Craft of Preaching

Theology and Interpretation

Working with texts and placing them within a theological framework.

Illumination, Revelation, Transformation

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Since Lent does not begin until March 2019, the season of Epiphany that begins on January 6 is one of the longest possible in the liturgical year, stretching throughout the months of January and February. This long winter hiatus between the holiday seasons offers an excellent moment to reflect on such themes of Epiphany in relation to the earth as illumination, revelation, transformation.

These forces, dynamic as they are in nature, tend to be resisted by human inertia. And yet they can change people willing to accept their power. This column offers an overview of central ecological themes for each week of Epiphany. The progression moves in a logical sequence, beginning with creation’s celestial light on Epiphany itself, to the fundamental elements of water and fire and then God’s gracious gifts, likewise visible in the creation story of Genesis 1, of diversity and relationality, which shine through both in nature overall and in human society.

The weeks that follow commend a human response: first in pointing out the dynamic correlation of God’s word in nature and Scripture, calling for human faithfulness in response. The next several weeks’ readings emphasize the gift of courage, the divine grace extended to and through the lowly, reassurances to humans that are articulated by the natural world’s processes, and finally, the call to human faithfulness that unlocks prosperity through the natural world.

Thus the eight Sundays of January and February 2019 offer a sequence reaching from the first day of creation to God’s blessing of creation and calling all, including humans, to be fruitful, multiply, and prosper in coherent faithfulness with one another. The complication of human greed and violence will of course emerge in the Lenten texts that follow in March and April. But these first two months following the miracle of Christmas allow congregations to pause and reflect on the harmonious world the Scriptures envision, a world still possible for humans to help create.

January 6, 2019 – Day of Epiphany

Today’s passages all reflect on creation’s light.

  • Isaiah 60:1-6 recalls the first day of creation, when with one command God made light shine in darkness.
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 sets a nation’s prosperity within the larger sphere of ecological providence, pointing toward mountains, sunlight, and rainfall.
  • Ephesians 3:1-12 attributes the mystery unveiled in Christ to the plan of the creator of all.
  • Matthew 2:1-2 tells of the light guiding the magi to the infant Christ.

January 13, 2019 - Baptism of the Lord

Today’s passages draw attention to two powerful forces of creation, flood and fire, gifts beyond human control, sacramentalized as the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit’s fire.

  • Isaiah 43:1-7 pledges that the redeeming God will transform flood and fire from threats into testing, cleansing agents of new life.
  • Psalm 29 reinforces both the power of flood and fire and their subjection to the divine voice, thundering over the waters.
  • Acts 8:14-17 moves the boundaries of water and fire beyond Judah into Samaria.
  • Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 describes John’s water baptism and announcement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

January 20, 2019

Today’s texts congregate around God’s gracious gifts that reflect the world’s diversity and relationality.

  • Isaiah 62:1-5 announces God’s reunion with Jerusalem, whose vindication shines like dawn.
  • Psalm 36:5-10 shouts that God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens, and that God saves humans and animals alike.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 lists the diversity of human talents, reflecting the teeming diversity of creation.
  • John 2:1-11 recounts the egregious gift of water turned into wine to celebrate a marriage.

January 27, 2019

Through Psalm and Gospel, today’s passages recall the insistent correlation between God’s word through nature’s acts and God’s words in scripture.

  • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 relates Ezra’s reading of the Torah before the Water Gate.
  • Psalm 19 parallels the wordless natural theology reflected in creation to the sweetness of the written Torah.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a uses the image of the body and its parts to remind readers that there is no incidental member—a message as applicable to the web of all creation as it is to human society.
  • Luke 4:14-21 relates Jesus’ own interpretation of his ministry as one of healing for those most forgotten.

February 3, 2019

This Sunday’s passages commend courage.

  • Jeremiah 1:4-10 recounts God’s call to the prophet: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you….”
  • Psalm 71:1-6 requests protection from injustice, since “upon you I have leaned from my birth.”
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 commends love as the motivating force behind words and deeds.
  • Luke 4:21-30 recounts Jesus’ bold sermon in Nazareth. Reviewing times of drought and disease, it highlights God’s justice toward foreigners.

February 10, 2019

Today’s passages highlight the extraordinary grace of God available to and through the lowly.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13) describes Isaiah’s eagerness to witness to an earth filled with God’s glory, and a people of “unclean lips,” blind to this very glory.
  • Psalm 138 celebrates God’s regard for the lowly.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 humbly summarizes Paul’s message.
  • Luke 5:1-11 witnesses to God’s power to give food to ordinary people.

February 17, 2019

Today’s passages draw from the natural world to reassure the faithful.

  • Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Psalm 1 both compare the faithful to trees planted by streams of water.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 continues from last week, offering assurances concerning death.
  • Luke 6:17-26, “the sermon on the plain,” reassures the faithful lowly of God’s provision.

February 24, 2019

This Sunday’s verses continue the theme of faithfulness that makes room for prosperity in the land.

  • Genesis 45:3-11, 15 assures Jacob’s family of provision during famine.
  • Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 counsels that those who “trust in the Lord, and do good” will prosper in the land.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 uses the example of seed sown to describe the miracle of new life following death.
  • Luke 6:27-38 commends mercy and generous love even of one’s enemies.
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