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January 22, 2023
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
By Rev. Paul I. Burrow
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes what had to be a strange reference at the time. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17 NRSV). At the time that Paul is writing, the cross was still very much an instrument of execution. It was only slowly being converted into a symbol of the Way – the followers of Jesus. It would be as if today we referred to the power of the gallows, or the power of the electric chair. However, the situation in Corinth was serious enough that Paul needed to catch their attention.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is calling for unity. The Corinthian church was splintering depending on which pastor or missionary the person preferred. Any pastor who has followed a “beloved” pastor knows this problem. “Well, Pastor so-and-so always did it this way.” Or, perhaps a bit more bluntly – “Boy, I miss Pastor so-and so’s sermons.” And, even this early in his letter, Paul doesn’t avoid the issue. We don’t worship our pastors, we worship God. If we allow splinters depending on which pastor we prefer – and no one is “beloved” by all, not even Jesus was – then we miss the power of Christ’s message. Then, Paul brings his point home – we can be perfectly united when the “message of the cross” is central to who we are and what we believe.
Consider what caused Paul to say this. Things were so bad that Paul was afraid that the power of the cross might be lost. The cross is what unites us as Christians – and Paul does not want that to be lost. That power is still available to us today. But all too often, we purposefully seem to take away power of the cross. That power is not just a nice feeling, it is the power to redeem – the power to save us from our sins.
Not everyone, however, knows about the power of the cross. But, when we turn to our passage from Isaiah, we see the effect that the cross can have on those who are in need of it. This vision was given in the 8th century B.C. Things were gloomy in Israel. Strong enemies were threatening to take over the country. The people were walking in darkness because they had turned their backs on God. Assyria did conquer them. And the people were taken off to an exile into what they had to consider was “a land of deep darkness . . .” (Isaiah 9:2b NRSV). But God gives them the light through a prophet and God restores the people.
Yet, even that didn’t change the people. They continue to go through cycles of rebellion, rebuke from God, repentance, and restoration. At the time of Jesus’ birth, gloom was once again upon Israel. The Roman Empire had conquered their land. The people were again walking in darkness. No prophet had been heard from for hundreds of years. And, then once again, God sent light. This time it is in the form of a child – who would follow in King David’s line. And, Israel was restored this time – not politically – but spiritually. The Gentiles are not punished, but rather brought into the family with the Jews.
And, have we changed so much today? The cycle continues. The world continues to walk in darkness. But, now we have a new power. The power of the cross continuously casts its light into a gloomy world. The power of the cross continues to redeem a lost world. The world needs the power of the cross. Look around you and what do you see? People who have no direction. People who live without a purpose. People who have no hope – no joy in their lives. Into these lives – the power of the cross brings light and hope and joy. People need the power of the cross in their lives today.
When we turn to Matthew, we see Jesus still calling us to follow him – and to accept the power of his cross in our lives still today. The scene is Jesus walking by the lakeside. As he walks, he calls Peter and Andrew, James and John. This isn’t the first time that he has seen them. And it’s not the first time that they’ve seen him. They’ve talked with Jesus before and they’ve listened to what he has to say. But, now there comes to them the challenge. Once and for all throw in with me. Leave behind your old life – and accept the power that will come from the cross.
The same things happens to us today, doesn’t it? We didn’t choose Jesus – he chose us. We can only do God’s will that comes through the power of the cross. We are called to spread our fishing nets broadly, because Christ loves all people – everywhere. We are all made in God’s image. Christ died for all. And all are in need of the power of the cross regardless of the separations or barriers that we would put up to keep some out. All are welcomed by Christ. God does not plead with people. Notice that Jesus gave a simple command. “Follow Me.” It was spoken with authority – it was spoken with power. And the fishermen dropped what they were doing and responded.
God continues to call to us – and through us God continues to call to the whole of creation. The message is the same. “Follow Me.” It is still spoken with authority. It is still spoken with the power of the cross. And, we still must decide whether we will drop what we are doing and respond to our Lord and Savior.
The power of the cross can bring unity in the midst of division. It can bring light in darkness. And, it can reach out to all of humanity. May we respond to the power of the cross in our lives and share it with others. Amen.
Paul Burrow is a retired elder in the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In his retirement, he serves two small churches and enjoys spending time with his granddaughter.
22 enero, 2023
tercer domingo después de la Epifanía
Isaias 9:1-4; Salmos 27; 1 Corintios 1:10-18; Mateo 4:12-23
Por Rvdo. Paul I. Burrow