By Elaine Ramshaw
Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
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January 15, 2023
This week’s readings include several strong themes and images to choose among as a focus for preaching, and all of them have a connection to lives of stewardship. Some of these are themes that pervade the season of Epiphany: light, baptism, calling.
Light is mentioned in Isaiah, where the “servant”—who is the nation of Israel, the prophet, and for us Christ and all the baptized—is given as a light to all the nations. Not enough to raise up only our tribe, God calls the servant to be a light to all the peoples of the world. Being such a light takes expression in many ways. From the earliest Christian Sunday gatherings, an offering has served to symbolize and enact the assembly’s reaching out beyond its own circle to feed and help others in need.
The second-century theologian Justin Martyr described the offering this way: “The collection is deposited with the presider. He aids orphans and widows, those who are in want through disease or through another cause, those who are in prison, and foreigners who are sojourning here” (1 Apology 67). How do we shine for people we don’t know? How does our congregation shed light beyond our own boundaries through what we do with our gifts?
This week John recounts Jesus’ baptism and follows up with Jesus calling of the first disciples. Whereas in the Synoptic Gospels Jesus tells the disciples to “follow me,” in John’s Gospel he says “Come and see!”—another image of light and sight that is spread throughout this text.
In the John lesson, Jesus is described as the Lamb of God, called to give his life for the sake of the whole world, as we may sing at Communion each week: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.” Our own baptism, similarly, calls us give of our lives, our time and resources and caring and witness for the good of both those we know and those who are far away. That we are all called to this life of radical goodness is underlined by Paul’s words to the Corinthians when he tells them they are all “called to be saints.”
In addition to the Epiphany themes of light, baptism and calling, we have today a story of renaming. Jesus gives Simon the name Cephas, which is Aramaic (Jesus’ language) for “rock.” This leads to his being called in our church’s “Peter,” from the Greek work for “rock.” Elsewhere in the Gospels, Matthew 16:18, Jesus makes clear that this nickname “Rock” captures Simon’s future role as the solid leader within the group of disciples, and later, within the post-Easter community of believers.
Simon’s new identity as Cephas/Peter is intended for others. His nickname doesn’t just describe his personality; it also places him in and for the community. We can think of ourselves having been renamed in baptism, a name that Jesus gave us at the outset, a name into which we grow as we find ourselves in community. As Americans, we tend to think of our identity as the sum of all our personal qualities as individuals. I am introverted and honest and a bad cook, and I am the possessor of all the experiences I post on social media. Yet the identity we are given in baptism is an identity for others, both within the church and beyond it, because the circle of the church always opens outward. Everything I am and have and get to do has a direction once I encounter Jesus, and that direction is love.
There are hymns that speak to whichever of the themes or images from the readings you choose as a focus. That Christ is the light whose calling we share: “Arise, Your Light Has Come!” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 314). That we are called to be light: “This Little Light of Mine” (ELW 677) and “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (ELW 815). That we are to be light to all the nations of the world: The ELW supplement, All Creation Sings offers “Commonwealth Is God’s Commandment” (ACS 1036) which very explicitly names “sharing lavish gifts and blessings, love that not one mite withholds” as part of our calling. That we share Jesus’ calling in his baptism to give his life for all: “Christ, When for Us You Were Baptized” (ELW 304). That we are invited to follow in the way of Jesus, who calls us by name: “Will You Come and Follow Me” (ELW 798).
Light the paschal candle for the children’s sermon, and light a smaller candle from it and place it in a candleholder in the center of the circle of children. Ask them if they’ve seen someone being baptized, or if they’ve seen pictures or video of their own baptism. Do they remember a candle being lit from the big Easter candle? Do they have their own baptismal candle at home? Maybe they take it out and light it every year on their baptism day.
In the reading from Isaiah today, God says, “I will give you as a light to the whole world.” That’s what God says to us in our baptism, when our own candle is lit from the Easter candle. We are invited to let our light shine before others. Ask them what they think it means to be light to others, even to be light to people outside our circles of family and friends. Tell them that when we collect the offering in church, that’s one way of saying that we’re not here to care only for ourselves and each other, we’re also called to care for people far away.
Jesus renames Simon as Cephas/Peter, meaning “rock,” which indicates what Simon’s role will be in the community forming around Jesus. Ask the teens for examples in stories they’ve heard or watched or read of someone being given or taking on a new name. You might together look at the “Meaningful Rename” page on the TV Tropes website for ideas. Have they known anyone who chose or was given a new name or nickname? What did that name change represent?
In times past, the baptism of a baby was sometimes the event when it was publicly named; that’s why the word “christening” came to mean “naming.” Nowadays babies are often publicly named before they’re even born! Yet there is a renaming that happens in baptism, as we receive a new identity based on the promise of God and intended as a gift to the world. Invite the teens to suggest “names” we are given in baptism that represent how God sees us (beloved, forgiven, irreplaceable) and who we are called to be for others. This includes our call “to serve all people… and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth” (Affirmation of Baptism, ELW 236).
Elaine Ramshaw is an author, spiritual director and seminary instructor who teaches pastoral care online from her home in Connecticut.
Photo: twodolla, Creative Commons