Epiphany 3A: Reframing


reframingOLD TESTAMENT:  Isaiah 9: 1-4

Read the passage from Isaiah

This week’s Old Testament passage contains some of the best known lines in the Bible—“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”, “You have increased in joy.”, and (just beyond where we read)…”For a child has been born for us….Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…”  It  is part of the final unit of sort of a cluster of writings that began with chapter 6 that deal with events taken to have happened during and immediately following the Syro-Ephraimitic War of c. 734 BCE.

When you read this poem, it is rich in graphic images that depict hope in the midst of despair—darkness and light, or death and life, harkening back to the Creation story.  “For God said “Let there be light.” And there was light.”  There was life as God spoke it into being.  There is a scene of celebration as people shout and sing to this God, as if were the thanksgiving festival at the end of a good harvest or the great joy when a war has ended and a time of peace has begun.

In the eighth century, these words were uttered about the birth of a specific king in Judah, subsequently applied to other kings, and even later to the Christian understanding of the expected Messiah.  The central message of the text is that newness and celebration are a sign of hope, grounds for confidence in God’s future.  In the prophet’s view, God’s will for justice, righteousness, and peace is made flesh here on this earth.

For the Hebrew hearing these words of the prophet, there is much more of a stark contrast between “what was” and “what will be”, between the “former time” and the future.  They had been through years of despair and even desolation and now the promise of something new is being presented.  In essence, it is a complete reversal.


  1. What does this passage mean for you?
  2. What perhaps stands in our own way of sensing the importance of that contrast?
  3. We talk a lot about hope.  What does that really mean to you?



NEW TESTAMENT:  1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

Read the passage from 1 Corinthians

Last week we look at the opening of this letter to the Corinthian church.  This week, the passage continues as Paul begins to appeal directly to the church.  This passage is at the beginning of the more than three chapters that Paul uses to set the context of the whole letter.  Once again, Paul begs them to be united, to get rid of the divisions that have arisen between them, primarily over definitions of what is “right and wrong”, “righteous and unrighteous”, “moral and immoral”.  Like the passage by the prophet Isaiah, Paul wants his readers to reframe their lives and see something in a different way.

First of all, note the terms “brothers and sisters”.  Paul clearly assumes that women are included and that they are part of the common ground claimed in Christ.  Divisiveness is unthinkable to Paul for those who profess to be “in Christ”.  Essentially, he is warning them not to let the “ways of the world” influence who they are.  This passage prompts the question of “To whom do you belong?”  Paul is warning against those competing allegiances.  Paul even goes so far as to knock down the assumption that one is better than the next because of who may have baptized them.  It is another affirmation of our baptism, not as a human thing, but as God’s gift of bringing us into oneness with Christ.

For Paul, reconciliation with God must mean reconciliation and unity with others.  Paul saw no room for certain loyalties or factions.  He actually saw it as a misuse of the power that God offers.  For Paul, this unity would have been described as “perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Essentially, Paul is making the claim that the church needs to get itself together if it is going to get on with its mission of spreading the power of God in Christ.


  1. What does this passage mean for you?
  2. How does it speak today to our divisiveness?
  3. What do you think the message would be for our own society, for our own church, or for the broader church?
  4. Do you think that there is a possibility of unity in today’s world?
  5. What definition of “power” do you think Paul would give?



GOSPEL:  Matthew 4: 12-23

Read the passage from The Gospel According to Matthew

Last week, we read the “prelude” to Jesus’ ministry.  This week, it begins.  The writer of this Gospel does not date the beginning in terms of the calendar but, rather, in terms of events in salvation history.  There is no real indication as to how much time has passed.  Keep in mind that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel is probably of Jewish descent and well-versed in Jewish Torah readings as well as the prophets.  It was important to him to confirm Jesus’ valid ministry in the terms in which he had been taught.  The writer makes the proclamation of the kingdom of God (which was very important in this Gospel) as the common denominator between Jesus’ ministry and that of the church.

In the first verse, this word “withdrew” is not meant to imply cowardice or self-preservation but a representation of Jesus’ alternate vision of kingship, which is non-violent and non-retaliatory.  Once again, the world is being “reframed”.  Along those lines, the use of the word “repent” here means “turning around”, in other words reframing and reworking one’s life.  The call of the first disciples (according to the writer of The Gospel According to Matthew) is the beginning of the messianic community, the beginning of the church.  This is not meant to be a special call to apostleship but a representation of the way every believer is called to Christ.

Note that these fishermen were already doing what they were called to do, they were already acting upon their gifts for this vocation.  The address “Follow me”, then, is not to fill a vacuum in their lives, but is intrusive and disruptive, calling them away from their lives, their work, and their family.  True discipleship is not just following God; it is changing our lives.

