The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 February 2013

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Ruth Caroline Terrass Hiller, my mother, who passed from death into life on Monday, 28 January 2013.

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 3 February 2013
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
I Corinthians 13:1-13
Saint Luke 4:21-30


Background: The “gesimas”
Before the liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church following Vatican II, Lutherans and Anglicans followed Roman Catholic practice in their lectionaries and calendar with the same pre-Lenten Sundays. However, with the adaptation of the Roman lectionary in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, these Sundays disappeared from these calendars as well.  The Sundays all became “Sundays after the Epiphany” with the first Sunday devoted to the Baptism of Our Lord, and the final Sunday devoted to the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  The old pre-Lenten Sundays were named for the period of time that needed to elapse until the Easter Feast – thus Septuagesima (70 days), Sexagesima (60 days), and Quinquagesima (50 days).  Actually, these names are a conceit, since Quinquagesima is the only day that is indeed 50 days before Easter.  In one ordering, the Sundays, since they are really feasts of the Resurrection, do not count as a day, and in another ordering Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays did not count as well.  Some Lenten practices were followed during this season, such as the suppression of the Alleluia, and the use of violet vestments among others.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD."
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

Before beginning his oracles against Judah and Jerusalem (1:4 – 25:13b), the prophet discloses the call he experienced from YHWH.  There is a conversation between God and Jeremiah (1:4-10), followed by two visions (1:11-16).  Our reading this morning concerns the conversation that centers on the call that Jeremiah receives.  Of interest is the verb, “I formed you” in verse 5, which allows the image of a potter, an image that Jeremiah will use again.  See Genesis 2:7 to see how Jeremiah’s image is a reflection of the action in the creation of man in the second Creation Account.  Thus God intimately knows Jeremiah, having been instrumental in his formation within the womb.  God goes on describing this intimate knowledge and indeed dedication with the phrases, “I knew you”, “I consecrated”, and “I appointed.”  The consecration brings to mind the image in Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6:6-7) where the Seraph takes a living coal from the altar to consecrate Isaiah’s tongue. 

Like Moses, Jeremiah objects to the call, bringing to the fore his inexperience and his lack of authority.  None of this matters to God, who quickly reminds the “youth” that God is the provider of both word and vessel.  No Seraph touches the tongue of Jeremiah, but rather God touches it with a hand, and puts into the mouth the Word of God.  Similar actions are seen in the call not only of Isaiah, but Ezekiel and Daniel as well.  The final verses describe the mission, which is more about the theology of the message, rather than the destruction of physical and political things.  The contrasting verbs “pluck up” and “pull down” and then “to build” and “to plant” accentuates the new message that the prophet is to bring.

Breaking open Jeremiah:

1.     What do you think are your limitations in pronouncing God’s Word?
2.     Has God ever touched your tongue or your message?
3.     What do you need to destroy, what do you need to plant?

Psalm 71:1-6 In te, Domine, speravi

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord GOD, *
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.

This psalm appears to be the reflections of an older person looking back on both life and mission, and seeing the support that God has given.  It has been chosen for use with these readings for its reflection of the call of Jeremiah in verse 6. 

Breaking open Psalm 71:1-6
1.       What do you see as you reflect back on your life?
2.       How has God been present in it?
3.       What are your expectations of God for the rest of your life?

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 

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. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

This is a beautiful pericope, which continues the readings from the last two Sundays, that has been dimmed a bit by its continual use at weddings.  The overwhelming modern characterization of romantic love takes the edge off this reading.  It might be best to read it from a more modern translation.  Not only is this love not the stuff of valentine cards and love songs, it is also not the stuff of compassion, but rather the understanding of the heavenly aspect of love, or charity.  It is beyond words.  In a list typical of Paul, he then accounts for all of the different aspects of this love.  Some aspects of this love transcend the temporary gifts that we are given, or that we ourselves extend.  This is more of a platonic view of an eternal verity that ought to inform our daily actions over against our neighbor and in our community.  Some of the images are helpful in describing the enigmatic property of this love.  Not even Moses could look God in the face, and we cannot either.  What we see is a reflection, knowing only “in part.”  Knowing and being known becomes the tension in which the Christian operates in a dialogue with God.  Paul boils down his list to three things, “faith, hope, and love”.

Breaking open I Corinthians:

1.               What is your understanding of love?
2.               How is charity different, to you?
3.               Does faith inform the other two?

St. Luke 4:21-30

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Again, we have a continuing reading.  Here Jesus connects his hearers not with a future that would be theirs but rather with a present reality about the activity of God in their time.  “This scripture has been fulfilled.”  This is followed by Luke’s code word of belief and acceptance – “all…were amazed.”  What seems like a whiplash turn of events (Is this not Joseph’s son) may be explained by a subsequent visit, in which the reality of Jesus’ family history dulls the brightness of his revelation.  Jesus understands their reluctance and quotes proverbial understandings that underscore their amazement that has turned if not to doubt reservations about Jesus’ authority.  Jesus responds with a homily based on the prophet Elijah that distinctly points to the inclusion of people outside of the community of Israel, namely the widow of Zarephath (Phoenician), and Naaman (Syrian) who was a leper.  This is very much a Lucan emphasis on those who have been overlooked or marginalized.  It is this outlook that enrages the Nazarenes, so keenly aware of the chosen nature of Israel.  It is not Jesus’ time, however, and so he moves quietly out of the town.  It is Jerusalem that “kills the prophets” and it is there that he will be “taken up.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is it that God has promised that has been fulfilled in your life?
  2. What are God's promises to the marginalized, the poor, and the ill?
  3. How are you a part of God's promises to them? 

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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