Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 22, 2017)

December 27, 2016 | by Ignacio Castuera

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Isaiah 9:1-4 Psalm 27:1 & 4-9 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Matthew 4:12-23

Two days before this Sunday Donald J Trump will have been inaugurated President of the United States of America. Many people in the pews will be asking for words of wisdom, comfort and direction. Preachers must prepare for this sermon bearing in mind the deep concerns in the hearts and minds of many parishioners.

The Gospel for this Sunday also speaks of a change of leadership, John the Baptist has been jailed and this was a clear signal for Jesus to expand on the message of John, to recruit more disciples, to find spaces for freedom of operation and ministry and to give a new meaning to the message of repentance which had been in the lips of the Baptist. “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.”

The Epistle lesson addresses a crisis of leadership in the church in Corinth only to be reminded by Paul that there is only one real Leader above all of them and the factions there need to come together and follow their one and true guide, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah and the Psalmist, both of whom lived in times that were far more threatening than ours, offer words of encouragement and point to the light of God to brighten even the darkest of moments they face. All these Scriptures have in common the idea that people of faith need not be frightened by the immediate reality or appearance of danger, God is still a caring parent, a loving figure a trusted friend. It is this that must help our congregants to make it through the years ahead. It is this confidence in God that will embolden people of faith to stand up to the threats that any leader can announce or act upon. I once heard that the expression “fear not” is found 365 times in the Bible, we need to wake up every morning with those words in our heart and help create the necessary resistance to threats to the environment (The Environmental Protection Agency might well be headed by a man who has sued this agency!) our indigenous population, women children and migrants.

The writer of the Gospel of Matthew offers hints on how to proceed in light of a real threat. When Jesus heard that John had been arrested he withdrew to Galilee to the territories of Zebulon and Naphtali. This is a tactical maneuver that helped Jesus create spaces of operation before confronting the powers in Jerusalem. The Resisting church needs to become a space of freedom of operation, a place where one can think best how to protect those who are most endangered.

Jesus also continues recruiting followers but he does not go to the powerful, instead he goes to the common workers. Churches need to demonstrate a capacity to move beyond places of comfort and ask today’s fishermen to help catch more followers. When workers see that the church speaks up for the unemployed, the immigrant, the women more of them will be willing to come to the spaces of freedom and resistance created by the church. A kind of Holy Occupy Movement needs to come alive and resist the negative initiatives that surely will be coming from the recently installed regime. All this resistance needs to be done patiently and peacefully. That will not insure that the church will not face negative consequences it will merely guarantee that others will not be hurt directly by our resistance.

The correct translation for our day of Jesus message “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” is “turn around, leave your daily complacency and live by the future that God has in mind for all who believe. Resist the temptation for accommodation.”

Preachers today have the opportunity to encourage congregants to trust in God now more than ever before. The Biblical stories of survival in the midst of incredible odds can be made more real with stories of non-violent resistance that have produced significant positive results. Years ago Bishop Gerald Kennedy was asked if he believed that the church was on its last legs, he replied joyfully: “The church was born on its last legs!” This is the spirit with which we must meet what is, without doubt, a perilous time. The church specializes in surviving under dire circumstances. It thrived under Nero and Caligula and will surely survive under Trump, however Trump will be a bleep in the history of the world. This is a time to read inspiring literature in addition to the Holy Bible. One great source of inspiration for this time might just be the poem by Percy Bisshe Shelley, Ozymandias. Pastors could include it in their sermons and even provide it as an insert in the bulletins.


Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 – 1822

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The hymn O Where Are Kings and Empires Now could and should be included in the order of worship to further emphasize the point that God and the Church will outlive any Ozymandias like leader that appears to threaten our existence.

This month we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here was a leader that accomplished incredible goals using non-violent means, a preacher that really believe that the future cannot simply be extrapolated from contemporaneous circumstances. Today, more than ever we need to hang on to that hope. The future will manage to surprise even the most pessimistic among us. This should energize us, not create idleness and complacency.

Epiphany is the right time to take the light into the darkest of places and today, two days after the Inauguration of Donald J Trump as President of the United States of America, the places of darkness have multiplied in our country but the light that Christ will shine brighter when his followers take his message to precisely those places.