Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, ‘You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’
But I said, ‘I have laboured in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.’
And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
‘Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’
1 I waited patiently for the Lord; •
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He brought me out of the roaring pit,
out of the mire and clay; •
he set my feet upon a rock and made my footing sure.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; •
many shall see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, •
who does not turn to the proud that follow a lie.
5 Great are the wonders you have done, O Lord my God.
How great your designs for us! •
There is none that can be compared with you.
6 If I were to proclaim them and tell of them •
they would be more than I am able to express.
7 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire •
but my ears you have opened;
8 Burnt offering and sacrifice for sin you have not required; •
then said I: ‘Lo, I come.
9 ‘In the scroll of the book it is written of me
that I should do your will, O my God; •
I delight to do it: your law is within my heart.’
10 I have declared your righteousness in the great congregation; •
behold, I did not restrain my lips,
and that, O Lord, you know.
11 Your righteousness I have not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; •
I have not concealed your loving-kindness and truth
from the great congregation.
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:1–9
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
Sermon on Second Sunday of Epiphany
How many of our letters have begun like this one of Paul’s to the Corinthians? – “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”
Normally, however, our letters are not fulsome praises of God, are they? We might write to give thanks for the present we received at Christmass or our own birthdays. We extol the virtues of our correspondent because he or she has sent us money. I don’t think we have ever written to someone, just for being who they are. However, I hope I am wrong. Well, let’s say that I have never written a letter like this one of Paul’s.
What does that say about us and how we live? What does it say about the language we use to speak with one another?
These questions arise because I have been reading a novel by Umberto Eco over the Christmass period called Numero Zero. It is the story of the starting-up of a newspaper in Milan. It is all complete fiction, of course. Yet it raises a great many problems for the interpreters among us, questions that all biblical scholars have addressed in their time.
The main character is called upon for his interpretation of phrases and how articles are presented. One of the matters discussed is where something appears, and in what order items are placed on the page. This is the literary criticism of the newspaper – a look at the broad strokes of the publication. By placing items next to one another, the publisher is making an implicit judgement about their congruence – that they could be dealing with the same substantial matter and so they should be read together – even if the treatment of the subject is diametrically opposed, even if they have no connection with one another except the use of a key word in the piece.
Implications, that is the thing which comes through the whole of the book. Implications are made by propinquity, where stories are placed. If they are next to one another then they are linked somehow in the editor’s mind.
Then there are the implications of individual and particular words. For instance, when we use a verb, do we use it actively or passively? In other words, I am asking, what is the implication of the verb’s voice?
Do we say “He made his decision”? or “His decision was made”? The former implies that the subject is in control of his actions, the latter that he is in the hands of something else. This is a general case of the use of language, but it points to the subtle influences which a piece of writing displays. Take another example, the sentence, “I am speaking” has a completely different implication to “I speak.”
Such subtlety applies in all areas of communication. So let us turn back to our own letters again. The question remains – Have you ever written a letter like Paul has, giving thanks for the fact that the recipient is the way he or she essentially is – in other words, for no other reason than that person can receive your letter?
I suppose you have if you have ever written to the love of your life. Don’t we always thank God for the subject of our love, the object of our passion? Our letters as young lovers will show this, won’t they?
Let’s look at his next sentence, at the wonder Paul expresses to his audience as he addresses them.
In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind –
Does the audience of our own letters ever commend such praise? We ourselves would never speak about someone else’s faith, would we? But what of your beloved? Does your wife or husband command such expression of delight?
I know that my wife has an enriched life, “enriched in speech and knowledge of every kind.” Her intelligence is, as she would say of herself, “something natural,” and I would have to say that when one is christian, nothing is more natural than pure speech and extraordinary understanding. There is a whole topic in theology which speaks of a natural religion, a religion that arises without revelation because Christ is all and in all. Paul goes on to confirm this thought here, doesn’t he?
just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you
As we talk with one another surely the object of this natural religion expresses itself as the witness to the Christ. Our blessings can be counted. As we speak about profound things, they affect the everyday matters of our lives. We have strength of character at the very least – that moral fibre necessary to stand in the faith through the changing times and seasons of our lives.
you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ
We lack nothing in the spiritual life because we wait for the coming of the Lord. Paul is certain of this, isn’t he? It is a theme which is to be found in all his letters, but especially in this one, where he extols the virtue of love.
All these spiritual gifts culminate in love – in fact, I would say, our whole spiritual life culminates in love. When we turn toward the spiritual aspect of life, we turn to the font of all emotion and reason – and I would call that source love. When we love we transform everything, and we come to express ourselves as Paul does. Our correspondents come to be extolled as paragons of virtue, and we might even speak of their faith and inner strength. We might do this for everyone, not just our one true love. When we love truly, madly, deeply, everyone becomes a marvel. We should be so very happy that that has happened in our lives and so write or talk to them without constraint. We should praise them for their qualities, because we see them clearly.
All of this because I received this letter from Paul.