Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12
Today we’re presented with some of the crown jewels of scripture. “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of those passages from scripture that concentrates so much truth. And the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: a necklace of the finest diamonds. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jewels in scripture’s crown, showing us the way of blessedness.
But why are we so struck by the beauty and power of these passages? Why do they resonate so deeply within us? Why do we choose them above others? The Bible, after all, is a big book, a book of books, a library of many types of writing, a treasure chest of many things. Histories, poetry, hymns and love songs, parables, letters, sage advice, prophecies, legislation, lamentations, curses and maledictions. Tall tales and theological treatises. And, of course, many writers, each with a cultural setting, each with biases and limitations, each advancing an agenda.
The world can be a frightening place to live. Fear is all around us.
Sometimes the fear is personal: Am I wealthy enough, attractive enough, successful enough, clever enough, good enough? Do others admire me, approve of me, speak well of me? Will my project succeed? Will my marriage last? Will my finances hold out? Will my children flourish? Will my health continue?
Sometimes the fear is communal or even global: Will the world withstand this economic crisis? Will global warming lead to environmental disaster? Will nuclear weapons destroy us? Will our craving for wealth and power undo us? Will our cities ever be safe? Will war continue to claim our young men and women? Will China surpass us? Will Al Queda attack us? Will Iran and North Korea be contained? Will peace ever come to the Middle East?
Four times a day when I was at seminary in England we were called to chapel by the sound of a bell. And on that bell were inscribed, in Greek, the words “faithful is he who calls.” (1 Th 5:24) Faithful is he who calls. And our readings today on this second Sunday of Epiphany are all about being called.
In Isaiah we read, “The Lord called me before I was born. While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” Called into being – and named. That is what God has been doing from the beginning of Genesis, where he called the creation into being and then named it. “God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.”
Each one of us were called into being by God – and given a name to show that we have a unique and special vocation. “The Lord called me before I was born. While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” We are not just anybody – not just a number, a statistic.
We are each unique. We are, each of us, as the Psalmist puts it, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139:14)
Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Isaiah 42: 1 – 9; Psalm 29; Acts 10: 34 – 43; Matthew 3: 13 – 17
I don’t know if I actually saw it the first time. I think I did, but I can’t swear to it. It was on my first visit to Jerusalem and the course I was taking at St. George’s College had spent a few days in and around the Old City. We had then departed for Egypt and had been to Cairo and then on to St. Anthony’s Monastery and to St. Catharine’s in the Sinai. We had crossed the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea and had visited Madaba, Petra and Nebo in Jordan. We were finally heading back to Jerusalem and had just passed through the border crossing into the West Bank and were driving over the Allenby Bridge when our course director announced that at that moment we were crossing the Jordon River. Luckily I had a window seat, but even in the moment it took me to turn my head and look out the window, we were over the river and all that could be seen as we drove off was the lush growth of trees, scrub and brush that outlined the river bank. I remember seeing that, but I don’t actually remember seeing any water, much less anything that passed as a river, at least to my mind.