Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you from the one who makes us worthy. Amen
Our lessons for today,
though they speak of different events
tell the same story.
The story broadly goes like this.
The main character has an experience of God,
and while they are wowed by this experience
it also serves to highlight to the main character
just how inadequate they are in the presence of God,
the main character expresses to God
how unworthy they are
both for the experience and the notice of God in general.
God doesn’t debate this
but goes ahead and makes the main character worthy,
then provides a way for the main character to respond in gratitude,
which they do.
people experience their unworthiness,
God makes them worthy,
God provides for grateful response.
In our first reading
Isaiah tells of seeing God in the temple
surrounded by seraphs- a class of angel-
whose praise of God shakes the thresholds,
Isaiah’s response is: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!"
Isaiah expects to die
because he is unworthy and has seen the glory of the Lord,
but then one of the seraphs takes a hot coal from the altar
and touches Isaiah’s lips with it saying:
"Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
With this ceremony
Isaiah has been made worthy.
Then he hears “the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"
and now instead of cowering in fear
Isaiah steps up and says “Here am I, send me”
Isaiah feels his unworthiness,
God purifies him,
Isaiah responds in gratitude.
In our gospel, it’s Simon and the disciples.
They’re cleaning their nets after a long night of fishing
while a crowd has gathered around their new pal Jesus,
the crowd is so big
Jesus is about to get pushed into the water,
so instead he climbs into Simon’s boat
and has him put out a ways so he can teach the crowd in comfort.
When he’s finished he tells Simon to take the boat out farther
and put the nets in to catch some fish.
Simon, who I’m sure is exhausted at this point
tells Jesus: "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
And at Jesus’ direction they go out
and put the nets in the water
and catch so many fish that the nets start to break,
they call for back up and the other boat comes out
and together they catch so many fish that the boats start to sink!
when Simon sees all this he falls “down at Jesus' knees, saying, "’Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’"
Simon knows that he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.
But instead of going away Jesus stays,
and indicates that he wants to spend more time with Simon
saying "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
Simon is worthy enough to follow Jesus
and Luke tells us that “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Simon and the disciples feel their unworthiness,
Jesus affirms their worth through an invitation,
Simon and the disciples leave everything to follow Jesus.
Finally we have Paul,
who eludes to his version of the story
in his letter to the Corinthians
though the full version in the book of Acts follows the same pattern.
Paul or Saul as he is called then
is one of the people that is persecuting the followers of Jesus
after the resurrection,
seeking them to send them to prison or even kill them,
the people of the way are afraid of him
but they are still spreading the message beyond Jerusalem,
so Saul goes and gets permission to go to Damascus
to hunt down people there and bring them back to Jerusalem.
As he’s traveling on the road to Damascus
a light flashes around him
and he hears a voice saying
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (Saul) asked, Who are you, Lord? The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” Acts 9:3-4
When Saul gets up he is blind.
Meanwhile Jesus also appears in a vision to Ananias,
a disciple in Damascus
and tells him to go find Saul,
naturally Ananias is hesitant to go
because he’s heard about Saul
but God tells him that he’s chosen Saul
to bring the message to the gentiles.
So Ananias goes and lays his hands on Saul
and prays for him
and something like scales fall from Saul’s eyes and he can see again.
He is baptized
then begins preaching the good news that Jesus is the son of God.
on the road Damascus
Paul experiences his unworthiness
in the presence of Jesus,
God makes Paul worthy,
through the healing of Ananias and Paul’s baptism,
and in grateful response
Paul begins preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul is unworthy,
God makes him worthy,
he gratefully responds
fulfilling the mission God provides him,
preaching to the gentiles,
Now Paul is writing to some of those gentiles,
who have also experienced this progression of events
when Paul came to preach to them,
they were baptized and formed a community
but now they’ve gotten off track,
Paul is writing to admonish them for a number of things
going on in the community
including failure to practice the Lord’s Supper in a way that honors all.
And here Paul demonstrates
that our story line is actually a story cycle
because we humans have a hard time believing
that God has truly made us worthy,
we have an incredible life changing experience of God
and we respond gratefully to God’s call
but after a while
we begin to doubt
because we know ourselves
and all the things that we have done and left undone,
how we’ve failed to love our neighbor as ourselves,
life is complicated,
God seems far away,
and pretty soon it feels like we’re back where we started,
and once again
God comes to us,
reminding us that we are worthy,
there is a place for us in the kingdom of God.
Paul has spent his letter to the Corinthians
detailing all the ways they’ve gone wrong
but here towards the end
Paul brings it back around saying
“Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand.”
he’s telling them,
you are worthy,
and look he says I get it,
I get that feeling of doubt
look at me “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
But Paul doesn’t stop there,
he continues on “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.”
and goes on to detail how God was able to work through him.
By the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace toward me has not been in vain.
Repeat it after me,
hold on to these words
We are not worthy because of our actions,
we are worthy because of the grace of God,
God makes us worthy
in the font at our baptism,
and God reminds us we are worthy
over and over again,
in the bread and wine at the table,
with the words of confession and absolution,
through the body of Christ gathered here.
