The Third Sunday after Epiphany
The Calling of Peter and Andrew.
James Tissot. Public Domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service are available at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos basados en el leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." A word of hope for a land where Israel (Samaria) and Syria had fought most of their major battles in the past and were about to fight (or had already begun fighting) Judah without regard for the good of the people who called that land home.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (UMH 758)
This Psalm works as a response to the first reading if we join it as a prayer of those who live in a "land of deep darkness." With the sung response, sing the psalm to Tone 2 in D minor or another minor key setting.
1 Corinthians 1:10
Paul says, "I appeal to you ... that there be no divisions among you ... be united in the same mind and the same purpose. ... Has Christ been divided?"
Jesus begins to announce the kingdom of God by the Sea of Galilee, healing, teaching, and calling fishermen to be his disciples.
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Remember, the texts in this Season after Epiphany are divided into two streams (OT/Gospel and Epistle) with one purpose: to prepare your congregation for its work of walking with people preparing for baptism or reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant during Lent. The Epistle stream focuses on being or becoming healthy as the body of Christ. The OT/Gospel stream, centered in the gospel reading for each Sunday, focuses on the calling and teaching of disciples of Jesus. Choose and pursue the stream that seems most helpful for your congregation to get ready for its Lenten work of forming disciples of Jesus Christ readied to live the baptismal covenant faithfully. For more discussion of these two series or streams, see Planning for the Season after Epiphany 2014.Coming Up
Black History Month
Scouting Ministries Sunday
(While the program calendar provides for dates in both February and March, the February date is preferred to avoid conflicting with Lent. Congregations may choose any date for this observance.)
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Atmospherics -- OT/Gospel Stream: Calling and Teaching Disciples
Week 2: “Follow Me”
Background: The Significance of “Galilee of the Gentiles”
This week’s reading from Isaiah may seem very familiar, not only because the text itself is familiar, but also because part of this same text was included in the first reading for Christmas Eve just one month ago. On Christmas Eve, it is paired with the reading from Luke describing the birth of Jesus and the coming of the shepherds. On Christmas Eve, we hear this text describe Jesus as the light in the darkness, a child born for us who will deliver us from bondage and uphold the kingdom forever, with emphasis on the birth of the child.
Today, however, a shorter selection from the same text (verses 1-4) supports this week’s Gospel in making a different point. While Luke quotes Isaiah in connection with the birth of Jesus, Matthew quotes this same text to proclaim the prophetic significance of the beginning, the primary location, and the major theme of his public ministry. Light begins to dawn now that Jesus has headed directly into “Galilee of the Gentiles,” the region controlled by the tetrarch Herod, who had just arrested John the Baptizer.
Jesus going to Galilee thus has a two-fold purpose. First, it is a fulfillment of this text from Isaiah. Light does shine precisely in this region formerly known as the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, places where Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fought their wars so “nothing important” was disturbed, and places later that became the target of “ethnic dilution campaigns” of one conqueror of Palestine after another. Keep the mix of languages and cultures there mixed enough, and oppressed enough, and no one of them will have the strength or the urge to resist the new overlords. This is why this place was known to Isaiah as “the land of deep darkness,” and this is why it still had that nickname in the time of Jesus. If light is to shine in deep darkness, this is where Jesus must go.
But in the narrative itself, we see how this place continues to live up to its ancient reputation. The darkness at the heart of Galilee wasn’t satisfied to keep to its own borders. The tetrarch Herod, like his namesake who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was noted for over-extending his power. John the Baptizer lived and worked primarily in Judea, not Galilee. Despite the fact that John was openly critical of Herod’s taking the wife of his dead brother as his own wife, Herod had no real jurisdiction over John. And yet he had John arrested, jailed, and later, we learn, beheaded in Galilee.
That John was arrested and taken to a dungeon in Galilee becomes part of why Jesus headed there, too. He was not running away from Herod, as the phrase “he withdrew into Galilee” (fairly common in English translations) may suggest. A better translation would be something like “he made his home in that region again.” Galilee became “home base” for Jesus’ public ministry not just because an old prophet said so, but because the people there, governed by a man like Herod who had sought to silence John, desperately needed good news.
