Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Epiphany 5C

Isaiah 6:1-8

1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: "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!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

With the fairly short season of Epiphany, the church's year of grace is in a segment of ordinary time that's carefully arranged, structured, organized and "ordered." Starting in the spring when we number Sundays after the festival of Pentecost, we get a many months long segment of ordinary time.

Last week we considered the prophet Jeremiah's call story, a narrative about God's claim on Jeremiah and God's words to Jeremiah that outlined his call, calling, or vocation (same word, different languages). We've also heard and discussed the opening acts of Jesus' public ministry in versions from the gospels of Luke and John; those also are call stores, with Jesus affirming and announcing God's call and claim on him.

This week the Revised Common Lectionary that gives us the scriptures for each Sunday brings us two call stories: the call of the prophet Isaiah and Jesus' calling his first disciples, who worked in the fishing profession. Isaiah is a very long book that historically spans at least two centuries and includes writings from at least three different people. Today's passage is from early in the first section of the book that's mostly by the guy we refer to as Isaiah of Jerusalem.

Contrasting Jeremiah and Isaiah

(1) last week Jeremiah hesitated and was reluctant to accept the ministry task God was calling him to do. The young Jeremiah felt unqualified, but as we studied the text. we saw that God would equip and enable Jeremiah to do everything God asked and sent him to do.

(2) this week Isaiah responds to God's call in a very positive manner announcing he's right here and ready to go where God sends him.

Isaiah's royal sensibility

All three sections of Isaiah affirm God's lordship and sovereignty; today's reading opens with the historical circumstance of the death of King Uzziah who'd been a relatively good and faithful human ruler; here Isaiah receives a vision of the God he knew as the real king, the true ruler of all creation.

Today's reading

Seraphs or seraphim are snaky creatures with wings; elsewhere in the bible, cherubs or cherubim have lion faces. Neither creature is the adorable chubby-cheeked baby angel figure of Renaissance and later paintings, of Christmas and Valentine's Day greeting cards.

Although this is one of the scripture texts for Trinity Sunday (and on Sunday we sang Steve W's favorite majestic Trinitarian hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy") Holy, holy, holy in this passage is not a trinitarian proclamation—it's an artifact of Hebrew and other semitic languages. English adjectives have basic, comparative, and superlative forms, so we say good-better-best, pretty-prettier-prettiest. If I were speaking Hebrew or Aramaic and really liked a Sunday brunch, I might say it was good-good-good or tasty-tasty-tasty. In English I'd tell the chef of the day or the companion sitting beside me today's menu was the best or the tastiest. In this first reading for today, Isaiah tells us God is holy-holy-holy or The Holiest.

Discussion of God's many callings to each of us, wherever we are. Contrast between major life calling/vocation or series thereof (today most people have four or five or six separate careers, or sometimes engage in two or three different ones at the same time) and the many smaller circumstantial callings we each receive literally all the time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Epiphany 4C

Jeremiah 1:4-10

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched [strike, jolt, shock: not gentle] my mouth; and the Lord said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

As we number Sundays after the feast of the Epiphany, the church's year of grace has moved into a short segment of green and growing Ordinary Time. After the Festival of Pentecost, we have a many months long season of Ordinary Time. Ordinary refers to structured, organized, patterned, arranged: "in order."

Today we'll mention Luke's gospel – the prophet Jeremiah – the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy – neighborology, the word about the neighbor. All these sources and concepts are about living together in covenant as God's people, rather than existing alone in isolation.

This is Revised Common Lectionary year C when we focus mostly on gospel readings from Luke. You may remember Luke emphasizes making opportunities and resources such as food and housing level and equal for everyone: no one has too little or less than they need; no one has too much or more than they need. That's also very much the style of Deuteronomy, which along with Leviticus is one of the places we find the Ten Commandments that supremely are about living together as God's people with distributive justice, fairness, and compassion.

Today's first reading comes from Jeremiah. Last Sunday we talked about scripture becoming codified, throughly written down, preserved, and in a sense canonized, or made into the standard or measure that describes who God is, what God requires, how God's people live. Although he may have been in a mostly oral tradition that transmitted texts by talking, listening, hearing, and sharing again, Jeremiah also likely had some written-down texts (he had his own scribe, as well) and would have been very familiar with the book of Deuteronomy that influenced his own spoken and written words during his forty year long ministry.

Today's first reading comes from the beginning of Jeremiah. Please notice God is the main actor here assuring Jeremiah God has known, consecrated, appointed, and will send, command, and be with Jeremiah.

Like Jesus' call narratives, Jeremiah's call or vocation (same word from different languages) account fits our lives, too. We often think of calling or vocation as the major profession, job, or series of different more or less full-time work opportunities we'll have in our lives; of course those are important, but all of us have noticed God calls, sends, and enables us to smaller jobs, ministries, or acts of service. For every one of those mega or micro opportunities, ministries, or tasks (all the same thing), just as for Jeremiah, God leads us to it, enables us to do it, and will be with us through it. Just as for Jeremiah, we sometimes feel unqualified...

Discussion of language and other cultural conditions we need to meet, of particular gifts or assets we may need to have.