Second Sunday after Epiphany Lectionary Reflection, Year C
January 17, 2016
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. Isaiah 62:1-5
(Note: This week’s gospel recounts the story of the wedding at Cana and Jesus’ first miracle. The epistle lesson celebrates the diversity of spiritual gifts given to God’s people. Perhaps a different, fresh, and timely way to go this Sunday is to be stewards of hope and God’s steadfast love expressed in the Old Testament lesson and the psalm.)
Have you ever felt completely alone? Distanced? Desolate? Devastated? Granted, most of us have not been exiled from our homes, forced to leave the land we love, mourning the destruction of our sacred spaces and holy places like the people of Israel that the prophet seeks to comfort in this week’s lesson from Isaiah (or like the millions of refugees today, such as the families fleeing war in Syria or those escaping conflict and economic deprivation in Africa!) Yet, at some point in their lives most folks face a time when they feel cut off from sources of support, strength, and sustenance. Networks of relationship can so quickly fray and strain. Illness may strike suddenly. Loss of income and employment can change one’s standard of living almost overnight.
For people of faith, for followers of Christ and children of God, the answer of course is yes. Our hope is in the steadfast love of the Lord. We have the promise and witness of scripture, the experience of God’s people throughout history on which to lean in times of trial and in times of joy.
No matter what goes on around us, no matter how rough any given day may seem, the steadfast love of God is with us. Think about that for a minute. God rejoices over God’s people, and the Creator delights in the creation. To be forever forsaken is not our lot in life; desolation is not our inheritance. God gave the people of Israel a new name and a new hope. Their exile did not last forever, and they were never deserted. And so it is with us.
We can find comfort and hope in the words of the prophet. Better yet, we can spread words of comfort and hope. We can walk with those who are despairing, who are in exile, who cannot see the light of tomorrow in the darkness of their pain and suffering.
In his Address to the Nation on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, U.S. President Barak Obama sought to offer hope and to rally a nation divided on so very many issues to come together, to not be silent, and to not rest in the face of division and challenges. “Each one of us only here because someone, somewhere stood up for us,” he said.
His words ring true and are not limited to the political realm. We are not islands in isolation. We are not where we are solely by our own bootstrap pulling. Many hands, many hearts, and much love and prayer form a strong foundation on which most of us stand. In turn, like the prophet, let us not be silent and let us not rest until the weakest and most isolated among us can feel the power of friendship, the quickening of hope, and the first fruits of faith that point to our Lord. Or, as the psalmist says, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadows of your wings” (Ps. 36:7).
We may not be in exile ourselves, but we can welcome the refugee and open our arms to the stranger. We may not feel forsaken, but we can hold out our hand to the one who is and offer friendship and support. We may walk in the light of Christ, and in doing so, let us not be blind to the one who wanders in darkness. No. Let us not keep silent and let us not rest until all have the opportunity to see and experience God’s steadfast love.
Small Acts of Great Love: Consider challenging congregants to find at least one way to do a “small act of great love” this week. Share that any small act done in the name of Christ is an act of great love because God’s love is steadfast. Perhaps someone will pay forward a coffee or meal. Maybe a family can prepare a basket for refugees or homeless in your area. Even a smile or hug can be a “small act of great love.” Bless the congregation and commission them to go forth to do these acts in the coming week. Give each person a paper heart of brightly colored paper. Invite them to write down what they did and bring the heart back the following week. Have a bulletin board of display where congregants can post their hearts and see just how much can be accomplished in God’s name to show the world the steadfast love of our Creator.
Most youth will have some sense of what it feels like to be lonely, to feel forsaken, or to be cut off from friends or other important relationships. Some may have been bullied. Use the passage from Isaiah to talk about how much God loves us and rejoices over us. Invite the youth to think of ways to stand up for others, to speak out against bullying, discrimination, and racism. Encourage them to act for justice and to practice mercy and kindness. Consider showing a movie or excerpt that deals with this topic.
This week’s psalm talks about God’s love for all of creation. Consider talking to the children about how important it is for us to care for God’s good creation. You can mention that what we humans do can affect our animal friends, the quality of the water we drink, and so much more. You might bring the plastic from a six-pack of beverages and talk about how the plastic can kill birds and marine animals. Cutting the plastic before disposing of it is helpful. Choosing other alternatives that don’t use the plastic is even better. Remind the children that caring for creation is one way to show our love for God. Finish with a simple prayer. Consider giving children a coloring sheet about earth care.
Photos: Kelly Short, Michael L. Dorn, and Kaundi, Creative Commons. Thanks!