And that is what Jesus began to give them. Verse 17 represents the core of every sermon, every teaching and every action Jesus took in his public ministry there. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven [God] has drawn near.” (Matthew uses “heaven” in place of “God,” a sign of his Jewish heritage in what is unarguably the most Jewish of the gospels).
Calling of Disciples, Part 2: Follow Me
All of that is backdrop for what happens next, and centrally, for this time in the Season after Epiphany: the calling of the first disciples by Jesus.
As we noted last week, this calling story varies significantly in detail from the calling story we read just last week in John’s gospel.
The place is different. Last week, we were across the Jordan near Judea. This week, we are up north in Galilee.
The timing is different. Last week, John the Baptizer was still active in ministry. This week, he has been arrested by Herod and taken north to Galilee.
And the story of how the calling proceeds, particularly with Peter and Andrew, is dramatically different. Last week Andrew and another person, unnamed (presumably the gospel writer, John) simply begin following Jesus, and perhaps later that evening or the next day Andrew “drags” his brother Peter to become one of Jesus’ disciples, too. Here, Jesus is walking along the shoreline, spies Simon Peter and Andrew fishing in the lake, and calls them both at once, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (v. 19). A little later he repeats the same process with two other fishermen, also brothers, James and John (v. 21).
Call, and immediate response. The word comes, and they all leave their livelihoods and families, everything and everyone they’ve got, and with James and John, and become disciples of Jesus, on the spot.
Why would they do that? Why would they leave nets, boats, livelihoods and family at the simplest of calls from Jesus? “Follow me!” It’s not because these men were especially sensitive to the voice of God or Jesus. Their dullness, resistance, contradiction of his teaching, denial and desertion of him later on show their level of faith wasn’t all that special, either.
What was special was Jesus’ message, a message he’d been proclaiming in the area already for a while before he called them: “The kingdom of God has drawn near” (v. 17). If that message were true, if Jesus were right about that, that’s a message worth leaving everything for. Why wouldn’t you want to be in on the ground floor of what would happen next?
Now remember where this is happening. Galilee of the Gentiles. Land of deep darkness. Lands ravaged by outside forces, people treated as worthless. Jesus is declaring the kingdom of God drawing near here, right here, light in the darkness.
If the prophet’s words were ringing in their ears as Matthew rings them in ours, how could they do anything but follow Jesus?
And this brings us to the missional task for this season. How do you prepare yourselves to nurture people hearing a call like that of Jesus—simply, “Follow me” – toward a life shaped by such following the rest of their days?
As we’ve already seen, such a radical following of such a radical calling, a command performance -- if you will -- from Jesus, is not the only way the call to discipleship comes.
But it is one of them.
And it was the form in which it came to those fishermen in Galilee of the Gentiles—people dependent on the sea for life, because on land there was little to hope for.
Except now that they would follow Jesus, they’d be spending much more time learning what it means to be light in the deep darkness of that place, and every darkened corner of the earth, with him.
In Your Planning Team
Last week, you started this six-week series on the calling and teaching of disciples by Jesus. This week, you are in week two of exploring the ways Jesus calls people to discipleship. Last week, it was seeking and assimilation. This week, it is preaching and direct call, or “command performance” as I suggest in the commentary above.
In today’s world, Christianity is in a fairly precipitous decline in “prosperous” regions of the world that once had been the chief sources of the faith’s worldwide missionary effort. By contrast, it is on a dramatic rise in parts of the world that are far less prosperous, areas one might call “lands of deep darkness.” In the US, nearly all Christian bodies are declining in numbers, regardless of their place on the “theological spectrum.” But in Africa and Asia, the rate of the growth of Christianity far outpaces losses in the rest of the world. This is why The United Methodist Church actually grew by 25% between 1999-2009, and remains on an increasing growth pace worldwide, just not in the US or some parts of Europe.
Jesus began his public ministry precisely in a land of deep darkeness, in a place so troubled for so long that many chose to write it off. The spark of hope he ignited in the coming of God’s kingdom, there, among them, blazed into a conflagration.
So he could and did call seemingly random fishermen to follow him, and they did.
And so his call to discipleship is still issued today, and many still forsake all and follow.
Today is about that experience of calling to discipleship by such people.
While their calling and response is no more and no less genuine than that portrayed by Andrew and Simon in the stories we read last week, theirs are stories that need to be told in worship today, precisely because there are so many today who are regularly responding to such a call from Jesus and his church. After all, Jesus promised to make Andrew and Simon “fishers of people.”
