniform task of guiding the world to the Lord. Thus they are “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” That which was once despised for its helpless, which became “the slave of rulers,” that one is now that which monarchs and nobles honor. God, the Lord, the Holy One of Israel has chosen the Servant.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            How is a prophet’s word like a sword?
2.            What hard words to do you hear in Christian preaching?
3.            Is our nation a pathway to God?

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."'
10    I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O Lord, you know.
11    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.
12    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 a bit of patchwork, made up of different elements. In the first 12 verses we have a thanksgiving psalm, while the verses following these (13-18) seem more a psalm of supplication. More odd is the nature of verses 7-11 which seem prophetic in nature, resembling texts in Isaiah (1:11) and Micah (6:6-7). There is movement in the psalm in which the author know that God stoops down to hear him, and then lifts him up out of the “desolate pit, out of the mire and clay.” This is a reference to the primordial chaos – the teeming waters that the Creator tames. And the human is lifted up out of this and set on a high place. The reference in our translation to “evil spirits,” and “false gods,” Robert Alter translates as “sea monster gods” and “false idols.”[1]This redemption makes for a “new song” and a new ability to listen and discern God’s will. The suppliant chooses not to hide the new things that God has given, but would rather share them. “I have spoken of your faithfulness.” With that he asks for continued compassion and support from God.

Breaking open Psalm 40:
1.        When have you been lift up out of difficulty?
2.        When have you saved someone from a difficult circumstance?
3.        When have you been tempted to sing a “new song”?

Second Reading: 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 something of a lectio continua in First Corinthians. In our reading for this morning we have Paul’s standard greeting, especially to the church at Corinth, although he envisions a wider audience. There is specificity here as well, for Sosthenes (see Acts 18:17?) is mentioned. He recalls their redemption in Christ Jesus, and that they have been enriched by him, not lacking any spiritual gift. He commends a continuing waiting for the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What is the “Day of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
  2. How have you been enriched by your faith?
  3. What does redemption mean to you?

The Gospel: St. 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).

Following the Prologue, the Evangelist John has two successive revelations that begin the Book of Signs (John 1 – 12). The first of these revelations (1:19-28) is a conversation in which John more carefully defines who he is. “I am not the Messiah,” he says. Finally he quotes Isaiah to describe himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert…” In these discussions, John the Baptist anticipates the appearance of the Jesus. He sees himself as a servant who witnesses to Jesus. On the second day (1:29-34) John the Evangelist records the testimony that the Baptist makes to Jesus, our Gospel for this day.

In this reading Jesus makes his first appearance in the Gospel. The scene has a certain humanity about it. The Baptist sees Jesus and then makes a comment about Jesus – a revelation really. It is quite bold, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” All at once several biblical allusions are made: the Passover Lamb and the Exodus, the Temple and its sacrificial system which washed people from their sins, and reconciled them to God. Finally we are reminded of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant – “a lamb led to the slaughter”. In the Prologue, John expresses the idea of the pre-existence of the Christ, which is repeated here in John the Baptist’s words, “The one who is coming after ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” He also repeats what we learned in Matthew, namely the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. Here, however, rather than being a personal internal event, it is something that John observes as well. This descent of the Spirit, the delineating moment for prophets, applies to Jesus as well. This is the recognition that the Baptist realizes, and that the Evangelist hopes that the readers of his Gospel will see as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What is the Baptist’s testimony?
2.        What is your witness to Jesus?
3.        How does your church witness to Jesus?

General Idea:              Recognizing The Lamb of God

First Witness:              The Lamb who is the Servant (First Reading)

Second Witness:         The Lamb who enrichens the people (Second Reading)

Third Witness:            The Witness of the Baptist (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 © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms – A Translation with Commentary, W. W Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 3655.