Old Testament: Isaiah (9:1-4)
There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
The Response: Psalm (27:1, 5-13)
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble
he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy
of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.
8 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.
9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling
an oblation with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call;*
have mercy on me and answer me.
11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”*
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12 Hide not your face from me,*
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13 You have been my helper;
cast me not away;*
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians (1:10-18)
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The Gospel: Matthew (4:12-23)
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Each year during the Epiphany season, at least one of our Sunday gospels describes the calling of the first disciples. This year, we get two versions. Last week, we heard John’s account; and today, Matthew’s. For those called, their encounter with Jesus must have been a very powerful, personal event, but it was never a private event. There is an important difference between the two; because the life to which they – and we – were called is never something private: never something just between God and me as an individual. The stories of callings, in both the Old and the New Testaments, are callings to be part of a people. Whether we like it or not, life in God is always something that we share with others. And sometimes, that is the most difficult part. Life, it seems, would be so easy if you just didn’t have to deal with other people!
The early Christians in Corinth, to whom Paul addressed today’s second reading, discovered that fact very quickly. Paul had been the first to bring the Good News to them. After he left for Ephesus, another teacher, Apollos, arrived and worked to expand that ministry and nurture that church’s life. There apparently were other influences as well. Others arrived, claiming that they were bringing the teaching of Cephas, or Peter. And still others seem to have claimed some sort of mystical mission that came directly from Christ. It didn’t take long for members of the young church to begin aligning themselves behind different teachers, each of whom claimed to represent the teaching of one of the four, and each of whom claimed that his or her way was the only way to live the new life, the only real truth.
That’s the way that things always seem to be for us human beings: multiple individuals and groups, each claiming to have the pure and simple truth. But, as Oscar Wilde once pointed out, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” We find that scenario played out in politics. We find it in our local communities and in society as a whole. And we find it in the church.
That’s the reason that churches of various denominations have long designated this week – the week between the feasts of the Confession of St. Pater and the Conversion of St. Paul – as the annual “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” As St. Paul’s words in our reading remind us, we have had a tendency toward divisions from the very beginning, just as we do in the rest of society. As I mentioned last Sunday, many people will be taking another look at those divisions, why they exist and how they might be healed, this year as we prepare to mark in October the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. This observance provides us with a good opportunity to learn from past mistakes and to examine our own claims to “the truth.”
In recent years, we have seen the destructive and debilitating results of people in the political arena who insist that they have the truth, with the implication that others do not. For them, compromise is a dirty word. Their arrogance obstructs any sort of civilized discussion and cooperation with those who see and emphasize other aspects of a greater truth: a truth that is not the exclusive possession of any one group of people or of any one point-of-view.
In reflecting on that intransigent mindset, Eric Hoffer has insisted: “The uncompromising attitude is more indicative of an inner uncertainty than of deep conviction. The implacable stand is directed more against the doubt within than the assailant without.” One wonders how big a role that attitude, that “doubt within,” has played in divisions that have taken place within the church at various times over the past two millennia.
Recent decades have witnessed a significant shift in where those divisions exist. Efforts at ecumenical acceptance of other Christian traditions have lessened the gaps and the ill-will between denominations. But, at the same time, differences over sometimes contentious issues have widened the gaps within denominations. When it comes to addressing particular social changes, some Episcopalians, for example, might find that they have more in common with certain Lutherans and Methodists than they do with others within their own part of God’s great church.
That is a place where the words of St. Paul in our second reading are just as apposite now as they were when he first addressed them to the early Christians in Corinth. They remind us that what unites us is much more important that what tends to divide us. And it is that unity that we share in Christ, even with and through our diversity, that is both the greatest challenge that we face and the greatest gift that we have to give to the world.
We, the church, are the people whom God has charged with the daunting responsibility of showing the world how to live in love and acceptance and respect for one another, even with all our difference perspectives and points of view. And the key to that is in recognizing with humility that none of us has the total and absolute truth, but only one or another facet of it, and that the real truth lies in God alone.
Over the years, some churches have intentionally aligned themselves with a conservative point-of-view on some of the contentious issues of our time; they have naturally attracted other like-minded people and have become pretty much homogeneous. Others have intentionally aligned themselves with a progressive stance on those same issues; they, too, have attracted other like-minded people and have themselves become a pretty much homogenous group. Each clings to a supposed absolute certainty about their perspective, along with a complete rejection of any opposing point-of-view. “We are right. They are wrong. We have the truth. They do not. It is that simple.” Actually, of course, it’s not.
Ever since its beginning in 1938, St. Mark’s Church has chosen to take a different path, to embrace a much more difficult but vitally important approach. The people of this parish sometimes are not, and sometimes have not, been in agreement with one another on some of the difficult questions of each age. But they – we – have chosen to do what God calls us to do: to figure out a way that we can live together and worship together and minister to the world together despite our differences. That is what the church is supposed to be and do. That is perhaps the greatest gift that the church has to give to a divided world.