Sunday, January 13, 2019

Epiphany 2C Readings & Commentaries

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.

1st Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
Our first reading is from the section of Isaiah sometimes referred to as “Third Isaiah” (chapters 56-66). These chapters were clearly written after the return of Israel from the exile.  Israel struggled in the years following their return.  Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside had been devastated.  It was probably hard to believe that Israel would ever again rise up in glory.  In our passage this morning such a rising is proclaimed.  God will rejoice over his people, who have been given new names.  The re-naming of people occurs frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures and is always a signal of divine intervention.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 36:5-10
As a whole, Psalm 36 is a prayer for help that is also a confession of faith.  These middle verses are more the latter.  If there is a theme it is God’s steadfast love (in Hebrew he┼čed).  It appears in verses 5, 7 and 10 (translated simply “love” and “loving-kindness”).

5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, *
            and your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
    your justice like the great deep; *
           you save both man and beast, O LORD.
7 How priceless is your love, O God! *
            your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
            you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the well of life, *
            and in your light we see light.
10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
            and your favor to those who are true of heart.

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
We will be reading from the latter portion of the first letter to the Corinthians during Epiphany (and the beginning of 2 Corinthians when there is a seventh and eighth Sunday).  Paul talks here about the diversity of spiritual gifts given to God’s people.  He begins, however, by speaking of the common Spirit that allows us all to say “Jesus is Lord.”  Paul’s central understanding of spiritual gifts is that they exist “for the common good,” not as a sign of individual favor.  This truth is because they are gifts from “the same Spirit.”

12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4  ow there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11
On the Second Sunday after The Epiphany we always read a passage from latter portion of chapter one and the beginning of chapter 2 of John’s Gospel, moments of revelation as Jesus begins his ministry.  There are many things interesting about the Cana wedding story.  This is an astounding miracle but it does not help anyone except the party-giver's reputation and the guests continued imbibing.  And what of the strange exchange between Jesus and his mother (who appears here for the first time in John’s Gospel and remains nameless)? Do the wedding guests ever know there has been a miracle?  Perhaps, as the first “sign” in John’s Gospel, the story is meant to tell us that Jesus (and the Gospel) do not play to our expectations.

2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution. Bulletin inserts are available for congregational use.  Visit our website for more information.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Baptism of Jesus Sunday Readings & Commentaries

The First Sunday after Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ

1st Reading:  Isaiah 43:1-7
The portion of the book of Isaiah which begins at chapter 40 (often referred to as “Second Isaiah”) are words spoken by a prophet near the end of the exile of Jews in Babylon, preaching hope and the expectation that the time of exile is about to come to an end.  In our reading this morning, God declares that he will save his people because he loves them.  Israel is a people like no other people for God.  And yet, the image of drawing people from all four directions of the compass may indicate that Isaiah expects there will be an expansion of “everyone who is called by my name.”  This would be in line with other passages in Second Isaiah.

43:1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth—7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29
Psalm 29 is a song of praise.  Its setting is a council of heavenly beings. The word “gods” in the first line is misleading.  In Hebrew the actual term is “sons of god,” and most scholars today translate it as “heavenly beings,” implying angels.  Psalm 29 shares many characteristics with a Canaanite hymn to their “storm god.”  This psalm is probably an appropriation of that hymn, but also a refutation.  Israel’s God is God alone.  The voice of God on the waters echoes our first reading, and anticipates our gospel reading.

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
   the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
   the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
            the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

2nd Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17
The deacon Philip’s mission to Samaria (Acts 8:1-13) has borne fruit.  Now the question for the apostles is, “How should we respond?”  They send two of their number and they facilitate the Samaritan converts’ reception of the Holy Spirit.  One of the great significances of this little passage is that this is the first time in the record that non-Jews are accepted into the Christian community.  Granted, they are cousins of the Jews, but they had been clearly excluded under the Law.

8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ baptism (and John alludes to it).  Among them, Luke seems especially sensitive to the relationship between John and Jesus.  Jesus’ baptism is mentioned without mention of John, indeed Luke has already told of his arrest and imprisonment (in the verses omitted this morning).  The descent of the Spirit on Jesus is different in Luke as well.  It occurs while Jesus is in prayer after the baptism.  The importance of Jesus’ life of prayer will be uniquely important throughout Luke.

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Inserts are available for congregational use.  For information, visit our website.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Epiphany Readings & Commentaries

In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s birth story (2:1-20), but in reality they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness. 

1st Reading:  Isaiah 60:1-6
Light is the primary image of this feast.  In this reading, Isaiah prophecies that the people themselves are to be a light, a light to all the nations.  This was one of two lines of thought in post-exilic Israel.  The other, represented by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, was to strengthen the barrier between Israel and the nations.  Isaiah imagines the nations being drawn to Israel and Israel’s God.  This reading also includes images that appear in the Gospel story, camels bringing those from far away bearing gifts.

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Psalm 72 is a royal psalm, perhaps from the coronation liturgy.  It lays out the king’ responsibilities, justice and righteousness for all his people.  Again there is imagery of peoples from far away coming to bear gifts.  Note they do so because they are attracted by the king’s extraordinary treatment of those who are weak, needy, or oppressed.
1     Give the King your justice, O God, *
           and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2     That he may rule your people righteously *
           and the poor with justice;
3     That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
           and the little hills bring righteousness.
4     He shall defend the needy among the people; *
           he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5     He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
           from one generation to another.
6     He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
           like showers that water the earth.
7     In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
           there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
10   The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
           and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
11   All kings shall bow down before him, *
           and all the nations do him service.
12   For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
           and the oppressed who has no helper.
13   He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
           he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14   He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
            and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 3:1-12
Paul speaks eloquently of the plan of God to reveal himself to the Gentiles, the plan he believes always existed but was hidden until the coming of Christ and the mission Paul has been given.  This radical plan is that Jews and Gentiles become one.

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:  6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:1-12
In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s birth story (2:1-20), but in reality they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness.  The wise men (magoi in Greek) were likely astrologers and emissaries of foreign courts.  They were not “kings” (a notion that came from the Isaiah reading and the psalm for today).  They also were not necessarily three in number.  The text does not give them a number; we have implied it from the three gifts.  Those gifts are highly symbolic in nature:  gold for a ruler, incense for a priest, myrrh for one who is to die.  Revelation comes to people in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel via dreams (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).  The prophecy concerning Bethlehem is from Micah 5:2. That the wise men first went to Jerusalem to consult the current king was only natural, but the “king” they seek is of a very different nature.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to copy for group study.  Worship bulletin inserts are available. For more information visit our website.