Once again, there is a statement made here about dominant values in our lives.  (“To whom do we belong.”)  There is also once again a statement made about reframing our lives.  But Jesus’ call to each of us begins with what we know.  “Follow me, you fishing people, and I will make you fish for people!”  God starts where we already are.

And notice that these fishermen were not especially gifted people.  In the first century around this lake called Galilee, Simon and Andrew were pretty ordinary.  But Jesus asked them to follow anyway.  And they went.  In fact, the text says they went immediately.  They didn’t wait until they had enough money or enough time or enough talent.  They just went.  And Jesus did not stop himself by assuming that they were too poor or too busy or just too locked into their family business.  He just asked.  And by asking them, he brought significance into their life.  By asking them, he empowered them for ministry.  You see, it’s important to ask and it means something to be asked.

These brothers were instead asked to take on the work of discipleship and they ended up with a life that neither of them could have foreseen.  Simon would become Peter, the “rock”, one of Jesus’ apostles and ultimately would be made a saint in the tradition of the church.  But he needed to be asked.

In this season between Christmastide and Lent, this ordinary time, we are reading accounts of callings and responses.  It’s not because we lack some big incarnation or resurrection to carry us through the season.  It is rather because it is in our ordinary lives that God finds us and asks us to join in the work.  It is in our busyness and our day-to-day struggles that God enters our lives and compels us to put down our nets if only long enough to look up and see the shore.  And it is when we are fully convinced that we are not gifted enough or rich enough or young enough or just enough that God shows us how to be someone new.  God has asked you to follow.  What is your response?

In a sermon on this same text, Richard Zajac tells the story of a young boy who goes into a restaurant with his mother and his grandmother and sits down to order.  The waitress took the grandmother’s order, then the mother’s order, and then she turned to the little boy and asked: “What would you like?” The mother immediately said: “Oh, I will order for him.” The waitress, without being overly rude, ignored the mother and again asked the little boy: “What would you like?” The mother once again spoke up: “I will order for him!” The waitress ignored her yet again and asked the little boy one more time: “What would you like?” “I would like a hamburger!” he stammered. “How would you like your hamburger?” asked the waitress. “Would you like it with onion, mustard, and the works?” His mouth now open in amazement, the boy said: “Yes, I would like the works!” The waitress went over to the window and she howled the grandmother’s order, then the mother’s order, and then in a loud voice she said: “And a hamburger with the works!” The little boy turned to his mother in utter astonishment and said: “Gee, Mommy! She thinks I am real!” That waitress, by asking the little boy what he wanted, provided him with status. The asking gave him recognition; it gave him a feeling of importance that he had never had before. (From “Asking”, a sermon by Richard E. Zajac in the books, Life Injections II:  Further Connections of Scripture To the Human Experience, available at http://www.sermonsuite.com/content.php?i=788029029&key=t8lpon8elTIzrnex, accessed 18 January, 2011.)

It is, after all, that great light that we were always promised!  Those who have been walking in darkness, unable to see, have finally begun to see the dawn.


  1. What does this passage mean for you?
  2. What does it say to us about our own loyalties?
  3. We’ve talked a lot about “reframing” today. What does that mean in the context of our own lives?
  4. So what gets in the way of our discipleship?
  5. What gets in the way of our inviting others to discipleship?




Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

There are two ways of spreading light—to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. (Edith Wharton)

We are already one.  But we imagine that we are not.  And what we have to recover is our original unity.  What we have to be is what we are.  (Thomas Merton)

Give yourself fully to God.  [God] will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in [God’s] love than in your own weakness.  (Mother Teresa)





You are the god who makes extravagant promises.  We relish your great promises of fidelity and presence and solidarity, and we exude in them.  Only to find out, always too late, that your promise always comes in the midst of a hard, deep call to obedience.  You are the God who calls people like us, and the long list of mothers and fathers before us, who trusted the promise enough to keep the call.  So we give you thanks that you are a calling God, who calls always to dangerous new places.  We pray enough of your grace and mercy among us that we may be among those who believe your promises enough to respond to your call.  We pray in the one who embodied your promise and enacted your call, even Jesus.  Amen.  ((“A Hard, Deep Call to Obedience”, from Searcy’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, p. 90)


Epiphany 3B: Becoming Who You Are

Image of ChristOLD TESTAMENT: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

The book of Jonah is a strange story told in just forty-eight verses. There is little documentation as to who wrote it, under what circumstances, when it was written, and, for some, even why it was written. The story is of a fictitious character named Jonah, perhaps named and derived from the prophet Jonah, son of Amittai. But the folkloric and almost comedic tone of the story suggests that it may come from an independent tradition of the telling of miraculous tales. No one really knows, though, what genre or story-type would have sparked this book.

