Bible Readings for Sunday January 16th, 2011 – The 2nd Week of Epiphany
*Click on each bible passage to expand the text.1. 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.
2. 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.
3. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4. 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.”
5. 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–
6. 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.”
7. 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.”1. [To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.] I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
4. Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.
5. You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
6. Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
7. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
9. I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD.
10. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
11. Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.1. Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2. 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:
3. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,
5. for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–
6. just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–
7. so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.29. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
30. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’
31. I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32. And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
33. 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.’
34. And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35. The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,
36. and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37. The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
38. 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?”
39. 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.
40. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
41. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed).
42. 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).
No one said it was going to be easy.
I find it almost worthy of tears (and laughter) to read in the opening chapters of the Gospels, just how enthusiastically people initially followed after Jesus after his baptism by John, but only before he really spoke at length about The Kingdom. As soon as Jesus began to illuminate more fully God’s will and passion for equality, justice, radical love and radical grace… well, the true meaning of having a “mouth like a sharp sword (Isa. 49)” becomes evident. His words divided people, households, parents from siblings and bothers from sisters. Those with hard hearts, selfish and cold, heard Jesus’ words of compassion and sacrifice as threatening. Those with open hearts, grateful and loving, heard Jesus’ words of divine justice and equality as good news and hope.
“I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah’s Jewish listeners would have been lukewarm to this idea. They are the chosen people of God, after all. This talk of the Lord’s salvation reaching to the ends of the earth for all nations, that just will not do! Unfortunately, this is the very same concept we are struggling with today in the Christian church. Many of us cannot bear the thought that God’s love, grace and dominion might extend outside of our theological “borders”, to other “nations” of faith. God only cares about us, right? His “new chosen people”? Rather, I think it’s time we review our concept of God’s “Great Congregation” which the Psalmist has revealed to us this week. Just who do you think the far away “coastlands” are in the beginning of today’s passage from Isaiah? The gentiles, the “others”, those separate from us.
The theme of the readings, this 2nd Week of Epiphany, have focused upon God calling us, and our following God. But if we follow our calling to love only those who think, live, love and agree with us, how is that going to be of any use to God? It is a “light (trivial) thing” to so do. We must proclaim the truth of the Kingdom to and for all, and only then are we abiding in the spirit.
In 1 Corinthians above, Paul is welcoming his newly planted church in Corinth. I wonder how much they’ve really sunk their congregational teeth into Paul’s radical concepts of Grace? Are his words about God’s passion for the Kingdom going to become “like a sword” and start dividing his own church plant? I bet they will. That’s why Paul wrote his letters, in a constant effort to put out theological fires and apply salve on fresh wounds in the new community. All this from a distance, and from afar off. Can you imagine?
Forgiveness of sins is only affirming to those who are honest with themselves and who know they are sinners. For the rest, who live a life of delusion and arrogance, even the forgiveness of sins can be a selfish proposition, meant only for a few, and only when needed. Grace, or “unmerited favor” is only affirming to those that see it at work in their lives. Otherwise it is impotent to some, threatening to others. Radical love (loving your enemies) is alien to most, and only affirming to those who have experienced the wrath of “eye for an eye” or who have the wisdom to see the natural consequences of that never-ending cycle of violence.
Finally, Jesus is only affirming to those who will walk with him, be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and allow him to come and fill them, live and love with them. To others, he is mostly a confounding and vague hippie, a figurehead to whom we swear allegiance and faith, but in whose words we do not trust. Rather that struggle with his Gospel demands for the Kingdom on Earth, we rely more and more on the writings of those that came before and after him.
I find such hope that the “servant” speaking in Isaiah feels that they “… 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.” Speaking the truth of the Kingdom is frustrating. Our hearts are simply not ready to let go of such worldly things as love of idols and judgment of others. For most, it is the currency and rhythm of life in our world, for now. However, like our Lord and savior before us, we must have faith that God will abide in us through the Holy Spirit, and that our words about God’s radical love, passion for justice and grace will have effect, they will glorify God, however slowly, however marginally, because our cause is with the Lord.