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Epiphany 3, Cycle A

THEME OF THE DAY
God goes before us. Again the lessons testify to the fact that all the good there is in life is a work of God (Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
The Psalm is an act of devotion, a triumphant song of confidence, and a prayer for deliverance traditionally attributed to David. Yahweh is said to be our light and salvation, and so there is nothing to fear (v. 1). The psalmist says he has asked the Lord to be permitted to live in his house (to worship in the temple) all the days of his life, beholding his beauty [noam, which refers to God's graciousness or favor] (v. 4; cf. 90:17). (Reference to living in the temple suggests that like many of the Psalms the writer worked in the temple as a Levite priest.) With confidence it is proclaimed that the Lord will hide the faithful in the day of trouble (v. 5). With head lifted up above his enemies the psalmist proclaims that he will offer sacrifices in the Lord’s tent (the temple) with singing (v. 6). In a cry for help he urges Yahweh to hear him and be gracious to him. Yahweh is also urged not to hide or turn away in anger, for he is the God of the psalmist’s salvation (vv. 7-9).

Application: The Psalm offers opportunities for praising God for his care and for who he is (beautiful). One might try to help the faithful recognize that God’s beauty is in the favor and love he shows (Providence and Justification by Grace). Worship understood as joyful sacrifice and singing might also be a theme to explore.

Isaiah 9:1-4
Unlike chapters of the book from 40 on, this text is likely a prophecy of the historical Isaiah, whose ministry to Judah (the Southern Kingdom) transpired in the eighth century BC. This is a prophecy about the messianic king, originally an oracle for the coronation of a Judean king, perhaps for Hezekiah (724-697 BC) in the Davidic line, who reigned during Isaiah’s ministry. The lesson begins with a promise that there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. It is noted that in the former time the Lord allowed the lands of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali as well in the north to become Assyrian provinces (v. 1). This new king (the Messiah) is described as a great light [or] for those who had been in darkness [choshek] that is in oppression. It seems that this light will make glorious the way to the Sea [of Galilee] (vv. 1-2). Light is an image for release from oppression. The new king will make the nation more abundant, increase its joy, and break the oppressor’s rod, just as the great war hero of the tribe of Manasseh, Gideon, conquered the Mideanites (vv. 3-4; Judges 7:15-25).

These observations were readily applied to the Babylonian exiles of the sixth century BC addressed in the chapters from 40 to the end of the book after this chapter pertaining to the earlier prophet was combined with the later chapters. Their exile was interpreted in accord with God’s plan to restore the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali since they were not in accord with God’s final aims.

Application: The text invites preachers to explore the sense in which we are in bondage, both socio-economically and mired in our own selfishness and narcissism (Sin), along with the freeing word that God in Christ sets us free (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics).

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Paul continues his introduction to the troubled Corinthian church with a discussion of the division in the community and a testimony to Christ crucified. He appeals for unity (v. 10). Some members of the household of Chloe (a female disciple of the apostle) had reported to Paul that there were quarrels, some saying they belonged to Cephas [the Aramaic name for Peter], others to Apollos (an early Alexandrian Christian), and others to Paul (vv. 11-12). Paul laments that Christ cannot be divided. He notes that none was baptized in his name and that he had not been crucified for them. He also adds that only two of the Corinthians in the household of Stephanus were baptized by him (vv. 13-16).

The apostle concludes by noting that he was not sent to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and that proclamation is not to be done with eloquent wisdom (which apparently a number of Corinthian Christians felt they possessed [2:5-6; 3:18]), so that the cross of Christ is not emptied of its power (v. 17). The message of the cross, he adds, is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those saved it is the power of God (v. 18). The theme of Christ crucified is a central theme of the letter.

Application: This is an opportunity to promote concentration on the crucified Christ (Atonement) and help parishioners to see how this gets the focus off worldly wisdom and ourselves. In so doing this nurtures unity, so when it is no longer about protecting our own territory it becomes easier to live with each other (Justification, Sanctification, and Church).

Matthew 4:12-23
We return again with this lesson to the gospel of this church year, the most Jewish of all the gospels written, evidenced such as in this lesson with the concern to find links in the stories told to the Hebrew scriptures. The account reports the beginnings of Jesus’ activity in Galilee. It begins with Jesus learning that John the Baptist had been arrested. He then went to Galilee, but left Nazareth, making his home in Capernaum (a town about thirty miles northeast of Nazareth on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee) (vv. 12-13). This relocation was to fulfill Isaiah 9:1-2 (portions of which are quoted) and its reference to a great light [liberation] to people in darkness [oppression] seen on the road to the Sea of Galilee (vv. 14-16). (See the discussion of these images in the analysis of the First Lesson.)

