Jan. 27, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jan 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

January 27, 2019

By the time we follow the story of God’s people and come to chapter 8 of Nehemiah, the people had returned to Judah, rebuilt the temple and restored the city walls. We learn that they have settled into their cities which sounds joyfully fulfilling for a people who for multiple generations have long been in exile. The yearning to feel a sense of home has come to fruition! You’d think that was the end of the story so to speak, yet they still had much to sort out—how would they now live together? What is their new identity as people of God now that they are no longer diasporic? What is to prevent this devastating ‘divine punishment’ from happening again? They turn to the strongest and most reliable source; the word of God—Torah. It’s hard to imagine what this meant in an age where I’ll bet nearly every person in this room has a phone or tablet they could use to read scripture any time, or numerous copies at home. In those days, most knew only what bits they could remember hearing since few among them could read and only the temple would have had a written copy of it. This is bigger than a TED talk or even State of the Union address for them, it is about their very identity and future as a people. So, Ezra stands on a special raised platform so everyone can see and hear; “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people…and when he opened it, all the people stood up.” God’s word is for everyone and so he reads it to everyone so all can hear. Not just the literate ones, not just the temple priests and scribes (of which Ezra is one) —it is God’s gift to God’s people, and their response is not merely to listen, it’s to honor and celebrate it with their whole selves. They stand, they lift up their hands in prayerful thanksgiving, they are attentive to how powerful this gift is. This is a day of covenant renewal, of celebration. They are not to mourn or weep for having forgotten Torah’s teachings, rather they are to celebrate by eating good food and sweet wine, and giving it to those who have none, for this is a holy day.

Then we hear from Luke’s gospel, how all those centuries the people later worship and their rituals recall times of Torah’s guidance like when Ezra read it to them. Here they gather in the temple, attentively postured to hear God’s word, and Jesus, (about whom good reports have been spreading throughout the country) stands up as Ezra did so all could see and hear, and he reads from the prophet Isaiah. It is apt instruction for their gathering to hear what this local fellow is now all about; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now fast forward to today; we too gather and celebrate being together as God’s people, and we read aloud God’s Word, first from the Hebrew Scriptures like Nehemiah and then often psalms or singing, and then we have the gospel itself; the word of God as spoken through God’s incarnate word! As with Ezra and Jesus’ people we gather and set the celebratory importance, we ‘unroll the scroll’ by carrying the opened gospel book reverently high, and we come into the middle of the people so all can see and hear it. We even print it in the bulletin for those who couldn’t otherwise hear well, —but we should set down our bulletins and learn to listen with our ears and our hearts, so as to let God’s Word come into our souls anew each time. In this season after Epiphany it is in our minds to continue to try to understand the implications of God’s ingress into our humanity through the Word made flesh in Jesus. We hear Jesus say he’s come to do as Isaiah had promised, “to bring good news to the poor… release to the captives…sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and we wonder what went wrong – because those things aren’t all fixed! Recall with me how he rolls up the scroll, sits down to teach them, and into the quiet collective anticipation Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

He doesn’t say it was fulfilled by his coming (singular past tense) nor that it will be fulfilled before he dies (future tense) he puts it in a definitely re-occurring perfect tense that points to the fullness of present and future and ongoing. Because we shorten things up for our All Parish Meeting today, we omitted the reading from 1st Corinthians, and it’s a beautiful explanation of how this very gospel works; “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” The fulfillment Jesus speaks of is the invitation for us all to take this up as God’s call. We sometimes forget that the ministries are how Christ acts through us, and so I want us all to endeavor to make that connection clear in our minds. Shoveling dirt and rocks or pruning at a work party, setting out food for coffee hour, teaching Godly Play, joining the vestry, serving for our worship services, funding and filling food boxes, or staying to clean up after a church dinner, supporting the Mission Trip, all serve to make Christ visible and known. You preach this sermon with your lives and ministries every day, because you are the Body of Christ, and today and tomorrow and next year this scripture is being fulfilled!

Like Ezra’s listeners our nation is in danger of us being a diaspora people in terms of how we treat each other and how we live together. Now we too have come to a time of defining our identity and future as a people. Can we now live into the Word of God as people of Christ’s Body both globally and locally? We strive to carry out Christ’s work in our lives and in our various ministries and in doing so we carry Christ’s gift of love and healing and giving with us everywhere. We set this as a sacred place where anyone can come and experience that promise in action, where one can immerse oneself in taking on that action, and we can gather to celebrate and give thanks for all the ways we know Christ. I want to close with a piece by Howard Thurman, you’ve probably heard before, and in this church season just a few weeks after Christmas and a few weeks before we enter Lent it seems just right.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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