Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 20, 2008.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
First Reading--Come and see
In Isaiah 49 there is a repetition of Isaiah's sense that the Lord called him even before he was born. In the womb God named him and formed him to be God's servant. God's calling is so intrinsic to Isaiah's being that people can't really dispute when the Lord says through the prophet, "I'm not only for the 'insiders'" (the tribes of Jacob and the survivors of Israel). The Lord says instead, "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." In other words, you are not only for your own but for the whole earth. Although Isaiah feels he is deeply despised, he is also chosen.
According to the psalmist, the Lord's gift is the ability to have open ears, eyes, and lips. What God values is not concealing and withholding all that God has done but being open about it. So, a faithful response to God's faithfulness, salvation, and saving help is to tell the good news. "Here I am" is the response that our loving God wants to hear from those who hold God's law within their hearts.
In 1 Corinthians, the themes of God's faithfulness and God's call continue. A new theme also emerges--the theme of this season after Epiphany where, layer by layer, the identity of Jesus Christ continues to be revealed to us. Who is Sosthenes? He is a brother in Christ to Paul and co-sender of the letter, perhaps the same person named in Acts 18:17 as an official of the Corinthian synagogue. (27) "Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things" (Acts 18:17). Although we don't know with certainty that this is the same man, let's assume for a moment that it is. If so, what does it mean that Paul's greeting is shared with a man who was known in the community as a defector from Judaism, one who had been a chief ruler in the synagogue and who had been publicly humiliated? One thing it might highlight is the word in verse 8, "[Jesus] will strengthen you to the end ...," especially since the literal translation of the name Sosthenes is "safe in strength."
In John's Gospel, the importance of looking and seeing cannot be emphasized enough. In nearly every verse of this pericope, these words appear as John the Baptist reveals the identity of Jesus. John the Baptist witnesses to who Jesus is because God revealed it to John in the baptism event. According to John's account, Jesus' baptism is apparently for the benefit of John the Baptist, who then faithfully tells everybody what he witnessed. John is so convincing that his own disciples start following Jesus. When Jesus asks them what they are looking for, they ask Jesus where he is staying, and he replies "Come and see." They go with Jesus and remain with him all day. Proximity is the mark of a follower; in order to follow, you need to be close by. How else could you know where he is going next? As they talk about their experience of this day with Jesus they tell the others, "We have found the Messiah."
Isaiah has a challenging word for any congregation that might be focusing exclusively on its own survival. It is easy to fall into that pattern when we are scattered, when we are suffering, when we fall into survival mode. In verse 6 God 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." In other words, you are chosen and precious to God--but not just for your own sake. You are thinking too small if your vision is just to take care of your own. No, God calls the people of God to reflect God's light out into our neighborhood, our communities, and then out beyond even our country borders. God is not content until all people have had the opportunity to experience a new way of seeing.
Making a decision inside ourselves is much different than speaking it. We are much more likely to do something if we tell somebody, especially if that person will help hold us accountable. The psalmist, in gratitude for God's wondrous deeds and thoughts toward humanity, says that he has open eyes, open ears, open lips. He hasn't concealed God's love but has spoken of it. The psalmist is not withholding the story of God's steadfast love and faithfulness but is open, spreading the news to the great congregation. You might challenge your congregation today during the sermon to take a few moments to speak to their neighbor about how they have seen or heard or spoken about God's presence this week. Ask them to take turns so that one is practicing having open ears while the other practices speaking of God's faithfulness. If there are those who can't think of something, invite people to have an openness of all their senses and to be aware of God's wondrous deeds in the coming week.
Jesus invites us, too: "Come and see." There are some things you just can't understand if you haven't been there. I am guessing that this sense of things fueled the race to the moon in the 1960s. Now, we might critique that journey as an incredible amount of money to spend to walk around in the dust, hit a weightless golf ball, and take gorgeous photos of Earth, but how could people really know until they got there what a moonwalk would be like?
Any kind of travel takes us out of our element enough to challenge our way of seeing, not only of the place we are visiting but as we look back at home. I find that travel puts me more in tune with my sense of gratitude. I feel grateful for the people who are cooking for me and cleaning for me. I feel grateful for a bed to sleep in and clean water to drink. I feel grateful for the people whose stories I hear along the way. So many things that I don't stop and note as reasons for gratitude in my daily life do occur to me when I am out of my usual routine. Maybe this is why Jesus invites disciples, then and now, to change our location in order to see differently.
How might you not only talk about this idea but show it in your preaching this week? You might change your location or change something about your preaching style. Depending on the flexibility of your worship space and your congregation, you might set things up differently or actually ask people to move during the service, inviting "Come and see." JLMC
27. Victor Paul Furnish, The Harper Collins Study Bible (San Francicso: Harper Collins Publishers: 1989), p. 2141.
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Coltvet, Joy L. McDonald|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2007|
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