Readings for Third Sunday in Epiphany 27 January 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Epiphany 3A 27 January 2008 Textweek

Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

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

With the Australia Day anthem of ‘Come on, Aussie, come on’ still ringing in our ears, we hear the psalmist this morning saying, ‘"Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!" Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ And I wonder if we have lost some sense of invitation in our modern use of the word ‘come’. Consider its application, or the lack of application of that invitation to indigenous peoples, to refugees, the poor, to the divorced, to the gay, to the unemployed, to Muslims, to the dispossessed. Australia as a nation has a policy that determines who can come, who can come to share in being Australian. I guess it’s our interpretation of ‘I am the door’, and we open the door primarily to the rich, to the talented and to those like us. And funnily enough all of that looks quite logical and quite natural. But when we celebrate national days we actually have a good opportunity to look at ourselves and to look at our contribution to our country, to the community. ‘Come’ is more than an invitation, it is a word that invites movement.

When the psalmist uses the word in today’s psalm, it is both an invitation to movement ‘"Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!", and it’s also an orientation to the source of all movement - the seeking of the divine in our deepest and truest selves. We began this morning with another reading from Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking with great hope of movement into wholeness, from former times to the latter time; this is the movement of life changes. We can all go back through our lives and see clear markers there that mark the former time and the latter time. Isaiah also speaks of a movement from darkness into a great light – this is the movement of life experience and all of us have experienced that movement from darkness into light, most of us have also experienced movement from light into darkness. Isaiah then speaks of the movement from the yoke of burden to freedom. This is the movement of life perspective and life potential, the opportunity to let go of that to which I am yoked, in order to move toward. He affirms these movements as being toward the common; these are not movements that have an orientation that is personal, these are not movements for me, but they are movements to multiply the nation and increase its joy.

So often, particularly in the modern world, we see life movement - personal development, growth, ‘have you been saved?’, all those things seem to have a personal focus. We miss the whole point. Isaiah already saw in his vision that any movement must be orientated towards the common. It’s why the Bible constantly talks of ‘a people, Israel’. It’s not those people in the Middle East who wall themselves in, that’s not ‘the people Israel’. The people Israel is the common, the common people of God, it is the ‘us’, an ‘us’ to which all movement toward wholeness will be directed. My guess is that if Isaiah could see these movements realised he would probably let off fireworks in a great display of joy.

As we move through the readings we come across Paul appealing once again to the church in Corinth, because their movement has hit rocky times, their movement has been stopped, and what’s held them up? They’ve been held up by divisions, divisions that Paul now appeals to be, ‘look beyond the divisions that you have’. The very divisions come out of a misunderstanding of the divine invitation to ‘come to me’, come seek the divine face and the appeal of Paul so readily applies to us in the present. Just like the church in Corinth, we also seek a sense of belonging. It is a sense that is grounded in this world by our very mortality: we want to belong, we want to be known, we want to be here. We want to belong to our family, club, culture, church, social group, peer group, political group. We want that sense of belonging; we want to be known. It is in seeking this belonging that we blur our sense of the common, and at the same time, we undermine our vision of being in Christ - we can find for ourselves a satisfaction in belonging and being known. Being loved by our family actually feeds something within – it satisfies. We are called to move beyond that, to move beyond, not to seek the satisfaction of those needs that I have, but rather to look at the whole, because as I meet my needs so I lose touch with the common need. You can see how divisions, quite healthily and naturally spring up – one group, one family meeting its needs over here while another meets its needs over there; there’s then a gap in the middle. What Isaiah is pointing to is a movement that does not see the gap but rather constantly sees an orientation towards the whole. The psalmist calls us beyond ourselves and at the same time calls us into ourselves – ‘"Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!" Your face, Lord, do I seek’.

In the Gospel, Matthew again picks up the vision of Isaiah – very important to Matthew. Matthew, like Mark and Luke, is seeking to bear witness to the revelation of Christ. He almost goes out of his way to link the revelation to the prophesies of Isaiah. Christ reveals the kingdom of Heaven has come near – there’s that word of invitation again, ‘the kingdom of Heaven has come near’; "Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!"; the kingdom of Heaven has come near. Matthew then goes on to illustrate ‘the kingdom of Heaven has come near’ and he does it using the narrative of the call of Andrew and Peter, James and John. If you remember last week, we had exactly the same narrative – the call of Andrew and Peter, but from John’s Gospel, and there’s an interesting contrast between the two. Matthew today has Peter and Andrew responding to Christ’s call to follow – ‘follow me’. Andrew and Peter, James and John accept the divine invitation. John’s Gospel, which if you’ve still got last week’s sheet it’s worth going back to, because the same narrative in John’s Gospel has the two disciples hearing John the Baptist, and then following Jesus. And only after they take the initiative do they receive an invitation from Jesus, ‘Come and see’. They give us quite a different appreciation. Matthew is affirming that through Christ we are invited into wholeness; what Christ has revealed is an invitation to movement – ‘Come, follow me’ - an invitation to movement beyond where we belong. Immediately they left the boat and their father and they followed. They left the former for the latter – they left their family, they left their home, they left their work. They left all about themselves in order to find themselves within the divine vision and the divine promise. John’s Gospel though is a great reminder that waiting for such an invitation is not an option – ‘I’ve been coming to church for years now, and d’you know what, I’ve never heard Jesus say ‘Come’ to me. He’s said it to others, I’ve seen them come and go, but never to me.’ That isn’t an option. John’s Gospel gives us another version – if we haven’t received such a divine invitation then take the initiative. Walk in that way, and then our ears will be opened to hear that divine invitation.

I’m still doing the New Year thing of cleaning out my study and I came across some papers that should have been thrown out years ago, part of a working group of papers from a management consultant that I had in a past life and they provided another great interpretation of today’s gospel reading. On a bit of paper was written, ‘The only failure is the failure to participate.’

That’s what we get from today’s readings: there is a divine invitation held in that word, ‘come’. "Come," my heart says, "seek the divine face!” Your face Lord do I seek’. It is food for the journey through Lent. Perhaps it’s worth keeping the psalm – cut it out, fold it up, put it in your pocket, carry it with you through Lent. For the journey through Lent again is one of seeking: we seek our original face, the face that we had before we were born.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris