Second Sunday After Epiphany

Today was one of those days when a lot of ideas come together. And probably suggest some things I need to do about them …

First, we ended up going overtime in the not-that-early class, because of talking about the timeline of ancient Israelite history and its relationship to 1 Kings and the likely time of authorship, if we accept the idea that the book of Kings developed from an original text that was written during the reign of King Josiah, and was then edited after the end of the exile … and that this has some relationship with the way that author/editor was thinking about the people’s relationship to God …

… and then talking about how this way of thinking about the past, as being informative and having a lesson for us, is similar to the way the gospel writers approach things as well …

… and then looking at how some of those writers pick up the idea of God’s “dwelling on earth” …

… like John talking about the Word as “tabernacle-ing” with us …

… and Paul talking about the Holy Spirit as having a Temple in the body of the church …

… so that we Christian readers do think that God is with us, not that we don’t also think that God is above and beyond us …

[which makes me think that John may have been thinking of Solomon’s prayer and 1 Kings 8:27 when he wrote

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

… and we probably could, and should, take this more seriously than we do.

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So then our pastor preached on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, which is the epistle for this Sunday, the opening of the first letter to the Corinthians, and pointed out that those words “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus” would have been a jaw-dropper in those days, especially coming from Paul, because the prevailing idea about Gentiles among Jewish people of the day was that the Gentiles were not particularly sanctified, but rather quite the opposite, were the disreputable Others.

[which made me think of the formulaic language of the blessing that a pious Jewish person will say before doing a mitzvah,

Blessed art Thou, O Holy One our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments, and has commanded us to …

whatever, light shabbat candles or wear tzitzit or whatever. Yes, this formulaic language may have come later by a century or more. The point is that the language calls attention to something that was probably implicit much earlier: that sanctification is a process, is something that grows and develops with practice; that obeying God’s commandments is the process that produces sanctification.]

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Then, she pointed out that we often think of “sanctification,” “holiness,” as the equivalent of “being set apart.” [Indeed we do.] And while this is not exactly wrong, it would be even better to think of it as being dedicated by God to or for a particular use or purpose.

[This is a lovely idea!]

For instance, “to be the Body of Christ in the world,” said our pastor.

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And then our pastor pointed this out:

These opening verses of 1 Corinthians are incredibly positive.

There is the assurance that the “grace of God” has been given to this church, and that they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (vv4-7).

Being rooted in grace means that “you can know that you aren’t perfect” and still take action; “you can take risks” – because you don’t fear failure, you don’t depend on success every single time to prove you are OK; “you can have difficult conversations” because you can extend grace to others, having received it yourself … so being rooted in grace is the precondition for the life of the church.

And “God is faithful” (v9), so God is at work in this church.

All of which might surprise us, because as we know, the church in Corinth had lots of problems, famous problems, and our pastor reminded us that most of Paul’s letter brings up the problems and instructs the Corinthians on how to deal with them.

“Everything Paul says in the opening verses is true,” she said, “and so are the problems.”

It’s not a contradiction. The church needs to be reminded of its endowment of grace, and gifts, so that they can deal with the problems; reminded of what they have and who they are and where they are going so the people will turn away from their habitual toxic culture and turn towards living like they know how important God’s grace and gifts are, like they believe it, like they realize how they have been empowered to live as the body of Christ in the world, to embody God’s love to and for the world …

They needed to be reminded; we need the same reminder.

[I thought: here is this incredibly famous, famously dysfunctional church, and when you think of how much good has come from that dysfunction – think of how important 1 Corinthians has been, to how many Christians, for how many centuries – think of “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude …” – it reminds us that 1 Corinthians is a dramatic example of how “God brings good out of evil” and “nothing is beyond redemption.” If there was hope like this for the Corinthians, there is surely hope for us.]

[Also thought: about a couple of specific things that need to be added to the “to do” list … ]

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Plus, we had great music, including Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire, and Blest Be The Tie That Binds

From sorrow, toil and pain
and sin we shall be free,
and perfect love and friendship reign
through all eternity.

“… the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

There’s some sanctification for you.

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In loving memory
Jo Caula Gregg Thiessen
1.19.1931 – 7.18.2004

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snowy landscape with church in the background

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