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


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