A Reading from the Book of Nehemiah (8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10)
All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and
the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (2:12-31a)
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—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (4:14-21)
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Here’s a bible trivia question for you. During this year, Year C of our three-year Lectionary cycle, most of our gospel readings are taken from the gospel according to Luke. In Luke’s gospel, other than a citation from scripture, what is the very first word that Jesus speaks? Hint: you’ll find it at the end of the reading that we just heard. That word is “today”: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
That fact might seem insignificant, but in both Luke and Acts, in both volumes of Luke’s story, the author emphasizes the work that God is doing in the world today. He refers back to the deeds of God and of the people of God in the past, and he envisions where God is leading the world for the future; but first and foremost, he is concerned with what God is doing now and on people being engaged in that work of God now. That is a focus that some members of the church try to avoid in all ages.
Jesus’ original audience loved to recall God’s great works in the past. They knew that remembering is essential for discovering and experiencing who we are as the people of God. And, looking to the other end of the spectrum of history, they liked also to try to envision what God might do for them and might make of them in the future, in some vague “someday.” That emphasis, too, is important: to have some idea of where we are going or, at least, where we want to go. But seeing God’s hand at work and accepting their role in that work today was much more problematic. It required them, not just to recall something or to dream something, but to do something: to engage actively in serving and remaking the world today.
That tendency to live either in the past or in some imagined future is one that challenges people in all ages. A focus on the past tends to be an especially prominent characteristic of people as they approach, enter, and move through old age: the tendency to focus on the way things used to be, or at least the way their imaginations have reshaped their memories of the way things used to be. And a focus on some imagined future tends to be an especially prominent characteristic of younger people: the tendency to avoid doing things that they would rather not do and to try to justify their negligence by claiming that they will do them someday, just not now, just not today.
Since churches are comprised of human beings, churches often exhibit these same tendencies. Some members, especially those who have been around for many years, often focus on the past: on the way things used to be, on activities that the church used to have, on the role that the church used to play in their lives and in the life of the community around it. Others, or sometimes even the same people, look toward an indefinite, imagined future: to convincing themselves that they will go ahead and lead or at least participate in the life and work of the church, whether internally or out in the community, someday, just not now, just not today.
Remembering, knowing our past, the shared past of our religious heritage, is essential. It roots us in something far bigger and deeper than just our own limited perspective and that of the time in which we live. And having some vison of the future, where we want to go or, much more importantly, where God wants us to go, is also essential. If you don’t know where you are going, you’re probably never going to get there. But each of these has its limits. Each of these can be used, and often is used, not as a means for understanding and engaging in the work of God in the present, but for avoiding that work.
Maybe that is why the theme of God’s presence today, God’s work in the world today, and God’s call to us today recurs over and over again the scriptures, both Old Testament and New. It stretches from the psalmist’s plea “Oh, that today you would listen to his voice!” (Ps. 95:7); to Paul‘s insistence, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6:2); to Luke’s assertion, in both Luke and Acts, that the time of God’s presence and work, and the time that we are called to respond to and participate in that work, is today.
It’s easy to live in the past, and it’s easy to live in a future that is mostly a creation of our own imagination. It’s much harder to live in the reality of the present and to live within the conviction that God’s work is taking place today and that our role in that work needs to take place today.
We would much rather keep the work of God and of God’s Messiah at arm’s length. That distance allows us to make of God and of God’s Messiah whatever we want them to be. It’s much harder to live with a Messiah whose work in the world is taking place now and to live our lives with the Messiah that we have, instead of one that is the creation of our own imagination.
The late Fred Craddock (Luke, p. 127) expanded on that theme when he wrote: “That a Messiah is coming is always an exciting and welcome message. [At the time of Jesus,} everyone had a sermon under the title “When the Messiah Comes,” a message including every hope, every dream, every ideal condition for which the heart longs. It is no wonder that the church’s message that the Messiah has come and he is Jesus has not been so popular. To believe the Messiah has come means we can no longer shape him to fit our dreams; he shapes us to fit God’s will.”
It is that Messiah, that Christ, whose birth and manifestation to the world we have been celebrating for the past month. But the epiphany of Jesus, his manifestation to the world, is not just an event of the past or a date on a church calendar. It is the role and responsibility that God has given to us as a church and to all of us as members of a church. It is neither in our somewhat faulty recollections of the past nor in our imaginative fantasies of the future that we make him known to the world, but in what we say and what we do in the world to build God’s kingdom, not just someday but today.