Third Sunday of Epiphany

Isaiah 9.1-4
Psalm 27.1, 4-9
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Matthew 4.12-23

Have you ever been called to do something you did not think you would be able to do? Have you ever felt pulled toward a lifestyle change that you were afraid you would not capable of living? Have you ever turned away from something because you were afraid of how it might change who you are or that it might cause you to stand out from your neighbors or peers?

This week we continue in the season of Epiphany. It is a season that calls to mind the basic creation realities of Light and Dark, and this week is no different. We see people who are brought from the Darkness in to the Light of God because of their obedience to (their maintenance of relationship with) God. We see examples of people who had the courage to stay true to their commitment to God rather than follow along with what conventional / popular wisdom might call them toward.

In Isaiah we see the prophet singing the praises of God in reference to the just ruling of a King. Isaiah was in favor of having a King because he believed that the Davidic line was instituted by God, and in this case (as best as we can discern) he is excited by what King Hezekiah has done, and will do, to keep the people of Judah safe. There were even hopes Hezekiah might be the one to reunite Judah and Israel. Isaiah is assuming that because Hezekiah has / will remain faithful to God then they will find themselves in wonderful places and no longer in places of Darkness.

The Psalmist talks of God being his Light and Salvation. God is strength, a lifegiver, a protector. Even when there are enemies all around, the writer talks of sacrifices with joy and singing to God. In this Psalm we get to see in to the head and heart of the writer as he convinces himself that staying faithful to God is the right thing to do.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is trying to take some of the confusion from the people. He is calling this community to a new level of humility. Because of its location and status within the Roman Empire, we can assume that the community in Corinth was accustomed to a highly defined social structure. The message Paul is delivering is not just monumental for this church, but for the society in which this church community existed. Evidently there has been some in-fighting in their young community because some folks feel that there was a hierarchy within the community related to who Baptized them. Paul reminds them that their salvation is not related to social status. He re-focuses them toward the truth that the message of Christ is literally the power of God for those who hear / accept it…no matter from whom they received it. Those from whom they receive the gospel message or by whom they were baptized are humble disciples, obediently responding to a call for which they may or may not have been prepared.

It might be helpful to remember that 1 Corinthians was written to an early (first generation) community of Christians. It was penned to a community of Gentile Christians prior to the writing of the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. The gospel message as we read it today was actually shaped by the experiences of early Christian communities like this one to which Paul writes. The gospels were written in response to needs observed as these early communities struggled to understand how to function through the events that followed Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, the ensuing period of waiting for a second coming, and the eventual fall of the Temple. These early churches were caught in the midst of discerning what Jesus’ message meant to their political and social circumstances day by day.

Matthew gives us his version of the calling of the first disciples. (There is plenty to guess about why Matthew’s version is different from John’s, for today we will simply remind every one that Matthew and John were written after the fall of the Temple in 70 CE, probably both to Jewish Christian audiences). Being a disciple of a rabbi was not a hobby. Rabbis only called disciples they believed had the intellect and the ability to teach their yoke (teachings / interpretations of the Torah specific to each rabbi).

So we see Jesus walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and he sees two fishermen doing their daily work. They were fishermen. They were certainly important to the economy, they were certainly important to the markets, they were certainly important in keeping their families alive. These were men that worked hard with their hands and their bodies with boats and fish every day. However, we can assume they did not spend a lot of time in the temple or the synagogue studying Torah. We do not know if they “applied” to be the disciples of any particular rabbi or not. What we do know is at that moment, they were not out looking to become students of anyone. They were working. They were fishing. But when their call to follow a teacher came, they dropped what they were doing with obedience and followed. The text says “immediately” - “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Much like the early community of Corinth, we read these words with our own experience of hierarchies, prerequisites to authority and status ascribed to certain roles, certifications and offices or positions. We also read these words sometimes feeling called to do work that we feel woefully unprepared to do. Like Simon and Peter, we are happily mending our nets and preparing our boats for the next day of fishing. Call comes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. If we are truly disciples, how do we respond?

+How does your Christian community understand its call? What levels of authority or status exist within that community?
+How do you let go of the work in front of you to respond to the call of one who needs you?
+How do you understand the call placed on your life? What do you think you need in order to be prepared to respond to that call? Can you respond with obedience without preparation, authority, expertise?
+What gives a person the authority to build the Kingdom of God?

Blessings On Each One of Us, Lord
Blessings on every creature as we attempt to make sense of our lives,
to find the meaning in them, and to praise you,
Our creator, for all that you lay before us.
Form our words. Shape our lives.
Open our hearts and mouths to share our words and our lives
with those who hunger for your words and your life.
Thank you that our gifts can touch others.
Thank you for the ways others bless us.
Open our eyes to see, our ears to hear
Our spirits to witness those gifts, those blessings.
You who created sun and moon and stars;
You who can see the scope of infinity, guide us,
so that we wander not in the wilderness, alone,
but toward your oasis with a camel
and a community traveling beside us.

Cathy Warner, in Courageous Spirit: Voices from Women in Ministry

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