Called, Cleansed, and Sent -- A Lectionary Reflection
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
There is a difference between false modesty and humility. It is a fine line, but there is a difference. False modesty suggests that one really doesn’t merit the attention given, all the while hoping that the applause will continue. True humility is recognizing that whether or not we are gifted, to accomplish our calling we need grace.
There is a common theme in this week’s lectionary texts. Isaiah is sent forth to proclaim God’s message, but he recognizes that his lips are unclean. Peter hears the call to fish for people, but he too recognizes that this is a calling he is unable to accomplish on his own. Finally, we hear Paul speak of his calling. The risen Christ appeared first to Cephas (Peter) and the twelve, the five hundred, James, and then last of all to him. He had received an apostolic calling to proclaim the good news, which he lays out as comprising three points (as any good sermon must), Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day, all in accordance with the Scriptures.
Paul speaks of his birth as being “untimely.” That is, unlike the others, he didn’t have the opportunity to share in Jesus’ personal ministry. Instead, he had to base his message on what had been passed on to him by others. It would seem that some in Corinth doubted his authority, and thus his message. How do we know that this good news of yours is true? Paul could claim a visitation by the risen Jesus, but not the personal encounters. Therefore, he had to work harder than the others.
As we reflect on these three passages, each speaking of a call to proclaim the message of God, questions are posed to us. What is my calling? What obstacles stand in the way? Am I a person of unclean lips? Do I have the necessary background to do such a thing?
Perhaps for most of us, the obstacles are not ones of moral failure or even being untimely born. Perhaps we simply do not feel confident in the message that we’ve come to embrace. It’s okay for me, but I’m not sure I should share it with others. Recent books by Martha Grace Reese, Philip Clayton, and Ron Allen, have addressed this question. They have encouraged us to take up the calling to share our faith, but as the lectionary texts remind us, this requires not only biblical and theological knowledge, but more importantly it require a sense of God’s grace covering us in all that we do.
As Paul puts it:
“By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have to believe. (1 Cor. 15:10-11 NRSV).
Is Paul’s true humility or false modesty? That’s not a question easily answered, but it is a question we can answer of ourselves as we answer God’s call to share good news with our neighbors.
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