Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011. Third Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010, 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

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.

“Proclaim to all people”? Really?!

  • Not just to the comfortable and the well-off?
  • Not just to people like those in our neighborhood?
  • Even to drug addicts?
  • Even to the homeless?
  • Even to queers?
While the priest mouths this collect, perhaps the organist should play ecclesiastical muzak, with tremolo in full throttle as at a funeral, to anesthetize us to what we are asking God to do. St. Teresa warned, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

  Isaiah 9:1-4

 Isaiah dispels gloom by proclaiming light, and the psalmist today proclaims “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” What light has God brought your life? How do you share that news? Recently the Bishop of West Nile in Uganda wrote to me:

Christians are called disciples because they have to follow certain disciplines to succeed as followers of Christ. It is true we are saved by Grace not discipline, but for the church to be a witness it cannot conform to this world in order that grace might abound. The church without discipline is a church without a Lord and saviour. It can be anything other than a church.

I replied:

Thank you for writing to me, dear Bishop Obetia. I agree that we should not follow Christ on our own terms, but on God's terms. I agree that the church without discipline is a church without a Lord and savior. I agree that we are to make disciples, not Anglicans.

God called me, as God calls all, out of darkness into light. I never thought anyone beside my parents could love me, yet discovered that God loves me, and not me only, but the whole world. My message has never been that gays are good, but that God is good, and God's mercy endures forever.

I wish that you were not far away. I wish that you could come and dine with my husband Ernest and me, as Jesus dined with publicans and sinners. You would not find us saints, but you would find us changed. We would share living water from Samaritan wells.

God bless and keep you. God lift up His countenance upon you and be gracious unto you. God give you peace.

Psalm 27:1, 5-13

I have always loved this psalm, but am less comfortable than I once was entering its perspective:

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.

That contrasts with Jesus’ injunction: “Be in the world but not of it.” It contrasts with Jesus’ practice. He earned the reputation of being a friend of publicans and sinners by spending time with us, enjoying our company more than he enjoyed the company of the professionally religious.

 Some have asked me with what authority I can speak about God. I have never sought ordination. I have not attended a seminary. I have only minors in religion and in the Greek of Christian scriptures….

 The authority I have to speak about God is the authority of one whom God has loved beyond measure, the authority of one whom God forgives prodigally. Like the one leper of the ten healed, I proclaim thanks for what God has done, for what God is doing, for what God will do.

 “I know in whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have entrusted to him until the last day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

 My friend The Rev. Gray Temple spent a Sabbatical several years ago living on the streets among the homeless. He started out thinking he might be God’s presence among them. He quickly discovered that Jesus had preceded him, that many of the homeless know God quite intimately.

 There are too many houses of God where God can’t get in because he chooses the wrong human faces to use when shows up at their doors.

 “Go ye therefore” is our great commission. The highways and the hedges are not hard to find. Meet God there. Be God’s face there. Find God’s face already there.

 You’ll know you have brought news genuinely good when the drunkards, the tax collectors, and the sinners proclaim you as their friend. Imagine the witness for Christ if the church could become a place safe for sinners.

  1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 Last Sunday we read Saint’s introduction to this letter (verses 1-9) in which he compliments the Corinthians. He praises them. He says they “are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” He says, “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.”

 Having buttered them up, as it were, now Saint turns to criticize. “It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” Paul makes his agenda plain, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement.”

 Here we observe one of the early fights in the church.

 Never have all Christians been in agreement. We might like complete unity in the abstract, but who among us wants to default on our obligation to think for ourselves even when doing so makes us disagree?

 Paul is clearly upset. Even his rhetoric reveals that. He starts to make a point about whom he has baptized. “ I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius”; but then he remembers others parenthetically: “(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas…” and backtracks further to admit his memory fails him: “beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.”

 Suppose you lived in Corinth and remembered when the famous apostle baptized you, and now you discover he does not even remember doing it. In your baptism you were sealed as Christ’s own forever, and Saint does not even remember it!

 Jesus’ great commission is for all disciples to go absolutely everywhere proclaiming the gospel but also to baptizing the new believers; yet here, in perhaps a lapse of memory, Saint disavows baptism as his calling, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel” and adds, perhaps because he’s aware that his rhetoric is not as tightly ordered as usual, to proclaim the gospel “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

 How would the cross be emptied of its power if Saint proclaimed the gospel with eloquent wisdom?! Often he does. Why not here?

Initially Saint called the Corinthians “enriched in speech and knowledge.” Does Saint strike an anti-intellectual note here intentionally to warn the Corinthians against trying to think their way into grace and salvation?

 The reading ends, “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.” Is Saint suggesting that the Corinthians are perishing, or at least warning them of that risk if they trust in their intellect rather than in the power of God?

  Matthew 4:12-23

 We lose much of the drama of Matthew’s narrative by taking it only in the short sound bites of the lectionary. For a stretch longer than any of the single readings Matthew juggles two separate, but related stories -- one the story of John the Baptist, who in the reading last Sunday baptized Jesus and in the reading today (still in the same chapter) is imprisoned. The second story is an account of Jesus choosing his disciples.

 In the reading last Sunday he chose Andrew and Peter; in the reading today he calls those two again and adds James and John. The four follow him in his ministries of preaching and healing. Matthew is strangely silent about Jesus’ reaction to John’s imprisonment. That’s a political hot potato.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea
Is Jesus heading north to reduce his risk of falling into the hands of the authorities as John, his first cousin, did? Matthew does not say so; he merely juxtaposes the two facts.

 Maybe Matthew expects first-century readers to be politically savvy and recognize that Jesus’ compass is influenced by the risks.

 Matthew throws up a smoke screen to that reading: he says that Jesus’ move was to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would show up in Capernaum. Matthew quotes the same passage from Isaiah that we have read today, making it clear that a Christian reading of Hebrew scripture sees Jesus as the Messiah.

See also

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