What a perfect set of readings for the day we gather to make decisions together about who we are
and what we need to be doing as Unity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
It’s almost as though the readings were chosen for the occasion.
But no, these are the readings that almost every Western Christian will hear today in worship.
That in itself proves that the Holy Spirit is still in the business of inspiring us through ancient texts.
The first reading from Nehemiah:
The people of Judea have finally been released from captivity in Babylon.
They have been sent by their liberators, the Persians, back to Jerusalem
to re-establish themselves as a distinct people following the beliefs and the
laws of their ancestors to worship their One True God.
Here in this lesson, they do not gather at the Temple.
They gather at the Water Gate.
Men, women, children, and all who could understand, listened to the reading of the Torah.
And, significantly, they also listened to commentary about the words they heard from the Torah.
You see, during their 400 years of captivity in Babylon, the priestly system of sacrifice had been
replaced with the synagogue system we know today in modern Judaism.
In fact, it is this synagogue liturgy we use in the first half of our Christian worship:
readings and songs from scripture followed by commentary.
The commentary is done in the First Reading by Ezra, the priest
and scribe; Nehemiah, the governor; and the Levites.
In today’s Psalm, we are reminded that the proclamation of the
glory of God is not only done by the laws, decrees, precepts,
commandments, and ordinances of God but by creation itself.
The scriptures are finer than gold and sweeter than honey.
The heavens and the earth have no voice to be heard and yet their voice goes out through all
the earth, and their words to the end of the world both in time and in space.
Yes, God is known in the words of holy scripture.
Yes, God is known as the Holy Spirit speaks through thousands of years of interpretation,
tradition, and commentary – God willing, through this very sermon.
And yes, God is known through songs and hymns; through art and icons;
through dance and drama; through our actions of eating bread, drinking wine, and
splashes of holy water.
And God is known through the wonders of great waterfalls and tiny streams; grand mountains
and patches of farmed land; through rainbows and clouds and even storms.
But God is known best through God’s greatest creation, humanity.
That’s why we are reminded today in the Second Reading that we are the greatest proclamation of who God is. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that we are the body of Christ.
And he tells us these three things:
1. All of us have gifts.
2. We have different gifts. We are not all the same.
Some of us are gifted with proclamation.
Some of us are gifted with interpretation or teaching or leadership or healing or
generosity or so many ways in which our gifts proclaim who God is and how God acts.
But we are not holy clones.
3. The reason we assemble together is not only to hear the holy Word and receive the holy sacraments;
but to share those holy gifts we have with one another and by them to make one another whole.
Those who use the familiar words spoken by so many today,
“I can worship God all by myself” or “I can be spiritual without being religious” do not know
how much they are missing when they are absent from the holy assembly, the Church, the body of Christ.
Now we hear the reading of today’s Gospel.
Jesus left his boyhood home when he was about 30 years old.
He was baptized by his cousin John. He spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness.
He began teaching and healing his way back to Nazareth in Galilee. And while visiting home this Sabbath,
he was invited by the synagogue president to read from the scroll of the prophet
Isaiah and to speak some words of commentary.
Just as Ezra and Nehemiah had done in today’s First reading;
just as scribes and rabbis had done since those early days of synagogue assembly;
Jesus was asked to say a few words about the text which he read to his friends and relatives.
And he surprised them.
All he intended to say about Isaiah’s words were, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Just a note: it was so tempting for me to keep going and tell you what happens next but you will have to come to church again next Sunday to hear next Sunday’s Gospel and next Sunday’s sermon to learn about that.
But we have enough to contemplate in this text, this Sunday’s Gospel reading.
Remember that the First reading and the Psalm told us about God in scripture and in creation.
Now here Jesus is identifying himself.
Jesus is telling us what God will do through him as he continues his ministry and makes his way toward
Jerusalem and the Cross.
He will bring good news to the poor; release to the captives; sight to the blind;
and freedom to the oppressed. He will proclaim the year of Jubilee.
(The year when all debts are cleared and all sins are wiped away.)
Everything that follows as he continues three years of ministry is exactly what he claims
in today’s Gospel as his Mission Statement. He will do exactly as his mother Mary sang before he was born.
He will scatter the proud and bring down the powerful; he will lift up the lowly.
He will feed the hungry and send away the rich.
He will upset the order of things and, by doing so, he will make friends of the poor,
the disabled, the disenfranchised and the sinner.
And he will bring death upon himself because of it.
Finally, he will set his face like flint towards Jerusalem; towards judgement and death on a Cross.
And this is how God will reveal God to the whole world for the rest of time.
And today, as that very body of Christ, we reveal God the best
way that God can be revealed through Jesus’ very same actions.
Through our baptism, we have taken on Jesus’ mission.
Jesus still does the same things because the Church does them.
The poor still gain hope as we give our offerings to feed them and clothe them and offer them shelter.
The captives are still set free when we involve ourselves in ministries of justice.
The blind still receive sight: whether it’s through Christian hospitals lifting cataracts or
when the scales of prejudice fall from the eyes of a bigot we have challenged.
The oppressed are still set free when we pray for those who live under unjust governments
or when our social service agencies help someone leave a life of chemical dependence.
And each one of us has a part in Jesus’ongoing mission.
So, as we close this learning part of our worship and move towards new strength and nourishment
in the sacrament of Holy Communion with one another,
I am asking you to take on Jesus’ mission.
With courage and resolve, let us all renew our mission as the body of Christ with the same words Jesus used.
Repeat after me, sentence by sentence:
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor!
The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives!
The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to help the blind recover their sight!
The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to free the oppressed!
The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim the Year of Jubilee!
Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in our hearing.