The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 15 January 2017

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

Background: Ordinary Time Again

With the Sundays after the Epiphany, we enter once again Ordinary Time. In a sense, these Sundays follow naturally after Christmastide seeking to answer several questions: Who is Jesus, Who is called to follow Jesus, and finally how do those who follow behave? If Easter is followed by a season of mystagogy that seeks to unfold the mystery of the resurrection, then this season seeks to amplify what the Incarnation means in the reality of life. It is fortunate that this series begins with a celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, and hopefully with the Renewal of Baptismal Vows. It becomes an opportunity to gather those who have chosen to follow and then to explicate what is expected of those who have been baptized with the Spirit.

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.”

We are in familiar territory here with a prophet recalling his call. The language is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s call (see Jeremiah 1:4-10) or the vision that the first Isaiah has (see Isaiah 6:1-13). There is not only a remembrance of the transaction between God and the prophet, but commentary as well. Unlike Jeremiah, who protests his inexperience, this Isaiah protests that he has tried but has failed, “but I said, ‘I have labored in vain.’” There is persistence, however, on God’s part. God reminds this Isaiah of his support and faithfulness to both the prophet and his message. This is not only a reminder of God’s standing with this prophet, but with the people as well – for they are the chosen people, God’s people. This prophetic exchange occurs on the cusp of Cyrus’ defeat of the Babylonians, and his own enlightened rule that will be seen as YHWH’s work for and protection of God’s people.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.          What keeps you from doing God’s will?
2.          How does God support you in doing God’s work?
3.         What kind of challenge has God given you?

Psalm 40:1-12 Expectans, expectavi

     I waited patiently upon the Lord; *
he stooped to me and heard my cry.
2      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.
3      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.
4      Happy are they who trust in the Lord! *
they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.
5      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.
6      Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.
7      In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);
8      Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, "Behold, I come.
9      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,

Our psalm for this morning represents the first section of a two-part psalm, this first part serving as a prayer of thanksgiving. As such it matches perfectly with Isaiah’s sentiments in the first reading. Indeed, verses 7 through 11 sounds very much as though they were written by a prophet’s pen. The language about offerings and sacrifice might very well have come from the pen of an Isaiah or a Micah. Earlier in the psalm we have a vision of the earth prior to God’s voice ordering it out of the chaos. This noisy mess is the domain of “evil spirits and false gods”. In the midst of this cacophony, the psalmist is delighted to hear the voice of God. The words are quite literal here. The psalmist says that God has “dug” open ears for the psalmist so that he might understand what God has in mind. In a roll which records God’s intentions for humankind and for the prophet’s work as well (the Torah?) both psalmist and people can see authority (for the psalmist to announce God’s word) and the people (to faithfully to follow).

Breaking open Psalm 40:
1.     Where is there chaos in your life?
2.     How has God enabled you in dealing with its difficulties?
3.    What about your faith makes you happy?

The 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.

In his introduction to this letter, Paul authenticates his own ministry, “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” and then authenticates the status of those who followed Jesus in the Church in Corinth, “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” These are important distinctions in that they acknowledge both parties relationship to one another and to God. What follows is a thanksgiving that makes clear why the Christians of Corinth enjoy the status that they do. It is clearly stated that such status is a gift from God, “given you in Christ Jesus.” Thus there are other spiritual gifts that follow. Paul will be looking at the present situation for the Corinthians as we journey through the letter, but he will have an eye to the future as well. His goal is that these people will be without spot – “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such a work is accomplished in each individual who is called, and is in fellowship with Jesus. The parameters have been set, and now Paul can begin his further explorations.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. How are you a part of God’s family?
  2. Who are your spiritual advisors and directors?
  3. What gifts have they given 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).

In this reading we have two separate pericopes: “The Testimony of John the Baptist” (1:29-34), and “The Baptist’s Disciples come to Jesus” (1:35-42). I shall comment on each separately.

Pericope 1:
Some commentators find in the Baptist’s words the theology, especially the Christology of John the Evangelist. Thus we hear John the Baptist make several assertions about Jesus: 1) Jesus is the Lamb of God, 2) Jesus is the Pre-existent One, “After me is to come a man/who ranks ahead of me/for he exited before me.” and 3) Jesus is the means by which the Holy Spirit is given. Some commentators take these words of the Baptist as really the words of John put into his mouth rather than being a reminiscence of words actually spoken by John. The baptism is alluded to rather than reported on, and so John recalls the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus. With these three points (Lamb, Preexistence, and Spirit) we have the tools and parameters with which to listen to the Gospel as John the Evangelist would have us hear it.

Pericope 2:
In this pericope the Baptist passes on what he has realized about Jesus in the prior verses, namely that Jesus is the Lamb of God. The phrase is repeated and given as an introduction to two of the Baptist’s disciples. The attraction is immediate for the two disciples (Andrew and “the other one”) and they follow Jesus. It seems that the action of these verses happens quickly in a compressed vision of the encounter for by the end of the pericope we not only meet Peter (Andrew’s brother) but also understand him to be Cephas (“rocky”). There is an important question that is embedded within the narrative that might be on the lips of the reader or of the hearer of this Gospel “What are you looking for?” Their response is that they are looking for a teacher. Later on the next day, having followed Jesus’ invitation to “come and see”, these disciples realize that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus John the Evangelist introduces us to even more of his theology, and to the characters that will learn and act within that theology.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Why does Jesus seek baptism?
2.     Why does John object?
3.    What does Jesus expect?

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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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