Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)– The call of Isaiah. Holy, holy, holy. Six-winged seraphs. I am a man of unclean lips. Who will go for us? Here I am. Send me.
Psalm 138– I give you thanks with my whole heart… though the Lordis high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11– Paul’s profession of faith. Christ died for our sins, then rose and appeared to many of us. Last to me, as one untimely born, he appear to me, least of the apostles. By the grace of God, I am what I am.
Luke 5:1-11– Jesus teaches from the boat. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.
February 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4C (Jeremiah’s call. Jesus in his hometown: No prophet is without honor, except in his own country.)
February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5C (Isaiah’s call. Jesus teaches from a boat. The great catch.)
February 17, 2019 – Epiphany 6C (Jeremiah’s blessings and woes. Sermon on the Plain. Lukan Beatitudes: Blessings and Woes.)
February 24, 2019 – Epiphany 7C (Joseph and his brothers. Sermon on the Plain continued. Love your enemies. Give to anyone who begs of you.
March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration
March 6, 2019 – Ash Wednesday
This Epiphany we have some texts that I don’t recall preaching in my career. We only get an Epiphany 5, 6 and 7 when we have a very late Easter. This year, April 21, is fairly late. Although we had later Easters in 2000 and 2011, they didn’t fall in year C of the revised common lectionary. I would be hard pressed to figure out when we last had the Epiphany 7C gospel of Luke 6:27-38, from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. A little on Easter for the curious.
Easter in the Western Calendar
Because Easter in the Western calendar is always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox (Spring), the earliest possible date for Easter is March 22 and the latest possible is April 25. There are 35 dates on which Easter can take place. Here, for you church nerds, are the dates of Easter, at least for the rest of my lifetime:
21st April 2019
12th April 2020
4th April 2021
17th April 2022
9th April 2023
31st March 2024
20th April 2025
5th April 2026
28th March 2027
11th April 2077
16th April 2028
1st April 2029
21st April 2030
13th April 2031
28th March 2032
17th April 2033
9th April 2034
25th March 2035
13th April 2036
5th April 2037
25th April 2038
10th April 2039
1st April 2040
21st April 2041
6th April 2042
29th March 2043
17th April 2044
9th April 2045
25th March 2046
14th April 2047
5th April 2048
18th April 2049
10th April 2050
2nd April 2051
21st April 2052
6th April 2053
29th March 2054
18th April 2055
2nd April 2056
22nd April 2057
14th April 2058
30th March 2059
Wasn’t that fun? Easter falls in March once or twice each decade. The earliest Easter will be March 25, in 2035 and 2046. That’s three days later than earliest Easter can be (March 22). The next time Easter will be on March 22 is in 2285, 266 years from now. The latest Easter will be in the next 40 years is the latest it can be: April 25, in 2038.
If I live to be 97, I will be with some of you to celebrate Easter on March 30, 2059. This is, however, quite unlikely, since no one in the recorded history of my family has ever made it to 87, much less 97. But I digress…
The Call of Isaiah
Last week we had the call of Jeremiah. One might consider continuing on in a series with the theme of calling. Such a series would need to land on each individual’s sense of calling to ministry. A ministry fair would be an excellent opportunity for people to explore their own sense of call. People are driven to serve in different ways. Some are passionate about hunger and poverty, others about the plight of refugees, still others about abuse. How are we helping people find their God-given calling? How do people recognize their calling? Telling stories of how others found and realized their calling is a great start.
1 Corinthians 15
These next three Sundays, Epiphany 5C, 6C and 7C (February 10, 17 and 24), we are in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s profession of his faith, and his extended exposition on the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s understanding of resurrection is widely misunderstood today. If you are going to preach a three-week series on these texts, I would recommend James Tabor’s book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity, for a fuller understanding.
People often think of resurrection in one of two ways, either as our spirit floating up into heaven, or a resurrected corpse. For Paul, it was neither. Paul believes we will be given new, resurrected bodies, as a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 15 and other letters shows. We put off the old body, which is sown in the ground like a seed. We are not, however, left “naked.” We are given a new, spiritual body, like Christ. This new body is a spiritual body. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul says,
Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
Consider also 2 Corinthians 5:1-4:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—3 if indeed, when we have taken it off[we will not be found naked.4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
For Paul, Jesus bodily resurrection is a spiritual body. Jesus is the first of a new species of spirit-beings in the universe. He calls them “children of God,” a kind of cosmic family. Christ is the firstborn of this new family. Romans 8:29.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
There is much that can be said here about the concept of Gnosticism (a pure, beautiful soul being encapsulated into an evil body), Greek dualism (a spirit/soul being liberated at death from the body) and Hebrew view of death, ultimately adopted by Christians (Sheol, the place were the dead sleep for eternity). Resurrection was sharply debated in Jewish circles from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. Jesus fell in line with the Pharisees in this argument, and Paul was a Pharisee.