So, begin in your team. Are there persons in your worship planning team whose call to discipleship to Jesus came like that to Andrew and Simon, James and John? Invite them to share their stories.
Then, are there people you or they know, either in your congregation or in their wider social networks, who have such a calling story they may be willing to share? Identify these people, and send members of your planning team to gather their stories on video, audio or writing, and, of course, permission to share them in worship or through your congregation’s website.
Today is the day to hear and celebrate this way of being called to discipleship to Jesus, not denigrating the others, and to pray for the openness yourselves, as a congregation, both to hear and to embrace others who hear this call as well.
Again, plan artwork, projected imagery, and congregational or choral/ensemble singing that lifts up this way of being called to discipleship, and resonates with the stories being shared in your midst. Sermon today may be just enough to help set up the stories. Let the stories speak for themselves.
And remember this from Matthew and Isaiah. This kind of story happens precisely in places of deep darkness.
And here, by the Sea of Galilee.
Consider how sights, sounds and smells of the sea, or whatever waters you regularly encounter, might be incorporated in worship today. Here’s a reflection to help get you started.
Today is a day to hear the waters flowing:
The waters of the sea of Galilee full of fish,
a reminder of the places around you
full of people to be caught up
in the love of God,
not with hooks, one by one,
but with nets, en masse,
as those first fisher-disciples would have known.
Today is a day to hear the waters flowing:
The waters that move through pipes,
Some waters fresh, some polluted,
Some falling from the sky, some rising from the earth,
Waters bringing life and hope,
Waters bearing waste and loss,
Waters cleansing and being cleansed.
Today is a day to hear the waters flowing:
The waters of baptism with which God birthed you,
Birthed us all anew in Jesus Christ,
And bids us come, and drink,
To slake our thirst,
And bids us go and share,
That thirst may be fulfilled for all.
Today is a day for hearing Christ’s call,
like those fishermen heard Jesus calling long ago—
to hear and to decide:
are we ready to follow Jesus,
ready to declare his truth,
rejoice in his love,
and reveal his glory in the world?
Today, may all who gather hear God’s waters flowing,
and be saved!
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Atmospherics -- Epistle Stream: Becoming a Healthy Body
Week 2: No Factions: Your Fellowship Is in Christ
Many, if not most, approaches to addressing problems begin with identifying the problem and focusing on fixing what is broken. Paul did not use that approach in I Corinthians, despite the reality the problems there were serious, indeed. Instead, as we saw last week, Paul began by identifying the sources of giftedness and strength the community possessed thanks to the gracious and abundant provision of God.
Then, and only then, did he get the to core challenge this community was facing. “Now, I appeal to you” he says. You have these gifts, these sources of strength. Now use them to God’s glory, and trust in the strength already given you to address these vexing and serious problems that threaten your witness, your mission, and even your continued existence as a community in Jesus Christ.
Paul is not shy about naming the core issue they are facing, right off the bat: Factionalism. They have divvied themselves up into little factions based on which leaders they preferred.
You don’t know any Christian communities where that still happens, do you?
Maybe this is not the core challenge to your witness and mission as body of Christ in your setting. There may be other things. Paul was not at all saying this is the only or the worst possible challenge a Christian community could face. Nor was he saying this was the only problem in Corinth. (You will see many more in the following weeks!) Rather, he was identifying it as the core issue that Corinth certainly faced when he was writing to them. Whatever else they may have had to deal with, first of all, they had to remember that they were, by God’s grace and baptism in water and Spirit, made one body in Jesus Christ, not a grouping of political factions who happen to worship and perhaps engage in some forms of missional activity together.
What makes for unity? Is it the entire absence of all conflict? Hardly! Conflict is healthy and a sign of health. We cannot grow and we cannot engage in God’s mission without both encountering and to some degree stimulating conflict. What makes for unity isn’t the absence of conflict.
The problem wasn’t conflict per se. It was factions. End factions, Paul told them. Be done with such things. Rejoice in your diversity, but play on the same team, having the same mind and the same purpose (v. 10), and being informed by the same wisdom, the wisdom of the cross (v. 18), which you will help unpack in worship next Sunday.
Your fellowship is not in factions, or in favored leaders.
