Sunday, January 21, 2007

Epiphany 3
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.

Today we are stuck in the house for the third day. Today the temperatures are hovering at freezing and freezing rain has been falling from the skies. Everything is covered in ice, making for a very dangerous situation. While our weather might seem mild to those who live farther north, this type of storm is a significant event for us. The city has been shut down Ė roads, schools and businesses are closed. We managed to get out and run a few errands on Monday, to fill our pantry and prepare for the possibility of bad weather. The weather came and we are coping the best we can with the cold and inconvenience of having our life put on hold.

The weather was supposed to pass by now, and though the severe weather warning has expired there is still an advisory from the National Weather Service suggesting that everyone stay off the roads. It doesnít look that bad, as a matter of fact, it appears as though some of the ice is melting. However, the temperatures have not changed in two days and the dripping is freezing as soon as it hits the ground or the bushes. Though a few people have decided to brave the cold, there are very few cars on the roads. Most of us are hiding away in our warm homes hoping that today is the day that the storm passes as we can get back to normal.

The Israelites returned to Jerusalem just as God had promised through the prophets. They did not return to the shining star, the beautiful city they remembered, but to a desolate and ruined place. The temple Ė the dwelling place of their God Ė was rubble, having been destroyed by the Babylonians. Restoration was always part of Godís plan Ė not only the restoration of Godís people to the place they loved, but of that place to her former beauty. The repairs came with the help of the Babylonians, who played a role not only in the exile but in the redemption of Godís people.

When the temple was restored and the people resettled, the people gathered to hear the reading of Godís Word. The Law had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai and they had lost touch with what it meant to them as a people. This is why God gave then into the hands of the Babylonians Ė to discipline them and to make them whole and new. They needed to see life outside of Godís grace to understand how to live within His grace. God did not do this as a form of punishment, but as a way to bring His people home. All along He intended for them to be renewed and gathered as one people again, manifesting Godís grace to the world.

Our scriptures today all speak about the manifestation of God before His people. Now the Bible tells of many ways which God speaks to His people and reveals Himself. To Moses He appeared as a burning bush. As the Israelites left Egypt He was a tower of fire. His message is said to have come as a still small voice or as roaring thunder. He sent angels to share His word and even spoke through the mouth of a donkey. While these ways of hearing God are miraculous, they leave room in our minds and our hearts for doubt. Did we really see God in the burning bush or hear His voice in the thunder? We donít always understand why God is speaking as He speaks or what He is trying to say.

Our scriptures for today, however, show us the manifestation of God in a way we can understand. In the reading of Godís Law, the Israelites were reminded of Godís Word for them. It cut them to the heart as they recognized their sin against God and against one another. They mourned their failure and the brokenness of their relationship with God. Yet Nehemiah told them that it was not a time for mourning Ė after all, they had been saved and restored to God. Instead of mourning, they were called and gathered together as one community, one body, to worship God and rejoice. Nehemiah said, ďGo your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength.Ē To God the past is gone and To-day is the beginning of something new.

In todayís Gospel narrative we see another manifestation of God Ė in the person of Jesus Christ. As we continue through the season of Epiphany, the will and purpose of God in Christ Jesus is made clearer to us. After Jesus went into the wilderness, sent by the Holy Spirit after His baptism, Jesus came back with power and authority. He was preaching and teaching throughout the region, amazing those who heard Him and doing miraculous things. We donít completely understand all the signs of Godís love in the miracles Ė like last weekís water to wine miracle. We can find some spiritual depth to it, but we donít completely understand why God would care to do something so earthly. Healing lepers and casting out demons has a real physical, emotional and spiritual impact on people. Creating wine out of nothing seems so unimportant. Yet that was Jesusí first miracle and because of what they saw the disciples began to believe in Jesus.

So this week we see Jesus at work, preaching and teaching in the synagogues. It was normal for the people to gather together to hear the reading of Godís word, just as the Israelites had done in Jerusalem all those years ago. This gathering was much like a Bible study we might have today, when people were asked to read from the scriptures and teachers would share some thoughts on the passage read. It was not unusual for visitors to be asked to read or teach. Since Jesus had been preaching and teaching throughout the region and word of His authority was spreading quickly, it is no surprise that the people of His hometown would also invite Him to speak. Jesus did not go and simply say, ďI am the Christ.Ē Unfortunately there were already people who were making such a claim. They were crying for freedom from the oppression of the Romans, calling for the people to revolt. They saw the coming of the Messiah to be the arrival of a new king, a king who would rule Israel into a new golden age, like the age of David.

Jesus did not establish His credibility with a sword, but with the Word of God. He chose a passage from Isaiah. ďThe Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.Ē

The year of Jubilee was a time of restoration and of redemption. The fiftieth year was called the Jubilee year and was a time when the slaves were set free and all debts were counted as paid. At the Jubilee, everything was made new. Everyone was given a new beginning, another chance. The passage Jesus read was a reference to the year of Jubilee Ė but not in the sense of a calendar year. It was a time of redemption, of salvation from God. Now is the time to be set free from the bondage that keeps the people from living as God has called and gifted them to live.