By the grace of God you are worthy.
By the grace of God we are worthy.
And now God has something in mind for each of us,
whether it is to be a prophet like Isaiah,
fishers of people like disciples,
a reminder like Paul
or something else entirely,
and because God has made us worthy,
when we hear God’s call
we answer: “Here am I, send me”
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Third Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthian 12:12-31
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you from the one with a purpose. Amen
We are still in the season after Epiphany,
the season where our readings reveal who Jesus is
and what he is about.
So far in the time after Epiphany
We’ve heard the story of Jesus’ baptism
where the spirit came down and claimed him
and God’s voice named him as beloved son,
we got a glimpse of Jesus’ capacity for abundance
as we watched him in action
at the wedding at Cana
turning a huge amount of water
into a vast amount of fine wine
so that by the grace of God relationships could be repaired
Jesus announces his purpose,
what he has come to do.
From his baptism
Jesus is driven out into the wilderness
to be tempted by Satan,
he successfully survives the test
and that is where we pick up the story today
when filled with the power of the spirit
Jesus returns to Galilee
and begins teaching,
people are impressed
and word begins to spread
about how great this new teacher is
and so of course he has to go home and teach in the home synagogue,
local boy makes good better come home and share his talents right?
So there is perhaps a greater sense of anticipation
in his home town synagogue,
among the people who watched him grow from a cute baby
through those awkward teen years
into the man before them, stands,
takes the scroll and turns to Isaiah and reads:
“The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he sits down to teach
and eyes of all in the synagogue are fixed on him.
The people are holding their breath,
what is this reportedly great teacher going to say about this passage?
Will he talk about the tradition of the prophets?
The hoped for messiah?
And Jesus delivers his sermon in one sentence:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
The way the planners of the lectionary set it up
we don’t get the crowds’ reaction until next week,
so this week we get to unpack what is revealed about Jesus
through his reading of Isaiah
and his one sentence interpretation of the reading.
These are the first words we hear from Jesus
after he starts his ministry
and in his choice of reading from Isaiah
Jesus lays out his purpose for the rest of his ministry,
Jesus is to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captive,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor
Jesus has rooted himself firmly
in the prophetic tradition
and the expectations of the people of Israel,
but we know of course
that the way Jesus works
is decidedly unexpected
so we wonder what does Jesus mean
when he claims that the scripture has been fulfilled?
- we will see just what this all means,
as Jesus lives out his purpose,
in how he feeds the hungry,
thousands with a few loaves and fish
forgives those captive to sin
with the words ‘your sins are forgiven’
heals those oppressed by sickness
as simply as saying ‘get up take your mat and go’
Jesus will live his purpose out
in more controversial ways as well
by choosing to associate with tax collectors and sinners over the religious elite,
he will break the law to fulfill his purpose
whether it’s healing on the Sabbath or not washing his hands
and in a grand display
he will cleanse the temple of money changers
and merchants selling animals for sacrifice,
disrupting the established economic system
in a bid to turn the focus of the temple from worldly gain
to prayer to the creator of the universe.
And as you can imagine
all these actions disrupting the status quo
upset the people who benefitted from the status quo
which leads to the cross
Jesus’ most unconventional way of being messiah,
dying for the sake of life
And it is Jesus’ short sermon in his home synagogue
at the beginning of his ministry
that starts this all off
sounding the death knoll of the status quo
because good news for the poor
means consequences for those who are rich
freedom is good news for the oppressed
and means changes for those who oppressed them
the year of jubilee, the Lord’s favor
when the ancestral land is redistributed
is exciting for those who have no land
but perhaps not so much
for those who have acquired great amounts of land.
In the words of the hymn the Canticle of the Turning
“the world is about to turn”
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
What are we to make of this pronouncement of Jesus
Especially in light of all that’s going on in the world around us
A world still full of the hungry, poor and oppressed.
Allow me if you will
to take a slight detour into the world of grammar.
There is a tense called the perfect tense,
and it describes actions that have been completed
but whose consequences are ongoing in the present.
For example the statement:
I made lunch.
The making of lunch is complete,
an action of the past
but the consequence of that statement
is that there is now lunch available to eat.
Jesus’ sermon is like that,
In the perfect tense
the words of the prophet Isaiah have been fulfilled.
Completed by Jesus’ pronouncement
but the consequences of his statement,
of what he has done
is still being worked out
and we have a part in living them out
As Paul said in our second reading for the day:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and we were all made to drink of one spirit.”
In our baptisms we were joined to Christ
and when we were joined to Christ
his purpose became our purpose,
to bring good news to the poor,
proclaim release to the captives,
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.
And as we look around at the world
and see how many people are still poor, captive and oppressed
we realize there is a lot of work left to do,
and when this seems overwhelming
we pause and look around at the body of Christ,
made up of many members
each with a role to play according to the gift of the spirit.
Who, joined together as one in Christ
live out God’s purpose in the world. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.