It’s good to be back at the Preachers’ Table. I am writing this from my inlaws’ kitchen table in Moncton with a car packed to the gills in the parking lot as I prepare for my first day, being Sunday, as an interim rector to a few parishes in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. My sermon this Sunday will be simple, an introduction to me and what it means to be an interim, and what kind of work we will begin to do together. Amidst the packing and the travelling and a wicked gastro bug I haven’t spent a lot of time with the commentaries this week, but since I read the story of Eli and Samuel two weeks ago for my final sermon, a theme has been emerging for me, and it is around how we receive the Word of God.
So, if I may return to the first lesson for Epiphany 2 for a moment. I was struck this time around by how Eli hears Samuel’s words. Samuel receives a message from God about Eli’s sons and it is not good. I don’t know what Eli expected Samuel to say the next morning. Maybe he knew what was coming. Maybe he didn’t. But I was struck by how he reacted. He could have thrown Samuel, born of an infertile woman and left in the temple, out in the street. He could have dismissed Samuel’s encounter, calling it a dream. But he didn’t. He accepted this news about himself and his sons, and the end of the priestly vocation of his family. He didn’t wallow in shame, he heard the news and he moved forward.
In these days of friending and unfriending and selective news gathering it is easy to shut out the voices of those with whom we disagree. But what if we are shutting out the Word of God, only because we do not like what we hear? Even those who encounter Jesus face to face in our Gospel reading do not recognize the Word right in front of them.
As preachers of the lectionary it is easy for us to know what we are going to preach before we even read the readings for that Sunday, especially if this isn’t your first time through the cycle. We also have the privilege of not preaching anything we don’t want to preach. We may know it will be difficult, but, ultimately, the Word our congregations will receive is heavily filtered through us.
Our readings for this Sunday continue to challenge us to think about what we are expecting when we sit to listen to God’s Word. The lesson from Deuteronomy is a poignant reminder about the role of the prophet and the challenge of their task. Preachers are prophets. Every time we preach we prophesy. This could be a good opportunity to ask folks to consider which prophets they interact with. Most will have a favourite writer or commentator who makes the ways of the world clear to them, but what about one who God has placed in their lives, like God raised up a prophet from within that first community of Hebrews?
Whenever the letters to the Corinthians appear in the lectionary it is good to spend at least one sermon talking about them. They are inflammatory on the surface, but actually reveal much of how Paul and his followers worked out our early theology. Here it appears the Corinthians have asked Paul about some Christians who have been eating food sacrificed to idols and it has been causing confusion. They are looking for some direction. And Paul doesn’t give it to them. Instead, he offers a framework that focusses on the most vulnerable, the youngest in the faith. He challenges them to begin making decisions based on what is best for their own community. That’s hard. Don’t we all wish the Bible were an instruction manual?
A final inspiration for you this Sunday. Have you checked out the new Trial Use Collects and Prayers compiled by Faith, Worship and Ministry? Collects have been provided for Epiphany 2 through Transfiguration for Year B. Here is one of two provided for Epiphany 4, crafted from Prayers for an Inclusive Church (2009) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006). It calls to the deeper purpose of God’s Word for us:
God of liberation,
who comes not to destroy
but to set us free,
bring wholeness to all that is broken
and speak truth to us in our confusion;
through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen