Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13); Psalm 138; I Corinthians
When humans encounter God’s revelation, there is danger, great awe, and a reversal in the direction of their lives.
, (9-13). Isaiah 6:1-8
The reading from
the prophets continues the call narratives of the Israelite prophets, this time
with Isaiah’s vision of God in overwhelming power in the
This passage has long been one of the traditional readings for Trinity Sunday, where the heavenly chant of the triple “Holy, Holy, Holy” is understood to express a threefold mystery in the Most High. Here, however, our text is used in Epiphany season because it is a great account of the revelation of God. “Epiphany” technically means “appearance,” but for practical purposes it means revelation.
The common thread of the lectionary readings for this Sunday emphasizes, not only the awesomeness of the revelation, but also the response to revelation by the people who are called.
In Isaiah’s case, the prophet is overwhelmed by the revelation, confessing, “Woe is me! I am lost …” The revelation forces the human to see that there is a great chasm between one’s current world and the holy realm of God’s activity.
The action that follows, however, moves the prophet from the side of the unholy people over to the ranks of those who carry God’s messages and do God’s will (the members of the heavenly council). That is, after the seraph has touched his lips with an incense coal, Isaiah is purified, and now he can hear what is said in the council of God’s servants and is even able to present himself for duty when he is needed.
The result of Isaiah’s going over to the other side is that he has a message for his people that, at first sight, is devastating and demoralizing. He is to say to them, “Hear, indeed, but do not understand; / See, indeed, but do not grasp” (Isaiah 6:9, New Jewish Publication Society translation). In practical terms, this means, “Keep looking in the wrong places, keep doing what you are doing, because that is guaranteed to lead you to disastrous results.”
Part of the privilege of being included in God’s council of servants is that divine strategies may be explained to you. (For an intriguing comic-tragic illustration of this, see I Kings 22:1-23, especially verses 19-23.) God gives further instructions to Isaiah that explain why this misguided people is to be encouraged in their ways:
The message in the heavenly council is finally a word of salvation – when it provokes a true repentance and reversal of direction by the prophet’s people.
The Psalm reading has pale echoes of the
God who called Isaiah. The speaker of
the psalm has experienced deliverance by God: “On the day I called, you answered me, / you
increased my strength of soul” (verse 3,
The speaker’s response is to sing thanks and praise before heavenly beings (“gods,” like Isaiah’s seraphs) and to bow down toward the temple, where God’s name is exalted on high (verses 1-2). A dimension of world sovereignty is revealed when the speaker expects “all the kings of the earth” to sing of the Lord’s “glory,” which in the Isaiah reading fills all the earth.
This singer (perhaps a female voice, a Zion voice) knows that the lofty God pays attention to the lowly folk (verse 6), and she herself speaks more on the side of the people than of the heavenly council when she says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, / you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; / you stretch out your hand, / and your right hand delivers me” (verse 7).
God’s deliverance from distress IS this psalmist’s revelation, and she expects her song of response to be shared even by the world’s kings.
I Corinthians 15:1-11.
The Epistle reading is one of the most revealing passages about earliest Christianity in the New Testament. It is about the supreme revelation of God to the followers of Jesus – the gospel of the Risen Jesus.
the Corinthians of the radical core of that gospel as proclaimed by the earliest
disciples as well as himself. That core
gospel is: “that Christ died for our
sins in accordance with the scriptures,…and that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures…” (verses 3 and 4,
The first syllable of the gospel message is the forgiveness of sins – but the basis for believing that our sins are forgiven is the message of the resurrection, which Paul goes on to recite.
Paul’s statement here is the earliest direct testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.
All the narratives of the empty tomb in the
Gospels are from second generation Jesus followers, later than 70 CE. Paul is writing around 55 CE and reporting
commonly known traditions from much earlier (“I handed on to you…what I in turn
had received,” verse 3). Paul reminds
the Corinthians of what they had heard before, about how the risen Jesus had
appeared to certain of his followers proving to them that he was risen and
exercising power at the right hand of God (compare
passage Paul gives three lines of personal experience of the risen Jesus
(verses 5-8). He is not describing empty
tomb events, as the women of
Paul’s review for the Corinthians groups the appearances of Jesus into three revelations, each originating with one of the major figures:
· Peter, and associated with him “the twelve” as well as a mass vision by five hundred folks, many still alive (verses 5-6; the last item an early version of a Pentecost tradition).
James, the brother of Jesus, and associated
with him “all the apostles” (verse 7; these are envoys sent out by James the
· And finally Paul himself, who knew only the risen Jesus and not the Jesus who proclaimed the kingdom in Galilee, but whose experience of Jesus was preached powerfully to numerous assemblies (churches) in Galatia, Greece, and Asia (see especially Galatians 1:11-17 and 3:1).
Thus, the revelation experiences of the key figures – Peter, James, and Paul – came to authorize the main lines of early Christian tradition. Experiencing the risen Jesus was the foundation revelation for the gospel as it was common to all Jesus’ followers.
The Gospel reading is Luke’s version of how Peter was called to be a disciple.
story of Jesus returning to
Luke tells a
more extended story about fishing. (A variation on this story appears in
This amazing catch of fish – in extremely unlikely circumstances – is the revelation to Peter. He responds in the manner of Isaiah: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (verse 8).
event has occurred, and – like the Isaiah revelation – it creates two sides;
the Lord is on one side and sinful people on the other. Peter’s instinct tells him this is an
overwhelming force, frightening and condemning.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s outcry is, “Do not be afraid,” even though
this is a scary thing, “from now on you will be catching people [instead of
fish]” (verse 10,
The revelation anticipates what lies in the future: after long periods of unfruitful labor in the old places, the word of the Lord leads the fishermen into deep water and to enormous catches.
Simon Peter’s response to the revelation and its call was, “when they brought their boats ashore, they left everything and followed him” (verse 11).
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