Your fellowship, as the body of Christ, is in Christ himself.
In Your Planning Team
Last week you may have included in your worship space signs of the strengths and giftedness present in your congregation and community. Leave those signs in place! This week, add to them signs or symbols of the core challenge or challenges you are facing as a congregation.
A word to the wise. Don’t decide what that core challenge is yourself (pastor!) or as a worship planning team and then impose that decision on the congregation. Do this, and you may be creating factions yourselves!
Instead, all of you start listening widely. Go and ask as many different people in your congregation what you believe your core challenge is. Don’t prime or pre-load the questions! Listen for ways people naturally describe the core challenge or challenges you seem to be facing. Take a few weeks to do this. As you listen, feed back to folks what you think you’re hearing and let them help you name it accurately. Maybe even consider inviting some of them to help you make the signs or images you will add today.
Use this text as an occasion to admit that the challenge you name is real, as well as to confess that the power of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ is more than able to help you move from fear and anxiety to confidence and trust in God and one another—even where you may express sharp disagreements with one another.
You are a spiritual community. You are empowered by the Spirit. You are no less than the body of Christ who is not divided and will not be divided by us except to make us one in him around His table.
If you celebrate Holy Communion today, do so not simply remembering what Christ has done in the past, but the power he gives us now to keep on being his body, united in him, blessed by the Spirit and addressing your actual challenges in community and mission with God.
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Embodying the Word: "Collecting" for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
True Light that has come into the world,
shedding your radiance upon all you have made,
and especially upon the poorest and most oppressed:
Grant us, your disciples,
courage to walk into every darkened corner where the world fears to tread
that we may see your glory in the face of the least of these
and bear witness to them and to the world of your saving love;
through Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Spirit,
with whom we give all glory to you, now and ever. Amen.
Blessed, dear Uniting Love,
who has given us abundant gifts to accomplish your will:
Grant that we, Christ’s body gathering in this place,
may have the courage and humility
to name what besets us,
and the confidence to trust in your power
to help us overcome it
for the sake of your kingdom and our witness;
through Jesus Christ
whose cross saves us all,
and with the Spirit who spurs us on,
we offer our lives, our hopes and our praise to you,
now and ever. Amen.
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- BOW 306 (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians)
- BOW 456 (Isaiah, Matthew)
- BOW 459 (Isaiah, Psalm, 1 Corinthians, Matthew)
- BOW 309 (Matthew)
Prayer of Confession and Pardon
The invitation (UMH 7) should precede the confession and words of pardon should follow it.
- BOW 476 (Isaiah, Matthew)
- BOW 488 (1 Corinthians)
- BOW 492 (1 Corinthians)
UMH 205, "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (Isaiah)
Litany of What We Can Agree To Do (1 Corinthians)
This could be used following the epistle reading, as response to the sermon, or at the rear of the church as the closing action before the sending forth:
On the boundary of assembly and dispersion we,
Christ's priestly people,
face our powerlessness, our divisions, and our vocation.
We can't do everything, but we can love.
We can't speak the final word, but we can love.
We don't quite feel like we belong, but we can love.
When better days are a faint memory, still we can love.
When we don't have the answers, still we can love.
When we can't agree about gay and straight, still we can love.
When we feel awkward and restless, still we can love.
We're frustrated with the constraints of youth and aging, but we can love now.
We let petty irritations trip us up, but we can love.
We choke on our faith songs, but we can love.
We limp in our worship and service, but we can love.
We are embarrassed at how messy our lives are, but we can love.
Here a solo voice initiates the singing of "Ubi Caritas" (TFWS 2179) and gradually the assembly joins in singing it repeatedly in the Taizé style.
Written by Daniel Benedict. Copyright © 2001, 2004 Discipleship Ministries.
Used with permission. Congregations may adapt the litany to fit their context.
Concerns and prayers
- BOW 312, (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians, Matthew)
- BOW 503, For the Church (1 Corinthians)
- BOW 505, For the Church (1 Corinthians)
- The Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden
The Great Thanksgiving
- UMH 13-14, adding appropriate insertions related to the readings and focus of the day
- BOW 78-79
Dismissal with Blessing (Benediction)
- BOW 560 (Psalm)
- UMH 224, stanza 3, "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (Matthew)
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