Leading up to our reading, the story is told of Jonah, who is a pretty well-known prophet as Old Testament prophets go not, probably, because of what he did or what he said but because of what lore says happened to him. Because, you see, Jonah was not the most willing of prophets. When God told him to go to Ninevah, Jonah didn’t question or hesitantly stammer out the list of weaknesses that made him unlikely for this mission. No, Jonah ran away! He went and found a ship and tried to sail away from God. And then, in the midst of a fierce and terrifying storm, Jonah fell asleep. So believing that he may have with his actions brought this calamity upon others, Jonah volunteered to be thrown into the sea. Well, you remember the rest of the well-known story: Jonah was swallowed by a fish, he prayed and prayed and remembered his God who had done so much in his life, and then the fish regurgitated him onto the beach. You know…apparently being a prophet is sometimes messy business!

Actually the “messy” part of this story is that Jonah’s acts not only got himself into trouble, but also endangered others. It’s a hard lesson. We are not lone rangers in this world. What we do, what we choose to do, and sometimes when we try desperately to save ourselves from change, we endanger others.

So the next time the Lord spoke to Jonah, calling him to go to Ninevah and tell them to change, Jonah obliged. He probably wasn’t that happy about it but, after all, once you’ve been thrown up by a fish, you pretty much listen. So he went to the people of Ninevah. Now Ninevah was a major city—lots of commerce and wealth. They pretty much had it all figured out. But somewhere deep inside of them, something was missing. There was still poverty; there was still inequality; and there was still the sense that this was not all there was. So they listened to Jonah. More importantly, they heard Jonah. After all, they were headed for destruction. So they vowed to change, donning sackcloth and fasting and begging God for forgiveness. When God saw that they really got it, that they really intended to change, God saved them from themselves.

In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Father Mapple, the preacher at the Whaleman’s Chapel in New Bedford, names “willful disobedience” as Jonah’s sin. He observes that God more often commands than seeks to persuade because what the deity wants of us is too hard for us. “And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.” (From The New Interpreter’s Bible, p. 501) While that may sound a bit harsh to our grace-filled 21st century ears, I think there is some truth to it. Sometimes God must do something a little rash to get our attention, to jolt us out of our complacency, to, in effect, will us to “disobey” ourselves, to change pathways from the one on which we travel, and follow where God leads.

Truthfully, though, the whole story is sort of a caricature. I think those who desperately cling to literalism would struggle a bit with this story. A big fish? Really? And an entire city on the brink of hell suddenly repent? Really? Maybe we CAN just chalk it up to grace. You know, amazing things happen on this journey of faith, things that we do not expect, things that we do not plan, things that make no sense. Divine mercy and compassion always win. Maybe that’s the moral of the story. And, when it’s all said and done, when we just can’t seem to make it work, just can’t seem to get on the road, God lovingly chases us down and walks with us to the right place. In Feasting On the Word, Donna Schaper reminds us of the old Jewish proverb that reads: “Whenever someone says, “I have a plan,” God laughs.”

And when it’s all said and done, Jonah really doesn’t change all that much. I don’t think Jonah is in line for sainthood any time soon. He’s like most of us. Maybe that’s the point too. God calls us all. And if we mess it up or just flat run away, God always gives us another shot. And even those of us who do everything we can to avoid where God is trying to take us can end up saving a city (if we don’t get swallowed up first!)


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What message does it provide for you?
  3. How would you respond to Melville’s notion of “willful disobedience”?
  4. What parallels for our time do you see?
  5. What is our Ninevah?
  6. Do you think there is a prophetic word of God in play today?
  7. What does this say about our own calling from God?



NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

For Paul, there was a sense of urgency here. He believed, it seems, that the “end of time” as we know it was coming quickly. Paul assumes here that although individuals are called by God, they also make choices for which they are responsible. Here, Paul is warning against being entrapped by the world’s values and not paying attention to what was coming. Paul urged his readers to remain unchanged even in the midst of a changing world. For him, believers need to keep a “long view”, without letting the world drag them down or away. Paul did not think that the world was objectionable or irrelevant but, rather, not the focus of where we should be living. For Paul, the new Creation is beginning to break in and we should be living “as if” it has already happened.

Well, on the surface, it seems that this Scripture was proved wrong. After all, here we sit nearly 2,000 years later, world essentially intact. And yet, it’s not wrong. We have been promised that there is something up ahead. Our faith tells us that at some point the Kingdom of God will come in all of its fullness and, in effect, I guess, “swallow up” (pun intended!) the world as we know it. Paul is not like those few in our current day that attempt to pin point the exact time when this will all happen. Paul just wanted to believe that it was coming AND that it was happening as we speak. It’s a message of transformation. It’s a call to live into it, to live as if the Kingdom of God has come. It’s not a threat; it’s a promise—and an incredible one at that! The Kingdom of God will come in God’s time and at the appropriate time. And whether or not it happens on your way home, tomorrow, or 3,000,000 years from now, it really is imminent. It’s the stuff that our faith is about.

The point is that we are called to live eschatologically, into the future coming of God’s Kingdom. And knowing the certainty and the imminence of, we are called not to remove ourselves from this world but to align its being with what we know is coming. We are called to live “as if” it has already happened.


“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].” (Thomas Paine, “The Crisis”, written December 23, 1776.)


America, In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.


Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.


This is the price and the promise of citizenship.


This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.


President Barack Obama

Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How do you think this relates to our lives today?
  3. What would that mean to you to “live as if”?



GOSPEL: Mark 1: 14-20

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

Jesus’ first disciples are fishermen from Capernaum, a settlement that stretched along the lakefront. He calls two pairs of brothers—Peter and Andrew and James and John. The story is written in the familiar “call” formula used throughout the Scriptures: (i.) Setting—Fishermen by the sea; (ii.) Summons—Come and follow; and (iii.) Response—They left and followed. The fact that the men drop both occupation and family obligations demonstrates for this Gospel writer that their call comes from God. In fact, it indicates that Peter and Andrew left immediately to follow Jesus. Needless to say, this calling to follow Jesus represented an extraordinary interruption in one’s life and may possibly have even been offensive. For fishermen, a departure might have put the welfare of the entire family at risk. But Jesus provides a “substitute” for their current occupation—becoming, now, “fishers of people”. It doesn’t mean, here, that we are all called to be “fishers of people”. It just means that the gifts we have, God is prepared to use. It means that our calling is not to be something we’re not, but to become fully who we are.

But there’s something else at work here too. The story represents that these were relatively prosperous fishermen, implying that for that culture, the disciples were not uneducated or impoverished. They were not out of work. They actually had a pretty lucrative fishing business. (Boy, what is the deal with fish this week?) But the point is that they actually had something that they had to give up to follow Jesus. They had to give up the lure of this world—money, security—to become who they were meant to be. You know, God never promised that this road was easy; the promise was that it was the one that was right, that was who we are. And, really, if it was easy, why would we need faith at all?

And yet, this call story is not so drastically removed from our own. We are called each and every moment to change pathways, to become who we really are. But it means that we have to give up this self that we’ve created, this self that we’ve tried so hard to fit into this world. We have to follow. And that’s what discipleship is all about. It is not what we do; it is who we are.


The Christian writer, Barbara Brown Taylor, tells in one of her books about a time in her life when she was struggling mightily with sense of call. She simply could not figure out what it was that God wanted her to do and be. Did God want her to be a writer? Did God want her to be a priest? Did God want her to be a social worker? Did God want her to teach? She simply didn’t know. And in her frustration and exasperation, one midnight, she says, she fell down on her knees in prayer and said: “Okay, God. You need to level with me. What do you want me to be? What do you want me to do? What are you calling me to do?” She said she felt a very powerful response, God saying, “Do what pleases you. Belong to me, but do what pleases you.” She said it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch that place of her greatest joy, that she could be called to do the thing that pleases her the most.

Another Christian writer, Frederick Buechner says, “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” Think about that. “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” But there are other times when God’s call does not come so much from a place inside of us but comes from a place outside of us. Sometimes we’re being called to places we never dreamed we’d go, to do things we never dreamed we’d do, to say things we never dreamed we’d say. (From “Where You Never Expected to Be”, a sermon by Dr. Thomas Long, October 22, 2006, available at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/long_5004.htm, accessed 14 January, 2012.)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this tell you about your own discipleship or your own calling?
  3. What is the difference between the notion of being a disciple as what we do and the idea of being a disciple as who we are?
  4. How does that change our view of our own calling?
  5. Do you feel like you’ve given anything up to follow Christ?


 Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Call is something you must do to save your life. (Dr. Virgil Howard, Perkins School of Theology)


The desire to fulfill the purpose for which we were created is a gift from God. (A.W. Tozer)


Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, 3)





You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future must enter you long before it happens. Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity…Amen. (Rainer Maria Rilke)