This was good news for those who were tired of living in bondage under the Romans. Jesus was fulfilling the expectations they had about the Messiah Ė expectations of a man with power and authority, who healed and who brought change. They saw Jesus as the fulfillment of all their hopes. He would be the king for whom they had been waiting. It is not so surprising that the anointed king of Godís kingdom would take care and provide for all the human needs of the people to whom He was sent. Preaching and healing would provide the proof they needed to know that Godís hand was on the life and ministry of the One who was sent.

So as they listened to Jesus read and teach, they saw that Jesus might be the One for whom they were waiting. Then Jesus finished by saying, ďTo-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.í The salvation of God was in their midst, His redemption manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. His ministry would be one of preaching and one of healing, of proclaiming Godís mercy to the world. We do not hear their response in todayís reading Ė we will not hear that part of the story until next week. Yet we can imagine that since He found favor with the rest of the region, then certainly His hometown would be supportive and encouraging. Certainly those who knew Him would see it more clearly than the rest. They knew Jesus, loved Him like their own.

It must have been a remarkable moment for the people of Nazareth. After all, this Jesus was special and He would bring acclaim to their sleepy little town. He would take care of their hungers, their hurts and their desires. They would no longer be the rejected and downcast of the cities, but would rise above all the others. Nazareth was an unimportant town, but Jesus would make it important. Isnít it interesting how in the desert it was very easy for Jesus to reject the temptations thrown at Him by the devil? Jesus would face the same temptations, but coming from those He loved. They would look to Jesus to prove Himself so they could believe. We will learn that God does not perform on demand. The works of His hands are for a much more important purpose Ė to be a manifestation of His love and His grace in the world.

One of the things I have found very interesting about our situation here in Texas these past few days is how the reporters have managed to be in studio each day, despite the fact that they are reporting the importance of staying home. The roads are dangerous and no one should be out there Ė so how are they getting to work? As it turns out, the station I watch explained that they had rooms at a hotel just across the parking lot from the studio. They announced this several times and addressed the concerns of their viewers. ďWe do not consider our jobs more important than any one elseís. We know we should not be on the roads. That is why we have decided to sacrifice time with our families and stay nearby so that we will not be a hazard on the roads.Ē They are not better than anyone else, but they recognized the need for up to date information to keep the city as safe as possible. It was an act of service for the sake of the whole.

The Corinthians were a difficult congregation. There were many things about the new Christian faith that they did not fully understand. The church was located in a major Greek city, a place where there were many temples to the gods. Corinth was an important world community, a place of crossroads where many nationalities came together. It was a place of questionable morality, where worship of the gods included the satisfaction of many physical desires. The Corinthian church was plagued by questions of how to live in their world while also living according to the expectations of their new faith. They often failed, falling back into ways of their past and fulfilling the desires of their flesh.

In todayís Epistle lesson Paul is addressing one of the questions of the Corinthian congregation. They had incredible gifts Ė powers that were not from themselves. Yet they were immature and unspiritual. They did not understand the things of God or the place they held in His kingdom. They did not understand that they had been called and gathered for a purpose Ė the purpose that continues Jesusí work in this world. They needed guidance about the gifts they had been given and about the expectations of God for them.

Some of the Corinthians thought that they were better and more important. They thought they had higher gifts or that their gifts proved that they were more blessed by God. Paul tells us that God has created a perfect machine, a body that works together, all parts being valuable parts of the whole. We are individuals in Christ, gifted in our own unique ways, but all necessary to make manifest the grace and mercy of God in the world.

God has blessed us with the revelation of Himself in the world. We can certainly see God in nature. We can see his hand in the rising sun and in the rainbow. We can see Him in the simple beauty of the rose and in the awesome nature of a storm. We can even see Him in the glistening icicles forming on the eves of my home. The psalmist talks about the praise of God in nature, how the creation declares the glory of God through all the earth. Yet the creation can not speak the words of God or tell of His will for mankind. Only Godís Word can give us what we need to know to truly and fully understand Him and His intent for us in the world. We know from Godís Word, Godís Law, what He expects. Though we have known for many generations, we have failed miserably to live up to His Law. Thatís why the Babylonians were sent to take them into exile for a moment, to disciple Godís people and cause them to turn back to Him.

God had a plan, a plan to restore His people and to redeem them. When they returned to Jerusalem, God helped them to restore the city and the temple to its former glory. Then He reminded them of His love through the gift of His word. Though the hearing caused them to mourn, they were reminded that it was a day to rejoice. The salvation of God came to the people, they were set free to live and love and share everything they have with the world.

We donít yet know how the people of Nazareth with respond to Jesusí revelation. Will they accept Him or reject Him? Will they follow Him and believe what He says? We will discover that next week. For now we are reminded that Jesus is the manifestation of God in flesh, but even Jesus turns to the scriptures for His authority. He did amazing things, incredible miracles. These are often beyond our understanding and explanation. However, Godís Word is always true. It is always faithful. It is always real. In His Word God calls us together, not only as individual believers, but as believers living together in community. He calls us to share our own gifts with others, to build up the body of Christ and to share the gifts of God in the world.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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