I am searching the texts for the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Epiphany for a thread– a single idea or force that binds them together. I can pair them in various ways…

Open Torah scroll, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  • The call of the young prophet Jeremiah seems a natural companion for the Gospel lesson detailing early days in Jesus’ ministry, including his first sermon in his hometown Nazareth.
  • We could place Jesus’ experience of being run out of town (and threatened with being thrown from a cliff) side by side with the plaintive Psalm, calling out to God for rescue and deliverance.
  • What is arguably the most famous passage from Paul’s writings, the Love chapter from 1 Corinthians, speaks to Jeremiah, both having red herring language about the importance of eloquent speech (which turns out not to be the primary concern after all).

Perhaps this is the thread: All the readings have an implied intimacy, which can work for good or for ill. God calls Jeremiah into service with tender words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (1:5); “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you…” (1:8). Jeremiah protests that he is too young. but God touches his mouth. Is it a gentle gesture, a mother reassuring her child that it will be alright? Or is it of the burning coal-to-the-lips variety? Jeremiah’s accepts God’s call.

The psalmist calls on God for rescue as a child might call upon a trusted parent; after all, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you” (71:6).

Paul’s words to a community in conflict boil down love/ agape to the simplest of behaviors and attitudes: patience and kindness, the fundamental stances undergirding all his other descriptors.

There is no fight as bad as a family fight, and that seems to be what brews in the gospel reading (after such a promising beginning, with all “speaking well” of Jesus, and the “gracious words that came from his mouth”). Jesus warns that prophets are  not, in fact, generally able to go home again, and he points out some instances in which prophets healed those outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If preaching the Nazareth synagogue story (unique to Luke’s gospel), preachers will want to steer clear of anti-Jewish readings of the text. In the Jewish Annotated New Testament, Amy-Jill Levine advises that what distresses the congregation is not that those outside the covenant are included in God’s plan, but what feels like Jesus’ (pre-emptive?) rejection of them:

Jews in general had positive relations with the Gentiles, as witnessed by the Court of the Gentiles in the Jerusalem Temple, Gentiles as patrons of synagogues (Lk. 7:1-10), and Gentiles as god-fearers (Acts 10). They also expected the redemption of righteous Gentiles, who would come streaming to Zion, as Zech 8:23 states… The rejection of Jesus is not prompted by xenophobia; it is prompted by Jesus’ refusal to provide his hometown with messianic blessings. (p. 107)

Where are you with this rich array of texts?

Will you speak of Jeremiah’s call and ours, and God’s promises to equip and accompany?

Will you abide with the psalmist in what is surely an hour of need?

Will you unpack Paul’s glorious poetry, timeless wisdom for that congregation in conflict?

Will you go with Jesus to the brow of the hill, and follow as he walks resolutely through the angry crowd?

I look forward to your wisdom in the comments. Blessings upon your study and your proclamation.

Rev. Patricia Raube is a Presbyterian pastor in the Southern Tier of New York. She blogs (sporadically) at A Swimmer in the Fount.

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16 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Over A Cliff Edition

  1. I’m playing fast and loose with the lectionary, pairing 1 Corinthians 13 — what love “is” — with the gospel lesson for the fourth Sunday of February: Luke 6:27-38, Jesus’ take on “how to do” love. Love your enemies? Turn the other cheek? This love business is not easy! (Maybe on the fourth Sunday of February I’ll go back to the Luke passage I’m skipping this week.) A week early for Valentine’s Day, but Jesus’ words tend to strip all the sentimentality out of love and show it for what it really is: hard work! And maybe in our current political climate we could use a little of his advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m preaching on the gospel lesson this week, but in reading it this morning I got stuck on a major rabbit trail linked to an idea I came across in the research for last week’s sermon, because defenestration (throwing someone out a window — my rabbit-trail explained here: https://theologythicket.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/defenestration/ ) is sort of like throwing someone off a cliff. I’m also pondering the things that prompt angry responses and how often they can be somewhat irrational. I’m thankful for your reference above to the Jewish Annotated NT, a resource I haven’t seen before. I know I need to spend some time before I write to gain more understanding about what prompts the crowd to become angry in Luke 4. In my experience so far as a pastor, anger often comes from things that change the status quo. I’m also pondering Katherine Lewis’ post on workingpreacher.com urging us to avoid playing it safe this week. So much to think about. Thank God it’s only Tuesday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mkrabbe, thanks so much for your comment and your rabbit trail, which absolutely fascinates me! One of the things for which I am most grateful in pastoral ministry is the opportunity to explore my own reactions to things (for example, things that make me angry), to interrogate them and not assume i *know* what my response is about. I agree with you about the challenge of change for all our congregations. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Also adjusting the RCL! I’m going to read last week’s Luke passage as well as this week’s. We read, but I did not preach on, the Gospel last week, and I don’t see how they can really be separated, so we’re going to hear it again. Thank you for the Levine information and quote; that’s helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Monica! I read and preached on the Luke passage last week, focusing on the first sentence of the sermon, and doing a kind of “tune in next week!” thing. But it makes a lot of sense to preach on the entire passage at once! I do love this story. Thank you for joining the conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am wrestling with the Jeremiah text this week. Yesterday I listened to an hour plus lecture by Walter Brueggemann on Jeremiah. It will be a little teaching first and using Brueggman’s context of poetic imagination especially when it comes to the six verbs in verse 10. Interestingly enough the destroy pair of verbs only appears that one time in Jeremiah. The other two sets appear seven times each. Looking at weaving those words into the context of this interim church and how we can use our imagination to allow something new to spring forth.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sounds really interesting. I love creative imagining! We are doing this at my church – restructuring with a smaller session and considering what might be getting in the way of doing new things, and what new things we’d like to be doing. I have to try not to be Debbie Downer when somebody says, “Well, we used to do ….” Also enjoying your movie/poem question in Facebook!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Elaine, thanks for sharing your plans here! For me, I’m going into Sunday a little frustrated that I can’t do justice to all these great texts… sounds like you are going to make Jeremiah sing! Blessings.


  5. Hey there – based on an idea from Rachel Hackenberg, replacing the word LOVE with the word GOD in I Cor, and seeing what we think about those being God’s attributes. Getting to the end of the passage, I wondered if this might be another name for the trinity? “now faith, hope and love abide…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer, this makes so much sense. I mean, at least once a day I type the words “God is love,” and I take that passage from 1 John so seriously. Blessings on this lovely idea for your people!


    1. Rachel, since I’m still writing (late for me!), I’ll be visiting your blog after I’m done. Grace and peace in the preaching of it!


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