Readings for Second Sunday in Epiphany 20 January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 2A 20 January 2008 Textweek

Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

There is a gem buried right in the middle of today’s readings: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’ Just want to take a moment to contemplate those truths and I thought the way we might contemplate them is, just have a quick look around, have a look around you and pick someone out. You don’t have to let them know you picked them out, just have a look around and pick them out. If your mind is elsewhere, that’s fine, maybe then pick someone you know and love. Pick someone out, then close your eyes for just a minute, and let your heart speak these words to the person you’ve just identified: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’ Now still with your eyes closed, listen with your heart to these same words spoken to you: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you, you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’

OK, let’s just come back before we go to sleep. It’s a gem, it’s a real gem, and what the readings today do is they introduce it then they uncover it; they set that gem, that truth into our very being. Christmas opens us up to the divine gift or rather into the divine giving, the divine giving into humanity. Now we explore the realisation, the making of Christmas a reality of life.

Isaiah in the reading today, opens up the dynamic of call and response, giving and receiving. The gift or call of Christmas is to be realised in our receiving, our response to the call of Christmas. And if you don’t quite feel up to realising the divine within, then you’ll be able to appreciate the extreme context of Isaiah’s reading, because nor did Israel. Israel also wasn’t expectant to realise the divine within; Israel was one despised and abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers. Israel was a people, God’s people in exile, alienated from their home and from their very sense of place and yet Isaiah tells them not only will they be realised, as it says in verse 3, as ‘my servant in whom I will be glorified’, but even more than that (in verse 6), they will become ‘as a light to the nations, that reach to the ends of the earth’: a movement from exile in captivity, to chosen and realised as chosen by the holy one. That context is also our context; it’s a universal call of the divine, out of slavery into abundant life. It’s a call that is spoken throughout all time: as Isaiah puts it, it is a call to ‘me before I was born’. Timeless; it is a call to me and a call to you; it is a call to each and to everyone.

So Isaiah gives us a perfect introduction in preparation for the gem that Paul identifies to the church in Corinth - ‘in every way you have been enriched in Christ… you are not lacking in any spiritual gift’. And the good news, the Gospel, illuminates this reality for us in and through the narrative of John the Baptist. It’s the ideal narrative to pick – the good news, the gospel is to be found in the echo of our baptism.

If you recall, we’ve already had the narrative of John the Baptist, so the reading today is not here to introduce us to the story, this is not to tell us a little bit in the life of Jesus. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke seek to record events in the life of Christ and to give us some sense of meaning; John’s Gospel is later. John is no longer interested in recording the life of Christ - Matthew, Mark and Luke have done that. John has sat with it and contemplated it, gone up to the Hall to study groups, spent the forty days in Lent reading and talking, and then he seeks to write what he finds, what’s been illuminated for him, and he chooses the narrative of John the Baptist to outline the process of realisation. The gift has been given, now how is that then to be realised? If we look at the gospel reading, in verse 29 - this is John the Baptist: ‘he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God”’. That was in verse 29, then in verse 30 we find that John had previously spoken of his coming; what we discover, therefore, is that John was expectant, he was looking forward; he had spoken of this and now it is realised. His expectation and his orientation bring the appearance of Christ, the Lamb of God, into reality. Then in verses 31 and 33 John says, ‘I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me…’ This gives us another appreciation of John – he knew himself as sent and sent with purpose, and so he was attentive with expectation, he was open to the divine call, he was open to the gift.

And it’s worth doing - read it through again: the gospel reading we have today you can almost separate into two parts. Verse 29-34, if you read that bit through, what you find is that John declares – that’s all those first few verses are about, John declaring. It’s as if that introduces us to the ‘call’ side of ‘call and response’. John declares. The next part, verses 35 to 42, John is heard and responded to – call and response. So then we look at the second half, for we are called; we still have the call of Christmas: I was given something, I was called to another place. So we look at the second half of the Gospel to see what is the receiving, what is the response to the call that’s heard, and the response is then given to us in the actions and the words of John’s hearers, and we find out that they followed. They didn’t just go, ‘Oh yeah’, they followed, they dialogued with Jesus - there’s a communication, a speaking, maybe what we would call prayer. They came and they saw, they made real. They then remained, they participated with – to remain with Christ is to know God with us - and then they brought others.

The Gospel enables us to see for ourselves how the gem is realised, the gem being the truth that Paul gives to the church in Corinth: ‘In every way you have been enriched in Christ … you are not lacking in any spiritual gift’. ‘You are not lacking in any spiritual gift.’ And just in case you missed it within the Gospel, the process of realisation is initiated by one question. The writer of the Gospel puts that question into the words of Jesus; it therefore becomes a divine question, in verse 38, "What are you looking for?"
"What are you looking for?"

Peter Humphris