Next Jesus is reported as beginning to proclaim repentance, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (v. 17). (In contrast to Mark, Matthew uses this phrase more than the “kingdom of God,” presumably because in good Jewish fashion his preferred phrase avoids mentioning the divine name.) The story of the conversion of fishermen Simon, called Peter (Matthew gives no indication that he knows of the apostle’s name change), and his brother Andrew is recounted. They are reported to follow immediately (vv. 18-20). A similar account is given regarding the calling of fishermen [lower-class occupations in the Holy Land in this era] James son of Zebedee and his brother John (vv. 21-22). The motif of “following” [akoloutheo] Jesus is characteristic of Matthew’s gospel.

Application: The text’s citation of segments of the First Lesson permits a focus on the freeing word of Christ (the light), which liberates from oppression (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics). Another witness of the text is to conversion, which is nothing more than an urgent spontaneous response to the light of Christ (the compelling character of his love [Justification by Grace and Realized Eschatology]).

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  • Charged with Grandeur:Sermons and Practices for Delighting in God's Creation by Christopher Keating
     
    SermonSuite
    Chris Keating
    Cloud Theology

    Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9
    Imagine Transfiguration Sunday a few decades from now. The congregation -- half of whom are robots -- gather for worship. Two ushers quip about finding signs of intelligent life.
         A liturgist reads the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, while worshipers adjust virtual reality devices which place them on the summit with the disciples. Light floods their eyes, and they are overcome by the fear that also fills Peter, James, and John.
         There on the mountain they see Elijah, Moses, and maybe even Watson, IBM’s supercomputer. Meanwhile, Pastor ART -- a cutting-edge cyborg who just graduated from Princeton -- begins the sermon. He’s a bit soft-spoken for some, but ART (short for Artificial Reformed Theologian) is programmed to produce quality sermons guaranteed to challenge but not offend, enthrall but never bore.
         Far-fetched? Maybe not as much as you think.
         As AI develops, the world will face economic, moral, and even theological questions never considered. Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly reflects on what he calls the “serious spiritual question” we may be overlooking: “If you create other things that think for themselves, a serious theological disruption will occur.”
         It’s possible to consider God as the prototypical cloud server whose glory emerges in unimagined and dazzling ways. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the cloud envelopes the disciples and changes Jesus, preparing him for the passion that awaits. God draws nearer to human beings, calling them to deeper faithfulness....more
    On Turning On The Lights In The Church Building

    Whenever I read from the book of Exodus, especially a text which includes a visit by Moses to the mountaintop to be in the presence of God, I get an image in my mind of Charlton Heston in the movie version of The Ten Commandments. I'll bet you have that problem too, don't you? It doesn't matter if you were born a decade or two since that movie was first released. It gets a lot of play on television, especially during "holy seasons" of the year like Easter.
         The movie, which I must confess I actually enjoy, takes a few liberties with the biblical text. I guess Moses and the other biblical authors would not make very good screen writers. One of the problems with the image of Charlton Heston in that role is that it takes away the mystery of the encounter that Moses has with God....more
    Mark Ellingsen
    Revealing the divinity of Christ
    Transfiguration is a celebration of God’s glory and how that glory is revealed in Christ when he was transfigured. The festival was observed as early as the sixth century in Eastern Christianity, but did not become a festival in the Catholic Church and its Protestant heirs until just 70 years prior to the Reformation. Sermons in line with this festival will aim to focus the flock on coming to appreciate a bigger, more majestic picture of God and Christ than what they brought to church. Assurance will be provided that this majestic God overcomes all evil. All the lessons considered collectively also link Christ and the gospel to the Law (the ten commandments)....more
    Peter Andrew Smith
    Down from the Mountain
    Matthew 17:1-9

    Jessica took the tray of dishes from in front of Martha and put them on the cart.
         “Thank you,” Martha said.
         “You’re very welcome. How was everything today?”
         “It was lovely. Please tell Keith that I appreciated his homemade jam on the bread. It made the lunch extra special today.”
         “I’ll let him know.” Jessica paused. “If I see some of the jam left over would you like me to put it to one side for you?”...more
    Janice Scott
    Testimonies
    For many people, testimonies in which someone relates the story of how they came to Christianity, still seem to be one of the most powerful means of hearing the Christian message. There's something about the sincerity of the person who stands to speak, which usually shines through their words. And to hear the words of someone who has had a profound religious experience can be very moving....more
    Mary Kay Eichelman
    A Peep Hole
    Object: A picture covered with another piece of paper that has a small square cut out of it. (a "peak hole")
    I have something to show you today BUT... you only get to see a little bit of my picture -- a peep hole.  (Show picture covered over with piece of paper with a small square cut out.)  Does it make you wonder what the whole picture might look like?...more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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