Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Narrative Lectionary: Tempted in the Wilderness, Matthew 4:1-17 (Psalm 91:9-12)
For the second week in a row, the Revised Common Lectionary begins with one of the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah. In 49:1-7, once again God declares that the people of Israel, personified as the Suffering Servant, are to be a light to all nations. Through God’s people, God’s faithfulness is made known, and though other nations have despised God, their leaders shall prostrate themselves and worship because of what God has done for Israel. God has known the people from before they were a nation, before they came to be. Though the servant did not want to follow God’s call, they now serve God fully, calling even their own people back to worship.
Psalm 40:1-11 is a song of praise to God for God’s faithfulness. The psalmist sings of their trust and hope in God, who has delivered them in the past and will faithfully deliver them from danger again. The psalmist sings to others, with the hope that those who hear and see will also proclaim their faithfulness and trust in God. In verses 5-11, the psalmist shares their own personal praise to God who has done so much for them, and they desire to do God’s will and to declare God’s love and faithfulness to all who will hear.
The Epistle readings begin a series in 1 Corinthians for this season after Epiphany, with the introduction in verses 1-9. Paul addresses the church in Corinth along with Sosthenes (who may have written the letter for Paul) and begins much like other Pauline letters, with grace and thanksgiving to Jesus Christ, bringing grace and peace to the ones he is addressing. Paul speaks of how the Corinthians have been enriched by the knowledge of Jesus Christ in their lives and the testimony of Christ, so that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift—a foreshadowing of what much of Paul’s letter will be about. Paul also blesses them by asking Christ’s strength to be with them so they may be “blameless” before Christ—another foreshadowing that Paul is going to levy some heavy accusations against the church for its behavior. It is by God’s faithfulness that they were called into fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ—a fellowship that is fracturing as Paul writes to them. Though Paul has a lot to be angry about with this congregation, he still begins with grace and peace, knowing that Christ is present with them.
The Gospel lesson turns to John 1:29-42, John’s account of John the Baptist. In the Gospel According to John, Jesus’s baptism is not told from a third person point of view, but rather John the Baptizer tells his own experience of baptizing Jesus, the one he calls “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In John’s account, John the Baptizer didn’t know who Jesus was until the moment the Holy Spirit tells him, and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove. John’s own disciples turn to follow Jesus, and one of them was Andrew, who then told his brother, Simon, that they had found the Messiah. Jesus looked at Simon and told him he would be called Peter, a name meaning “rock.”
The Narrative Lectionary turns to Matthew’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness in 4:1-17 and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee.. While told in all three synoptic gospels, Mark does not contain any details of the temptations. Luke and Matthew share very similar accounts, but the last two temptations are reversed. In Matthew’s account, the last temptation is that Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, if he would bow down and worship the devil. Jesus, having quoted Scripture each time, tells Satan to go away, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, that one should worship the Lord their God, and serve only God. At this point, the devil leaves, and angels take care of Jesus in the wilderness. God cares for us and provides for us—the world’s ways of power and wealth and privilege are idols, tempting us away from God. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he learns that John the Baptizer has been imprisoned. Jesus went to Galilee to proclaim his first sermon: Repent, for the reign of God has come near. The writer of Matthew links this to the good news the prophet Isaiah proclaimed in Isaiah 9:1-2, a passage often viewed as a messianic prophecy. However, in First Isaiah’s time, around 750 years prior to Jesus, this was good news of a new king born in Judah who would bring hope to the northern tribes captured by Assyria.
The supplementary verses are Psalm 91:9-12, which Satan quotes in the second temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:5-6. The context of Psalm 91 is about trusting in God who will protect and deliver the faithful. A good lesson about not taking scripture out of context. Jesus knows the psalm and that it is about trusting in God, not putting God to the test.
Both the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary focus on the beginning of Jesus’s ministry following his baptism. Jesus is prepared and ready to call the first disciples. Jesus is prepared to proclaim that the reign of God is near, for people to repent and believe in the Good News. As we settle into this new year, what is God preparing us for? Are you prepared to listen to God’s voice, God’s call on your life? Are you prepared to be surprised, and perhaps like Andrew and Simon, to do something new and different than what you expected? Like John the Baptizer, are you ready for what the Holy Spirit might do in your life? Like the people of Galilee, are you ready to hear the Gospel?
Call to Worship (from John 1:14, 18)
The Word became Flesh and lived among us,
And we have experienced the glory of God.
The glory of God’s only Son,
Full of grace and truth.
For it is through the Christ, close to the Creator’s heart,
Who has made God known to us.
We worship God, in whose image we are made,
And who has been made known to us through Jesus Christ.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession)
Almighty Creator, we confess that we like predictability, regularity, and routine. At times, we struggle with new insights, ideas, even hopes that things could be different. We are challenged to believe the reign of God is at hand, right now. We are timid when Your bold declaration of the Gospel challenges us to repent and believe. Grant us courage, and give us strength, to follow where You are leading us, by the Holy Spirit. Guide us into Your ways of love, justice, and mercy, to become living hope for those we encounter, to dare to believe that You love each one of us as we are and that we can become who You intended us to be, all of us, the children of God. We pray that things will be shaken up and that we can roll with the transformation You intend for us. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Lamentations 3:21-23)
“But this I call to mind, and therefore, I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” While everything else is constantly in flux, changing at a rapid pace, God’s steadfast love endures forever. God loves you more than you can possibly imagine or comprehend. Fill yourself with that knowledge and go out and love one another. It’s as simple as that, to begin to change the world: love one another. Amen.
In the deepness of winter, O God, remind us that the bleakness will not hold. Spring is not a myth or false hope, but it is the endurance of faith, year after year, that deep in the frozen ground seeds will soon flourish, bulbs are ready to produce. In the high days of summer, O God, remind us to cherish each moment of warmth in the beauty of Your creation. We know that the constant of our tilted planet is for seasons to always change, to always bring us something new, whether challenges or blessings, hopes or trials. You are with us, Your love enduring with us, and You will see us through. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.