Readings for Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany 11 February 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany Textweek

Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I grabbed this incident report off the Net yesterday. It occurred off the coast of Newfoundland but it could have occurred here. I just want you to picture it: it occurred at night at sea; it is very, very dark at night at sea. This is the actual transcript of a US Naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. The radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10/10/95.
The Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert your course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States’ Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees to the north that’s one five degrees north – or counter measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

When we look and we see something, we interpret it, we perceive, and that’s what gives us a certainty about what we’re looking at. Without any change in the material world, without any change of substance, we can be given an insight that changes our perception and so too changes our certainty.

I like the story about the ship and the lighthouse, it’s a good story, because it’s a story that’s like our spiritual journey, our faith journey. We too sail in the dark, seeking guidance from lights and in turn, hopefully giving guidance by our own light. Being made in the image of God, our dialogue with the divine parallels the dialogue between the captain and the lighthouse keeper – two lights, engaging each other and like the captain, we often see ourselves as the greater light.

Jeremiah speaks of living in the present; the words of Jeremiah are about living in this life and Jeremiah speaks of living lives that are either cursed or blessed. The church has taught us that this is the awesome power of God, a power that can and will bless or it’s a power that can and will curse. Cursing and blessing however, are not the activity of God; rather they result from our encounter with the divine and our life orientation, and I think it’s a powerful insight to perceive that it is us who are the creators of blessing and/or cursing; it is us. If the ship does not change course it is cursed, but it’s not the lighthouse that curses. If the ship does change course it will be blessed and it will know its blessing as it continues on its way. Again it’s not the lighthouse that blesses; the lighthouse is the lighthouse, is the lighthouse, is the light.

Jeremiah provides us with a comparison of lives – a life like the shrub in the desert and a life like a tree planted by water. Hour by hour, day by day we can, maybe we do, experience these life perceptions and in our world, the metaphors of Jeremiah we just sum up simply by talking about the ups and the downs of life. The ups, like a tree planted near water, the downs like a tree planted in the desert. We talk about the not-so-bad or and we talk about the not-too-good. This is our daily life experience.
A few days ago I had a call from my Zen Master, Joan Matthews. She called me and it was a very short call; she said this: ‘If you let a green tree grow in your heart, it might attract a singing bird’. Along with Jeremiah, Joan was talking about orientation, about life direction, about the course that we choose to steer. Do you think, do I think, do we think, you are the captain of a great life? Do you think that your life is all important or do you see a lighthouse on the horizon and are you open to changing your course; are you aware of the orientations of blessed and cursed?

In the reading from Corinthians, Paul is not setting up a theological debate about ‘is he dead or is he alive’ at all. What Paul is doing is taking us beyond living in the present of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was talking about life in this world, in this moment. Paul speaks of an orientation to life that is not bounded by mortality: our life, your life, as part of all life, or as we were talking on Wednesday this week, our voice in a continuing and unending conversation, a conversation that we spoke ourselves into at our birth and a conversation that continues after our death. Our self and ourselves as part of the whole, not just one with the present, a part of the whole doesn’t mean all of them and all of you, a part of the whole means being at one with all, in all time - time that is, time that was, time that will be. ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.’ Why? Because Christ reveals to us a self that reaches out to embrace the all in every age. It’s a self that reaches out, it’s a me that reaches out to the all of you, in every place in every time.

The Gospel underlines those two previous readings and we shouldn’t diminish the Gospel by seeing it as a story of Jesus; rather what it is, it’s another insight that we’re given. The narrative in the gospel if you read through it, it’s not telling us what to do – if you do .… everything’s okay, but if you do …. everything’s not okay. It doesn’t have that energy at all. What it does is, it reveals to us options for life, it reveals life choices – 15 degrees to the north, 15 degrees to the south - that’s what the gospel’s saying. The Gospel stands there as a lighthouse, for us to look at, to engage with and to encounter. And the interesting thing, the opening of the gospel, ‘He came down with them and stood on a level place.’ You’re writing the Gospel, you’re seeking to give the revelation of life to the world and you mention he stood on a level place. How important was it to know whether Jesus stood like this or like that? He stood on a level place and from there he spoke about life options. The level place where he stands is where divinity and humanity stand together: this is not a god out there, this is one who stands with us, on a level place with us & we stand in a level place with God, humanity & divinity as one. From that place we can see clearly the options of life.

If you continue to read through we discover that all who came to hear – just to hear - were healed, they were made whole. Verses 20-23 of the Gospel identify the fifteen degrees to the south, the course that we may steer that is the course of blessing. Verses 24 -26 identify the course of woe, which is the ‘cursed’ of Jeremiah and that is the course of not hearing. Verses 17 to 20 speak of the power that came forth to heal all; the power that came forth to heal all. It was not the power of the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln, it was the voice, the confident voice from the lighthouse.
The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris