Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Lectionary 4)
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts
Watch Here – (TLC Worship 1/31/2021)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
One of the realities we have to face as disciples of Jesus today, is that Christians – speaking in the name of Christ – can be found on every side of any political issue. While it’s beyond the scope of this sermon to reflect on how we arrived at such a divisive place in the body of Christ, our scripture readings this morning do call us to reflect on how we hear God’s voice in that divisive cacophony of voices, and not only how we hear God’s voice, but to speak God’s voice with authority.
If listening for God’s voice was simply a matter of listening to a voice booming from the clouds, an unmistakable voice that left no doubt as to who was speaking, there would be no problem. We may not always like or agree with what God would say, but there would be no mistaking it as God’s voice and we would get on with our lives.
And while there are times when God’s voice speaks from the heavens – in fact, this season in the church year is bracketed by the voice from heaven speaking at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan and the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mountaintop – far more often, however, in the pages of scripture, we find God speaking in regular humans just like us.
In our First Reading this morning from Deuteronomy [18:15-20], Moses said to the people the Lord would raise up another prophet like himself from among the people, and that they should heed such a prophet. The description is significant: another prophet like himself from among the people.
There was nothing special about Moses. He was a stutterer – he at first declined to speak for God because of his speech issue. The prophet to come, one who would speak God’s word, would be another human just like him, just like the people who were to listen to him.
God’s word of truth, speaks through normal human sinners. And that’s what makes it so difficult to hear, and trust, and believe God’s word. God’s word is spoken in the very same mouths that at other times speak opinions and nonsense, that speak hurtful words and lies.
So, how do we pick out God’s voice among the voices of God’s people? How can we claim to speak with authority among Christians who would speak the opposite? Maybe it’s the difference between interests and positions?
A few years ago, I took a course on Negotiation.
Before I took the course, I had an adversarial view of Negotiation. I believed that the main point about Negotiation was how one could outwit one’s opponent in the pursuit of one’s desires. I would have understood negotiation as the way I convince you, outsmart you, or beat you down in order for you to give me what I want.
My teacher, however, came from a school of thought who taught a different view of negotiation. To put it simply, I learned that negotiation was about the communication of interests and positions. Interests are defined as those deeper, underlying desires that guide all of us. Some interests might be financial security, professional recognition, acquisition of property.
Positions are defined as the means to achieve our interests. For example:
- If my interest is financial security – my position might be that I need a 5% raise – the raise being the way in which I would achieve my interest.
- If my interest is professional recognition – my position might be that I want a promotion.
- If my interest is acquisition of property – my position might be that I will do what it takes to purchase a particular piece of property.
Interests are stable and constant. Positions, the ways to achieve those interests, can change, are negotiable, can take many forms.
Might we hear and recognize God’s voice today, in those voices calling us to the underlying truths of God’s interests that are true from age to age? Might God’s voice be discerned in those voices that call us out of personal agendas and opinions, and into God’s interests in the love of neighbor and the public good? And maybe we speak with authority the more we speak the solid truths of God’s timeless interests, and not our personal opinions in the moment?
The Apostle Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians this morning, gives us a good example of how this works. In this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the positions people were taking on eating meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Did faith in Christ allow for eating this food or not?
The position of some was “NO, absolutely not, shouldn’t do it.”
The position of others was “SURE – no problem.”
In responding to the question dividing the Christian Corinthians, Paul started from his underlying interest. Paul’s interest was not about food – Paul’s interest was faith in Christ and that faith lived out in the body of Christ. For Paul, discipleship was not about the food one ate, but instead, discipleship was about living with, and loving, other Christians in one community.
Faith was not a personal journey for Paul Theologian Deborah Krause writes: For Paul, there is no such thing as personal salvation. Through baptism the individual Christian is saved into the life of Christian community, and that community – its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and adversities – is the place where one is united to Christ and lives out one’s vocation.”
For Paul, discipleship was not about what individuals did to please God. “Food will not bring us close to God,” Paul wrote. “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” Because Paul’s underlying interest was that the Christians should live together in unity, his position on food was that it didn’t matter for them as individuals if they ate or not.
What mattered, however, was that how eating affected other people in the body. “Take care,” Paul warned, “that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. If food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
To hear God’s voice speaking in the world today, is to listen for those voices calling our attention to God’s interests in the world. Not the interests of one man, one political party, one church, one nation, one group of people, but the interests of God, revealed in the scripture and tradition, spoken in the sacraments, spoken in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What are the interests of God spoken in Christ?
Jesus said it, as recorded in Matthew 25, that:
- the hungry shall be fed
- the thirsty given something to drink
- the naked shall be clothed
- the sick shall be cared for
- the stranger shall be welcomed
- the prisoner shall be visited
When we do onto the least of these, said Jesus, we do onto him.
We hear the voice of God today, in the voices of those speaking for the least among us. We hear God’s voice in the voices of those calling us to love and welcome one another. We hear God’s voice in the voices of calling for community, and understanding, and inclusion.
We speak God’s voice with authority, when we speak these interests of God. With authority, trusting it is God’s will, we can speak that all members of society be included, that no members of society be shut out, that all members of the body of humanity be welcomed and embraced. We speak with authority as Christians when we advocate the timeless truths of God’s love for all people: for black and brown people, for lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgender people, for disenfranchised and oppressed people.
The Good News today, is that God continues to speak in the world!
God speaks timeless truths in those building up the body of Christ, and building up human community. God speaks today in Jesus Christ, who in the forgiveness of sin, and in the promise of baptism, announces each and every one of us members of that body.
In faith, as we live in Christ, may we claim our authority to speak. In our love for one another, in our love for the least among us, in our love and care for strangers, in the welcome and generosity we extend to our neighbors in need, may we speak with authority. May we speak with authority, God’s love for the world.
Thanks be to God.