The Christian Seasons Calendar that hangs on my wall is open in this season after Epiphany to a painting by Kirsten Malcolm Berry titled “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). Fault lines are showing in First Church Corinth over which minister is to be credited with success and which one is to be labelled a failure. Paul keeps the focus on God. Once again the little church in Corinth pre-figures so many of our congregational stories.
My earliest memories of worship are of singing: "Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!" I didn't know what the word holy meant, but I knew that it was associated with God. "Only thou art holy, merciful and mighty." God and only God was holy.
This is not a Sunday for soft-pedalling the gospel. Moses and Jesus
portray the life of faith as a "yes" or a "no" to God with lives that
obey or that disobey. It is little wonder that it is common to summarize
Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount with one verse, the "Golden
Rule" (Matthew 7:12).
Although I was raised in a preacher's household and have been a preacher myself for three decades, my own conversion happened gradually. I didn't even realize what I was going through until one of my parishioners told me that the congregation had been watching my conversion one Sunday, one sermon at a time.
A folk-singing friend taught me that if I could link a sermon to a
song, listeners would remember the song, and thus be more likely to
remember the sermon. Music resides in a part of the brain that is
resistant to amnesia, he said.
The texts speak of thirst for life. The people thirst for water in
the wilderness. The Samaritan woman at the well meets the One who gives
the water of eternal life. Paul speaks of God’s love being “poured into
our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Reading the assigned texts for this week overwhelms me. The call of
Abram is told like a Haiku—just a few words, yet the mystery of our
life as God’s people hinges on this ancient call and response. After
the spare text in Genesis, the passages in Romans and John read like
dense thickets of complicated sentences and layered metaphors.
Lent’s 40 days of preparation for baptism and discipleship are
modeled on Jesus’ postbaptismal test in the wilderness. Reading about
Jesus’ struggle with the devil opens up some potential directions for
the preacher’s journey to Sunday:
Transfiguration Sunday is the highpoint between Epiphany, when the
mystery is suddenly transparent, and the resurrection, when the
ultimate epiphany breaks through what we had imagined was the full stop
of death. Last year on Transfiguration Sunday our congregation hosted
the Rivercity Gospel Jazz band.
We expect Jesus to emerge from John’s shadow in a public way, to take
on the establishment and lead the charge for God’s reign. Instead, when
John is arrested Jesus withdraws (Matt. 4:12). He slips away to the
margins, to the territory of Zebulun and Napthali, off the radar of