Reading Ramblings – January 15, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany ~ January 15, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-41

Context: This is the first Sunday of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical Church year. Up until now we’ve been in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and last week was the festival Sunday of Epiphany. But for the next seven weeks, nothing special is going on, liturgically speaking. Afterwards we enter the season of Lent. The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green, a change from the white the past few weeks and the purple of Lent. The unusual thing is that for this Sunday, the Gospel reading is drawn from John rather than Matthew – even though Matthew is the assigned Gospel for this liturgical year. I’m not sure why this is, but it doesn’t seem to be limited to the Lutheran revision of the Revised Common Lectionary. Ordinary Time also resumes the tradition of lectio continua, reading sections of a single book (in this case 1 Corinthians) sequentially each Sunday. As such, the Epistle lesson may not link thematically directly to the Gospel and the Old Testament.

Isaiah 49:1-7 – One of my favorite passages from Isaiah. It is beautiful in the way it describes this carefully planned and crafted weapon of God. The craftsmanship of this arrow is not seen and therefore appreciated by people. He is hidden among the other, more common arrows, and so it seems as though his work comes to no end. Yet his trust remains in God. And God’s purpose is no less than the restoration of God’s people in faithfulness, but more than this, the reconciliation of all peoples. In God’s timing and plan, everyone will see – even kings – that Jesus is truly the Lord’s special instrument and tool, and that He has accomplished all that was intended. All people are welcomed back to God the Father through the work of God the Son in destroying the serpent’s power and freeing us from sin, death, and Satan.

Psalm 40:1-11 – This psalm is a prayer of praise and trust in the Lord. It begins with recounting the Lord’s favor and rescue of the speaker in times past, leading him to praise God anew (vs. 1-3). The next two verses exhort others to likewise trust in God rather than in other sources. The speaker resolves to continue extolling the Lord’s greatness that others will trust in him. Verses 6-8 are very interesting, and seem to form a transition, where we might recognize that this is not just any speaker, but a very special speaker. The laws of sacrifice are waived, and the speaker now claims to be prophesied in Scripture. The psalm places itself in the mouth of the Lord’s special servant, the only one who can truly and perfectly claim to delight in God’s will and keep his law in his heart. Verses 9-11 take on added significance then, as applied to Jesus. Jesus does indeed constantly give praise and glory to God, and has not restrained himself even when his adversaries pressed hard against him. Jesus speaks of God’s deliverance, his faithfulness, his salvation which is none other than Jesus himself. All of this Jesus proclaims to the great congregation, the whole of God’s covenant people. Verse 11 is a beautiful verse of confidence in the Lord’s protection and mercy, enabling Jesus to complete his work. Certainly the psalm can be heard aside from this application, but I think this application makes the psalm that much richer and deeper, particularly the conclusion of the psalm that isn’t part of the assigned reading for the day.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – We will be reading from 1 Corinthians for the duration of this 7-week segment of Ordinary Time. Paul begins with a typical introduction, indicating that the letter is from both he and Sosthenes. We know little for certain about Sosthenes, though certain traditions claim him as a bishop of Colophon in Asia Minor. Paul gives thanks that the Corinthians enjoy the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Considering the difficult things he will need to take them to task for in this letter, this is an impressive assertion. He is not writing to non-Christians, or to inadequate Christians. He is writing to Christians to whom all of God’s gifts have been given. Obviously they are still sinful and need to be corrected, but correction is not evidence that they are not in the faith. This is something we should be quick to remember as we deal with one another today!

John 1:29-41 – Technically the reading extends to the first half of verse 42, but that seems unnecessary so I’m just lopping it off. This section details the proclamation of John the Baptist about Jesus – that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John is the only writer to record this title used of Jesus, quoting it here and his Revelation. The closest Old Testament corollary could be in Genesis 22:8, where Abraham reassures his son Isaac as they ascend the mountain that God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.

This is John the Baptist’s free testimony. Earlier (vs. 19-28) he responds and testifies about Jesus under questioning from religious officials from Jerusalem. But here he is testifying of his own free will. He continues to do so the next day, this time to two of his own disciples, Andrew and an unnamed disciple (whom some believe is the Apostle John himself). This results in John the Baptist’s disciples becoming disciples of Jesus instead. They have discovered in Jesus, because of John the Baptist’s testimony, someone much greater than John. Although there is nothing else to commend him beyond John’s testimony, once they spend time with him they realize that He is the one whom they should follow. This is a trend that will continue – John the Baptist referring his own disciples and others to Jesus, until John’s own ministry begins to shrink. This will cause John’s remaining disciples some angst (John 3:25-36). But John remains adamant and consistent in his testimony. Jesus is the one who matters, not John. This is not a competition – there can be no competition between the prophetic forerunner (John, the new Elijah) and the secret weapon of God, the Messiah.

We may wish to know how God is at work in our world. At times He seems distant and absent and evil rules the day. But God works in ways that are not easily decipherable. His power and presence may appear absent but He is always present. The Holy Spirit of God is active always and everywhere, prodding and stirring hearts to faith in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. In this we take hope. There is no such thing as a God-forsaken place! All places have been redeemed in the blood of Christ. All persons are welcomed into God the Father’s grace through the faith worked in their hearts by God the Holy Spirit.

The Church and God’s people should therefore be the first to assert and give testimony to this truth. We would be far better off spending our time searching out and pointing to the work of God the Holy Spirit in the world than decrying the noisome death throes of Satan. Bad news sells, but Good News saves.

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