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Something Old, Something New

Commentary
There’s that old rhyme associated with weddings, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe.” These were the things the bride was supposed to wear to her wedding to ensure prosperity and good luck.

Regardless of the origin and history of this rhyme, it’s worth noting that we are the bride of Christ, and in these lectionary scriptures for this Sunday we are being given something old, something new, and something borrowed. I’m not going to worry about anything being blue, and it’s too hard for some of us to put our hands on a sixpence.

The something old comes from Isaiah. The suffering servant whose words can cut us to our heart are redefined in the mission and ministry of Jesus. The something borrowed is the image of wealth which the city of Corinth enjoys in contrast to the poverty of other parts of Greece. Paul tells the Corinthians their true wealth comes from Jesus, and not through their own cleverness. The something new is that ancient archetype, the word, finding new definition in Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Isaiah 49:1-7
Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant, which will be explicated in the chapters that follow, are something planed by God from of old. The prophet says he was called before his birth, commissioned to be God’s own arrow, God’s own sword, to convict not by conquering, but through his suffering witness. Note that here the servant speaks for himself, not for the Lord. The prophet is one who is deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, yet he will be honored and glorified. The church has seen in these words of old the King of kings, coming at yuletide. He who through his suffering will be despised and abhorred will surprise all, revealed as the Lamb of God, as John the Baptist saw so clearly. His own received him not, but he will take away the sin of the world. The servant will be vindicated. This is what is meant when Jesus quotes Psalm 22 from the cross. The suffering servant is the model not only for the ministry of Jesus, but for us as well. I’ve been recently reading Robert A. Caro’s massive four volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, and he makes the point in more than one place that the nonviolent arm of the Civil Rights movement was intended to strike the core of white America’s conscience by forcing them to witness the unmerited suffering of the African Americans who witnessed nonviolently to the truth of their cause. It’s no easier now for us to live like Jesus, especially in an age of Twitter where one is supposed to respond to insults with a ceaseless barrage of insults of our own.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
There’s a lot going on in this letter of Paul to Corinth. Corinth is a bustling city of commerce located on the Isthmus of Greece, multi-ethnic, a center of many faiths, in contrast to the poverty of Macedonia. The Corinthians owed their wealth to a geographical accident. Ships could reduce the risks associated with a Mediterranean voyage by either unloading their ships on one side of the isthmus, transporting the goods by cart, and reloading on another waiting ship, or if the ship were small enough, putting the ship on wheels and transporting it directly. Their wealth was not the result of their own merit, but good fortune.

Paul borrowed that image of wealth and its source, and reminded them that they were made rich, with regards to their knowledge, and testimony, and spiritual gifts, because of God’s gift of Jesus Christ. It’s not our own merit, but God’s blessings, that makes us wealthy in salvation. We are often tempted as Americans to take credit for our good fortune without crediting the happy accident of our birth here. We who are the descendants of wanderers (as Abraham wandered without ever truly arriving, who is our spiritual ancestor) sometimes despise contemporary immigrants who are looking for the same blessings. And we who are comfortable church people are uncomfortable with newcomers to the faith who haven’t learned to respect us enough to do what we say.

John 1:29-42
Something new — a whole new way of looking at Jesus. What a difference a day makes. While the other three gospels have Jesus die on Passover, his death takes place on the preparation day, the day before, when lambs are slaughtered for the Passover meal. The blood of the lamb, splattered on the doorposts of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, will save these families from the Angel of Death. The blood of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, will save us from the condition of sin which enslaves us, despite our best efforts, to alienation and despair.

This is so new, so different, that two disciples of John leave him and follow Jesus. One of them, Andrew, inspires his brother Simon to meet Jesus, who gives him a new name: Cephas, Peter, Rock. Jesus grants new insight to Nathaniel who is bound by old prejudices – Can anything good come from Nazareth – to come to agree with Phillip that here is the one pointed to by the law and the prophets. And greater things are to come. All these disciples are now something new.

A new name, a new way of looking at scripture, a new life in Christ can be liberating, but it’s also scary because we have to set aside our preconceptions. It’s all part of entering a new relationship with God as the bride of Christ. Are we ready to become something new?
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