Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Narrative Lectionary: Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-20 (Psalm 1:1-3)
The Revised Common Lectionary begins with a portion of a passage sometimes read in Advent, last part of the RCL as one of the selections for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In Isaiah 9:1-4, Zebulun and Naphtali refer to the historic lands of those two tribes, first annexed by the kingdom of Aram, and then into Assyria when the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into exile. However, there is hope for them—a new king has been born in Jerusalem, to Judah in the south. The king Hezekiah was a symbol of hope for all the people, that God would break the yoke of oppression and bring liberty, especially to those in exile.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 is a prayer of help that begins with the assurance of God’s faithfulness. The psalmist has one request of God—to dwell in God’s temple, to be in the presence of God their whole life. The psalmist is confident that God will keep them safe. As they face their enemies in the present, they will continue to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and offer praise to God; however, they also continually plead for God’s presence to be made known to them, urging God to not forget them and to save them.
The Epistle reading continues its series in 1 Corinthians with 1:10-18. In last week’s portion of the introduction, Paul gave his usual salutations and hinted at what he would be addressing in his letter. In these verses, Paul addresses the major problem: there are arguments and divisions in the church. Different members are claiming to be followers of different teachers, including Paul, and equating Jesus with one of their teachers. Paul states that they were baptized in the name of Christ, not Paul, and baptized into a united church, not divided. Christ sent Paul not to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and it is the cross that is the symbol of Christ’s salvation. Baptism is the entry point, but the cross is the symbol of God’s salvation—foolish to those outside the faith or who have followed others, but it is the message of God’s power.
The Gospel lesson focuses on the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Matthew. The Revised Common Lectionary skips from Jesus’s baptism to the call of the first disciples, saving the time Jesus spent in the wilderness and his temptations for the season of Lent. In Matthew 4:12-23, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, and the writer of Matthew links the ministry of Jesus with the passage of Isaiah 9. Jesus began his ministry with the sermon, “Repent, for the reign of God has drawn near;” repentance and good news. Jesus then called his first disciples, two sets of brothers who were fisherman, leaving their nets to follow him, including James and John who left their father Zebedee behind in the boat. With these first disciples, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching, announcing the good news of the reign of God, healing sickness and disease. People came to him with their various illnesses and those who were possessed by demons, and the crowds began to follow him.
The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-20 (this will be the reading for the next two weeks in the Revised Common Lectionary as well). After the crowds began to follow him in his ministry in Galilee, they gathered and followed him from several other places, including Jerusalem and beyond the Jordan. They gathered with Jesus on top of a mountain, where he sat down (like rabbis did in those days) and taught them. Jesus shared blessings in verses 3-11 to those who usually did not receive good news: the poor in spirit (Luke just uses poor), those who are grieving, those who are powerless, those who strive for righteousness and justice, those who are kind and compassionate, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. Jesus concludes this section with a blessing for those who experience gossip and slander and persecution against them because they follow Jesus. Their reward, as for all those who has listed, will be great in God’s reign, and their experience is the same as the prophets who came before them. Jesus continues to teach in verses 13-20. Be the salt of the earth—be foundational, needed to others. Be the light of the world so that all people can see what God is doing in your life. Jesus concludes this section by sharing that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. They are to keep and hold the commandments, all of the teachings of the Torah and prophets before them—in essence, the entire Bible that they knew. They needed to be even greater in righteousness than their current teachers. Striving for the reign of God, to live rightly before God, is a way of life.
The supplemental verses are Psalm 1:1-3. The psalmist, in the very first psalm of our collection, begins with a blessing for the ones who love God’s instructions and meditate on God’s commandments. They don’t follow the ways of the wicked or the advice of those who are out there for their own gain. Instead, the wise are those who are rooted in God’s ways, like trees planted by streams of water, who bear fruit, and their leaves are full and vibrant.
The Beginning of the Good News. Where it all started—sharing the Gospel message of “Repent, for the reign of God, the beloved community of God, is at hand! It is here!” We must turn back to God, and we must share the goodness of God with one another. The first disciples heard this message and were compelled to leave their daily lives behind to follow Jesus. Others were compelled because of the Good News that was being lived and experienced: the healings, the inclusion of those who normally would have been cast out, the saving of lives. They began to gather together. Jesus shared good news for the downtrodden and broken-hearted, the oppressed and marginalized, and the people experienced it themselves. I think it’s much easier to preach good news than it is to live it. What would it mean to begin with caring for one another, for the well-being of each other, to bring in those who are normally left out, and to tell them that they belong to God’s beloved community? That they are loved and valued? The healing would be present. The message of repentance would be lived, for people would be turning back to God in their receiving of the invitation. Far too often, we have preached this message while people are suffering right outside our very doors. We have preached it as if someone has to change first. Someone has to do something to earn the right. Instead, Jesus preached the good news right to the people and they wanted to be part of it. The Good News is happening all around us, but is it happening inside the walls of our local churches? Sometimes. What would it take for us to drop our nets, to drop our defenses, to drop our excuses, and follow Jesus. I’m sure some, like Zebedee, would be shocked, but it may be what we need to do.
Call to Worship (can also be used as a regular leader/people litany)
(Right side of the congregation: turn to face the other side): Turn, for the reign of God is at hand!
(Left side: turn to face the others): Turn, and belong to the body of Christ.
(Right side: motion the other side to follow): Come, follow Jesus, and learn God’s ways together.
(Left side: hold hands outward, palms up, in a sign of welcome): We will follow Jesus with you.
(Right side: hold hands over your heart): The kin-dom of God is at hand!
(Left side: wave to the right): We see you and hear you and know you, the body of Christ!
(ALL: clasp your own hands together): We are part of the body of Christ, together.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Everlasting God, we confess our tiredness, our sense of overwhelm, the feeling of being burned out. We confess that this leads us to turn inward and care for ourselves first, while our neighbors in need still cry out. Help us, O God, to find ways of letting go of the worldly ways of our daily life that cause us to be sluggish and invigorate us to care for the most vulnerable. Remind us, O God, of the example of Christ who took time to pray and rest, but went on to feed and heal and proclaim Your Good News. Renew our spirits, O God, to let go of what drags us down in the world we have created, the world of empire, and instead live into Your reign on earth as it is in heaven, the beloved community of Christ Jesus our Lord, in which we are one body of many parts, but all in need of one another. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7, 9)
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Know Christ’s peace is with you, beloved ones of God, and share Christ’s peace with one another and the world in your love and care. Amen.
This is the season, Ancient of Days, in which time can seem to drag on. The holidays are complete, spring is still far off. After an autumn and early winter of preparations and holidays and new beginnings, we are now in that lax time. Protect us, O God, for those of us in winter’s throes, in still dark evenings and mornings missing daylight. Keep our hearts and minds healthy, O God, and help us to seek help when despair overtakes us. May the spirit of Advent, of active watching and waiting, be with us in this season after Epiphany, and in all times when we are waiting for something to come. May we be actively seeking to reveal You to the world, and take notice when You are revealed to us. In You we have all our hope, and we pray in Your name. Amen.