Jewish Christians did not imagine immortal souls dancing into eternity. Theye saw a resurrection of the dead into new spiritual bodies that would not decay. God will raise those in Christ, even if they had died at sea, burned to ashes or been eaten by dogs. “And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them…” (Revelation 20:13) For Plato, death was a friend, releasing the soul from the body. For Jews and Christians, death was the enemy. They saw not disembodied bliss, but reembodied life, according to Tabor.
Celsus, a second-century Greek philosopher, wrote a critique of Christianity. He said Christians “believe in the absurd theory that the corporeal body will be raised and reconstituted by God, and that somehow they will actually see God with their mortal eyes and hear him with their ears and be able to touch him with their hands.” This is not actually what Christians believed, but that hasn’t stopped fake news ever. It is a caricature.
Paul’s opponents in Corinth press him: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35). Paul goes on to describe the spiritual body and the heavenly Adam, in our text for February 24. His logic goes like this. If there is a physical body, there is a spiritual body. The first man, Adam, became a living being. The last Adam, Christ, became a life-giving spirit. The first man was from the earth. The second man is from heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. Jesus is proof of this for Paul.
Paul did not see Christ crucified, buried and risen. He is simply passing on what he received from the Corinthians, or perhaps by direct revelation (see Galatians 1:11-12). For Paul, Jesus changed clothes. Bodies burned to death do not need to be reconstituted, an absurdity the Greeks criticized. In the end of time, God gives them new, resurrected bodies. Resurrection is a reclothing with a spiritual body.
Tabor uses John the Baptist as an example. Herod served John’s head on a platter. John’s disciples buried the rest of his body. Later, when Herod hears of Jesus’ miracles, he thought that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. There is no report that he went to John’s tomb to see if it was empty. It wouldn’t matter. He didn’t imagine the head and body magically reuniting. He imagined John alive, even though his body was a-moulderin’ in the grave. This illustrated the Jewish concept, at the time, of someone being resurrected into a new body.
This kind of in-depth look at Paul’s theology in Corinthians and Romans is not for a funeral sermon. While it might convey a sense of hope, it is probably too complicated to offer a crystal clear message to address grief. If we want to talk about these things, and educate around them, perhaps it is best to do so in a sermon where the majority of people aren’t there because of a recent death. An Bible class or small group would offer even more time for questions and conversation.
By chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel we are well into Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He has been born, baptized, and tempted in the wilderness. He has read his mission statement, from Isaiah, in his own hometown synagogue: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, jubilee year…
In Luke 5 we have the story of the miraculous catch of fish, followed by two healing stories. Then Jesus calls a questionable character named Levi, a tax collector, who subsequently throws Jesus a lavish banquet. Clearly, Jesus’ ministry is not going to reflect the abstinence of John the Baptist’s ministry. Jesus is criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus commissions Levi: “Follow me.” Perhaps Jesus issues such a call to you today. Are you interested? What would following Jesus look like?
This great catch story, says Mikeal Parsons in his commentary on Luke from the Paideia series, is a parallel with the post-resurrection story in John 21. Raymond E. Brown goes to great lengths to compare the two stories. Luke rearranges Mark’s order of things. In Mark the call of the disciples comes early. In Luke, these calls come after Jesus’ ministry is underway. This order makes the calling more like those of Jeremiah and Isaiah, where the commission comes after everything else. The commissioning in Luke 5:10 corresponds to the commissioning in Isaiah 6:7-10, in our Old Testament reading. Parsons:
The disciples are called and commissioned to participate in Jesus’s people-fishing mission, and this mission, as Luke makes clear in Luke 4, is a mission of release and redemption, not one of deception and destruction.
There isn’t much else to run with in a sermon than the commissioning we all have in our baptism. The very ministry of preaching good news to the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind to which Jesus said he was called in Luke 4 is the ministry to which his disciples are called. The question becomes, how are each of you gifted and called to participate in Christ’s ministry, to bring God’s good news to those who are poor, to join in Christ’s healing ministry and to proclaim Jubilee year?