For Jan. 12, 2014: First Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 42:1-9

The reading from Isaiah gives us dazzling good news: the chosen of the Lord is coming, not to strut around in pomp and power but to work tirelessly to bring justice to all us people who are out in the dark, off in dungeons, shut in blindness or marooned far from God—and to make of us people who are ourselves bringers of light.

The Response            Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is a meditation on the power of God that is filled with astonishing images: the voice of God has the power to break mighty cedars, set mountains scampering like startled cattle, make sturdy oak trees squirm—and even to make us righteous.

The Second Lesson            Acts 10:34-43

Isaiah announced great good news for Israel. In the second lesson for the first Sunday in Epiphany, blunt Peter, called out of his comfort zone to visit a Roman centurion, summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus: the astounding gift of grace is for anyone—anyone—who will accept it.

The Gospel            Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus, the Son of God, begins his ministry not by announcing how badly everyone else has been doing everything but by seeking baptism from his cousin John.

 

Ponderables

The juxtaposition of images in the readings for the first Sunday of Epiphany is startling: a God with the power to set off great earthquakes and dictate terms to the mighty, yet bringing to those whom the world sees as wearing kick-me signs the gentlest of blessing; a God for whom mountains roll over like Rover and oak trees go limp on cue, yet patiently waiting again and again for Peter to blurt out the insight that Jesus and his own brain have been trying to get him to recognize; a God who sits in judgment on the entire universe, yet taking a place in line at the Jordan like everyone else for a baptism that he alone doesn’t really need…

It sounds like I’m being hard on Peter. In fact, I have great sympathy for him. Most thoughtful writers will cheerfully admit that they often don’t truly know what they think until they say or write it. I’m not in that exalted company, but certainly formatting lections and finding translations for them isn’t nearly as effective in obliging my brain to engage with the content as is the act of composing even a few sentences about at least one of them.

But what must it be like to be John? Feet firmly braced in the Jordan’s slightly slimy bottom, you’re up to the hips in water and in lost souls seeking the light; as you’ve done hundreds of times, you release your safety grip on the previous baptizee and reach for the next—only to discover that it’s Aunt Mary’s kid who also happens to be the Son of God. How are you not going to screw this up?

Well, by God’s grace and showing up: what else could do?

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