Lectionary Texts for January 20, 2008, Second Sunday after the Epiphany (or Ordinary Time)
2008-01-13 by Jill Crainshaw

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-11, I Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

Preaching stirs multiple feelings in preachers. For some, preaching is a joyous experience. For others, preaching is a terrifying responsibility. On some Sundays, preaching is simultaneously joyous and terrifying. I preached my first sermon in 1987. After 20 years, I am still struck by a sense of awe as I embody the role of preacher on a given Sunday. What if people really are listening to our homiletical offerings? Why should people listen to us? What are we called to preach?

The question is a good one for this Sunday in Ordinary time as we consider the Gospel text, John 1:29-42. I believe God calls preachers to incarnate God’s grace in spoken words. What does it mean homiletically to incarnate God’s grace on Sunday, January 20, 2008? What does it mean, given the appearance of the Bethlehem star on the Epiphany (just last two weeks ago), to proclaim God’s grace?

Consider. Christmas, December 25, is now three weeks past. A new year has dawned. But in the weeks following Christmas Day, including this week, the liturgy wrestles with questions related to the above query. Who is this One whose infant face peered out at us from a cattle stall? Why was the Christmas event world-changing? What gives this particular birth story life-transforming allure?

Liturgical celebrations of the Epiphany of the Lord (January 6) invited worshippers to journey with the Magi to seek out responses to these questions. Last Sunday’s liturgy went with Matthew to the Jordan, to wilderness’s edge, to witness Jesus’ baptism. In a few weeks, worshippers will encounter the mysteries of a mountain-top transfiguration. Each of these Ordinary time (or Sundays after Epiphany) Gospel texts invites us to consider the identity of the One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas day.  Each text challenges us to explore again the deepest meanings of God’s grace-with-us.

One way John 1:29-42 invites the preacher into these deep meanings is through the repeated use of the word meno.  Meno, a verb, appears five times in 1:29-42. Paul Nuechterlein, a Lutheran pastor and scholar, helpfully explores this characteristic of John’s Gospel in his “Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary” (http://girardianlectionary.net/). What is the English translation of meno? Several words are appropriate, including abide, stay, remain, or dwell. Consider how meno is used in John 1:32:

            32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it  remained on him.  33I 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.’

The Spirit comes to “remain on” Jesus, or perhaps to abide in him or even dwell in or with him. Later in the text, those following Jesus ask him: “Where are you staying” (vs. 38). Nuechterlein again helpfully points to the connected uses of meno in these two portions of the periscope. The language of abiding or dwelling must hold some importance for our homiletical unpacking of John 1:29-42.

We return at this point to our earlier question. What does it mean, given the appearance of the Bethlehem star on Epiphany and in light of John 1:29-42, for the preacher homiletically to incarnate God’s grace on January 20, 2008? Several questions may spark the homiletical imagination. A recent teaching experience in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina stirred illustrative questions for me. Some North Carolina “mountain folk” dwell in farmhouses that have been in their families for generations. One woman I met abides in a house made wheelchair accessible for her by a local church. A number of wealthy vacation-only dwellers have constructed elaborate abodes atop high mountain ridges. Land for these “staying places” can cost more than $100,000 per lot. Thus, a homiletical question for this Sunday in Ordinary time emerges. Where does God dwell today?  How does the Christmas event shape anew each liturgical year our understanding of God’s abiding place? How does God dwell in us, in our communities and world?  How does the meaning of Emmanuel, “God-dwelling-with-us,” challenge our understanding of human dwelling in contemporary society?

John 1:29-42 provides an opportunity for preachers to explore these questions, questions that could cause us to turn our homiletical eyes toward issues such as homelessness or even environmental concerns. But even as it brings forward these questions and concerns, the text also hints that Jesus has no permanent earthly abode. To “abide” with Jesus is to follow him to places we may not yet have journeyed. Conversely, to abide with Jesus may mean to immerse ourselves more deeply in the dwelling places in which we find ourselves. To ourselves become dwelling places for God’s Spirit may demand of us an emptiness we have not yet experienced. To abide with and in God may mean respecting the fragility and temporariness of earthly life even as we work to incarnate justice-imbued ways of living life on this earth.

The theme of God dwelling with humanity is powerfully present in much of John’s Gospel. In John, God’s “in the beginning” Word liturgically proclaimed at Christmas becomes God-dwelling-among-us in the human person of Jesus (John 1:1-5). What, given this powerful image of incarnation, are we to preach? Perhaps we are to preach that God calls all people to be dwelling places for God’s Spirit. Perhaps we are to preach that God calls all people to incarnate God’s Word of grace. To our queries about just what this means, John 1:29-42, not unlike the Bethlehem star of a week ago, leaves us with a challenging call: “Come and see.” Such a call will undoubtedly “preach.”

2008-01-13 by Jill Crainshaw







This Week!
2008-01-13 by David Howell

Jill Crainshaw is our guest blogger. She is an Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at the Wake Forest University Divinity School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Dr. Crainshaw has served congregations as pastor and interim pastor. Crainshaw is the author of Wise and Discerning Hearts: An Introduction to a Wisdom Liturgical Theology (Liturgical Press, 2000). Her most recent book, Keep the Call: Leading the Congregation without Losing Your Soul is available from Abingdon Press.

Thanks to David von Schlichten for posting his sermon for Baptism of Our Lord in the Sermon Feedback Cafe. And thanks to those giving Pastor George feedback about his Lent dilemma in the Parish Solution Forum (the historical Jesus in the Forum?). Go to Homepage and Share It!

I fixed some great salmon this weekend. Go to Divine Cuisine in Share It! I would like to see your salmon recipes. Click Submit Your Own.

the water's fine
2008-01-09 by Tom Steagald

I am thinking about the movie Romero, about the Central American bishop who was martyred. According to Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra  (Practicing our Faith, pp. 14ff), Romero came to realize that the gospel had economic consequences, that Jesus was forming a new community quite at odds with El Salvador's centuries-old habit of special favor for the wealthy over against the poor. This awareness is given painful expression in the film when, in the movie, Romero's own god-daughter wants to arrange a private baptism for her daughter and is appalled at the notion that she should either stand with the peasants before the font or that her baby should be washed by the same water as the peasants' children.

This leads me back to the Jordan--

It is an amazing thing when Jesus comes to the Jordan to stand with repentant Israel. He takes his place there, gets in the same water with them, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with sinners whom God would form into a new community.

Jesus gets in the water with us; which begs the question: will we get into the same water as Jesus.

Humility and Baptisim
2008-01-08 by Paul Wilson

Question submitted to Paul Wilson:


While I liked your comments, I keep coming back to the physical state when one is baptized and that is one of humility and vulnerability.  Matthew's Jesus humbles himself and makes himself vulnerable to show how to embody the 

righteousness of God? Verdad? 


Response from Paul Wilson: 


You are right, of course. In spite of the difference in the two baptisms, humility and vulnerability are needed for both. In fact, it is Christ's vulnerability on the cross that makes our vulnerability in baptism possible: for us in faith we know that death and its powers are overcome. 


I love the Isaiah text this week that speaks of the gentle nature of Christ's coming to us, never insisting on his own way: "a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice." (42:3)


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