Text Study for 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

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“Privilege usually works for those who have it,” writes John Pavlovitz in A Bigger Table, “unless they are so roused that they are able to see with fresh eyes and notice their blind spots and the great advantage in their experience.” Part of Paul’s task in writing to the Corinthian Christians is to rouse the privileged in the community to “see with fresh eyes” the real riches that have been showered upon that little community in the bustling Greek city.

This second lectionary reading fits better with the gospel text than most weeks. In particular I would consider focusing on verse 7: “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If one of the takeaways from the gospel is to keep awake and keep working while we wait (and I think it is), then this reading allows the preacher to pivot into reassuring the congregation that we have all that we need as a community to continue serving in between the times. Our waiting is always active waiting, and we are fully equipped to use our waiting time for loving and serving our neighbor in need (and receiving that love as well).

This thanksgiving section of the letter is Paul’s version of the infomercial staple: “But wait! There’s more!” Some of the Corinthian Christians are tempted to think that they have arrived, that they have experienced all that God has to offer, that there is no more to come. Paul writes to set them right. Christ has not yet been revealed fully in the world, so there is still work to be done. The resurrection has not yet been fully realized, and the New Creation is among them as a down payment rather than a full deposit. But that down payment is more than enough for all community members to have enough and then to share their abundance with the world around them.

Other Corinthian Christians are tempted to think that there’s not enough of the good stuff for them to get through the waiting time. We will read later in the letter that they have evidence for this concern, since the privileged in the community eat all the good food before the hard-working folks even get off work to attend the community love feast. Of course there’s enough for all — if all simply take enough. It’s not that God is stingy or has reneged on any promises. The problem is one of distribution, not one of supply. This is a useful text for preaching on the Sunday after a national day of thanksgiving in the United States.

L. Ann Jervis writes about the eye-opening capacity of this text on the workingpreacher.org site:

What some of the Corinthian believers either denied or had forgotten was that their lives were to participate in the narrative of Christ. Once they were incorporated into Christ through faith, their lives were to follow the shape of Christ’s life. There are aspects of Christ’s life which of course are not to be imitated. However, Christ’s obedient faith, Christ’s suffering for the sake of others, Christ’s death and resurrection–these narrative episodes of Christ’s life are to be re-enacted by those who by faith live ‘in Christ’.”

She concludes, “Paul is convinced that God in Christ has given those ‘in Christ’ everything they need in order to wait well for ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’.”

Luther roots our good works in this abundance and describes it as an overflowing of love. “Therefore I will give myself as a kind of Christ to my neighbor,” he writes in The Freedom of the Christian, “just as Christ offered himself to me. I will do nothing in this life except what I see will be necessary, advantageous, and salutary for my neighbor,” Luther concludes, “because through faith I am overflowing with all good things for Christ” (page 524).

What to do with this embarrassment of spiritual riches? Be faithful in the waiting. Christ “will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 8). Dirk Lange helps us to see that Paul describes our waiting as an active waiting. “Paul invites the community,” he writes, “from these very opening lines, into a vision of waiting, into a vision of actively waiting for Christ to shape them into a merciful fellowship.” The waiting is not merely empty time. As is noted, for example, in the Book of Revelation, we get waiting time in order to be more fully formed as witnesses for Christ.

This is how it should be for the Corinthians, Lange continues. “This community continually remembers God in their ways. Or, to draw on Isaiah’s metaphor from the first reading, the community is like clay that the potter takes and molds so that it may be blameless on the day of the Lord. That is God’s doing, God’s calling, not ours.” Of course, we might complain that we could do with just a bit less or at least a bit less aggressive molding in this challenging time. But even our trials can be viewed as gifts from God to shape our faithfulness. As my pastor sometimes says, let’s not waste a good pandemic while we’ve got one.

We have been waiting since early March for things to get better. Instead, they are in many ways worse. We are living with Covid-fatigue, election-fatigue, racism-fatigue (for privileged white folks), and lots of other types of fatigue. So, we need messages to sustain our stamina and prop up our patience. Thus it was for the Corinthians. Paul’s words of encouragement are timely for us.

“Paul also reminds them that, as they wait in this time of trial and uncertainty, God’s gifts will keep them strong. God will be with them every step of the way, for God has been, is, and always will be faithful.” Lucy Lind Hogan writes. They live on this side of the Incarnation. The heavens have been opened, and we are never on our own.

Hogan continues,

Like the community in Corinth, we too need to be reminded that we continue to live in the time in between. We will soon celebrate the birth of the Word made flesh. We will celebrate God’s gracious gift of Jesus. But we must remember to look not only back, but forward as well. What God is doing is not over and done. There are still more truths to be revealed. And we, too, have been given spiritual gifts that will strengthen us for the journey ahead. This is, indeed, a wonderful “Advent” letter.

This is a strange holiday time. We are deprived of many of the ways we will mark that time of waiting. Normal family gatherings are perhaps suspended. We won’t have holiday parties at work or at school. Christmas programs and choir cantatas and fall festivals and Advent workshops and all the other road markers on the journey will be absent or virtual or truncated. We will not have all the “normal” external props for this time. But the resources of faith, hope and love are not absent or abbreviated. Instead, you and I “are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Hogan, Lucy Lind. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2278

Jervis, L. Ann. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=180

Lange, Dirk. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1131

Luther, Martin. The Freedom of the Christian (Annotated Luther Study Edition). Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2016.

Pavlovitz, John. A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community . Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Text Study for Isaiah 64:1-9

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I wonder if the audience for this prophetic word was suffering from exile-fatigue. We’re past the promises of Second Isaiah (although we’ll hear some of those encouraging words next week). The remnant has been returned to Judah, and the rebuilding has been underway for a while. The writer of Third Isaiah prays in the midst of the Persian colonial dominance of Judah and the lackluster restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. The excitement over being rescued is past. The novelty of returning has faded. Now it seems to just be one damned thing after another with no real end in sight.

The people perhaps are tired of muddling through, apparently on their own. “Look down from heaven and see from your holy habitation,” the prophet quotes them in Isaiah 63:15-16. “Where are your zeal and your might? The yearning of your heart and your compassion?” Gone, apparently, is the experience of God’s warm embrace for the exiles longing to return home. Is there anything worse than thinking you’ve been left on your own? “We have long been like those whom you do not rule,” they complain in 63:19, “like those not called by your name.” Lord, you are treating us no better than the un-chosen pagans among whom we have lived.

The supplicants are, perhaps, looking for the Lord in the wrong place. The text reminds me of an old joke (takes one to know one, right?). A police officer sees a drunken man intently searching the ground near a lamppost and asks him the goal of his quest. The inebriate replies that he is looking for his car keys, and the officer helps for a few minutes without success then he asks whether the man is certain that he dropped the keys near the lamppost.

“No,” is the reply, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.” “Why look here?” asks the surprised and irritated officer. “The light is much better here,” the intoxicated man responds with aplomb.(https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/04/11/better-light/).

These are the ones who pray, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” The prayer in our reading today is for a direct intervention from God, a rending of the heavens and a divine confrontation with the powers that oppress God’s people. We Christians believe that this prayer is answered most directly in the baptism of Jesus, but that’s a conversation a few months away. The text here invites us to wait with hope for this intervention and in the meantime to confess and repent our part in the brokenness of our world.

It’s a pretty whiny and somewhat self-deluded prayer, I think. Perhaps the prophet repeats all of this poetry of self-pity to help the people hear just how pathetic they sound. In verses 5 through 7, they blame God for their condition. If only the Lord had not been so peeved, then they might have stayed on the straight and narrow. Even now, if the Lord would just calm down a bit, things will get better. In verses 10-11 the supplicants protest that they have suffered enough. The temple is still a pile of ashes, and Jerusalem is desolate. “After all this,” they plead, “Will you restrain yourself, O Lord?” Can’t you just let bygones be bygones?

It’s important to read the Lord’s response in chapter 65. The Lord is having none of it. The Lord was ready to respond, but no one came looking. They searched under the lamppost where they thought the light was better. The people made sacrifices to other deities. They consulted the dead in tombs and spirits in dark corners. They ate unclean food and told the Lord to stay away since they were already too holy for such company! (verse 5). In 64:12, the petitioners plead for the Lord to speak up. In 65:6, they get their wish. It’s always best to be careful what you ask for! “I will not keep silent,” the Lord responds, “but I will repay…

I think that perhaps Kristin Wendland is a bit too optimistic about this text as she writes on workingpreacher.org (2014), “The gospel reading assigned for Advent 1A includes the refrain to keep awake so that one will not miss the coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13:33). The reading from Isaiah assures us,” she continues, “that God will be recognizable when God comes. For we have experienced God before.” The prophet includes a mention of God’s past great deeds in verses 2 and 3. But it seems that such signs of power are lacking now. God comes “Through signs of power,” Wendland continues, “but also as one who does not remember iniquity forever but turns to look with forgiveness — at all of us.”

That is certainly the punch line of the prayer in 64:9. But it is uttered by people who engage in revisionist history rather than repentance. We can look to God’s coming with hope but only if we are willing to look at ourselves honestly. It is only then that we can pray for healing. This text has that Janus-character which should be part of our Advent discipline (it is, after all, our Christian new year!). We look forward to God’s great intervention for the sake of all Creation. And we look inward at our own brokenness, how “we have all become like one who is unclean…

Corrine Carvalho writes on workingpreacher.org (2017), “Reading this passage at the beginning of Advent reminds us that we are not in control and that our relationship with God needs healing. Our sin too often manifests in our attempts to keep God in a box that we can manage, taming God’s power, but the poem reminds us that God cannot be contained. And thank goodness for that,” she concludes, “because that means that God’s grace can also not be contained or circumscribed.”

We cannot force the divine calendar or agenda. But we can make ourselves joyfully ready for the invasion of God’s grace and mercy. “At the beginning of Advent, then,” Carvalho declares,

this poem asks us to surrender. Stop fighting to be good or better. Stop worrying about being more righteous or enlightened. Stop thinking we alone can make Christmas special. Stop rushing past the hard lessons. After all, “We all fade like a leaf.” That is, until God claims us as sacred clay.

Stop rushing past the hard lessons – there’s a word for us in this moment. The temptation to write a revisionist history for ourselves, for our side, for our ideas, will be intense. We all will be tempted to rush past the hard lessons and fabricate easy ones. We are all terribly tempted to become legends in our own minds and then to blame God for not recognizing this sooner. Here at the beginning of Advent, we are called to wait. Not because waiting is a good in itself – it may or may not be. Instead, we wait for our past to catch up to us and for the power of the Spirit it takes to tell the truth about that past. Only then can we be freed for life in the future.


Carvalho, Corrine. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3485

Wendland, Kristin. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2253