Monday, 28 January 2013

Epiphany 4(3) sermon

27th January 2013
Psalm 19, Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:20-31a; Luke 4:14-21

May the words of my lips and the thoughts of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

We don’t usually include the Psalm in our readings but I think these lines from Psalm 19 are relevant to this morning:

7The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

I’m a tutor on a Christian Studies group out in Essex and we’ve been looking at the Old Testament.    A lot of the Old Testament can seem very remote to us today so Beryl kindly gave us a couple of tours of the British Museum looking at Old Testament artefacts. 

Actually seeing the archaeological evidence for events described in the Bible is quite an experience:  seeing that these Bible histories are not just old stories with possibly some truth in them somewhere but that we really do have evidence that they happened. 

And so it is with today’s readings – in the British Museum is the amazing Cyrus cylinder, a clay cylinder covered in writing setting out the decree of the Persian Emperor Cyrus, allowing all the exiled peoples held in Babylon, which included people of Israel, to return to their own countries and rebuild their temples and cities. 
Nehemiah came from one of those exiled families and, in fact, his family seems to have flourished in exile – as many did – and he came to hold a responsible position in the service of Cyrus’s successor, King Artaxerxes.  He – and many others - didn’t return to Jerusalem when they were first given permission to do so but, later, hearing what a desperate mess Jerusalem was in, and the poverty and deprivation of the people living there, Nehemiah felt God calling him and asked and got the King’s permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. 
And it wasn’t just the city of Jerusalem he was to rebuild and renew – but also the people’s faith.

Our reading tells us how, once the walls of Jerusalem had been safely rebuilt, Nehemiah called all the people together to hear the priest Ezra read the Books of the Law.  This was done to rebuild the Jewish nation by returning them to the beliefs and practices given them by Moses.

But note that Nehemiah didn’t just have the Books read to the people; he made sure they were explained and interpreted to the people as well.

And this, I suppose, is what I am aiming to be doing this morning, as many standing here in this church have done before me.  Not just reading passages from the Bible to the congregation, but trying to make them relevant to the present situation– trying to give everyone something to take ownership of – to take away home. 

Pictures of this practice of reading and interpreting the word of God continue in our other readings today.

From the reading of the Law in the time of Nehemiah (possibly somewhere round 520 BC) the Gospel reading takes us to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, when, filled with the Holy Spirit He had just begun travelling through the countryside teaching and healing and finally gets to his hometown, Nazareth.  And there He goes to the synagogue to read and interpret the Scriptures. 

Those of us here who went on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009 will remember our visit to the little town of Nazareth and also our visit to the reconstructed Nazareth village, which gave us a taste of what Jesus’s early life might have been like.

We visited a reconstruction of a first century small town/village synagogue.  Basically a smallish rectangular building with stone columns and walls supporting the timber roof, three tiers of stone seating round the walls and an open space in the centre.  Very simple, - nice and cool in hot weather.  A good place to hear and reflect on the scripture. 

Jesus choses verses from Isaiah chapter 61 – also originally written to re-inspire and renew the worship and practices of the Jewish people returned from exile.

And as he reads them, Jesus re-interprets them for the congregation in front of him ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’   It staggered everyone then – but what about us here today?

As Christians we apply it directly to Jesus – He was sent to bring the good news of the opportunity of renewal and new life in Him and the ever present presence of the Holy Spirit.  His fellow citizens found it all too much – He added some home truths about prophets’ not being accepted in their home towns - and attempted to murder him.  But at least they reacted.  What about us?

Imagine yourselves now sitting in that simple stone synagogue.  Make yourself comfortable – maybe close your eyes.  You’re sitting on one of those stone tiers, maybe you’ve brought a rug or blanket with you to sit on.  It’s probably pretty full – maybe people standing in the doorway – everyone wants to hear the new preacher.   You could be one of Jesus’s new followers, following him from place to place, trying to catch every word he says, or maybe you are someone who’s lived in Nazareth all your life – maybe you grew up with Jesus – played with him when a boy – or maybe you are older and remember something about a possible scandal or something about his birth – but you saw him grow up and now, here he is with a band of followers teaching in your synagogue.

Imagine yourselves sitting there – and Jesus stands up to read - he is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he reads:

“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 favour.”

And then he sits down (as people did in those days to teach) and says,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Still sitting there in that synagogue, what do you make of it?  How do you feel about it?

And bringing yourselves back to St Peter’s today – what do you make of it now?  What do you feel about it now?

What do you do about it?

Which is where our final reading from 1 Corinthians could come in.

Paul is actually writing our scriptures of course – and is interpreting and expanding on what he says as he goes.

Paul gives the Corinthians a model to follow – which we can too.  As Christians we’re all one together, as Christians across the globe, as Christians in the UK, as members of the Church of England but also as a body of Christians here together in St Peter’s.  Paul uses the analogy of a human body which needs every one of its parts to function properly.  If one bit isn’t working properly the whole suffers.  Personally I’ve no idea how some bits inside my body work – the hypothalamus for instance? - I wouldn’t know it if I saw it – but I can’t function properly without it.  

Every one of us here’s important to everyone else and to the whole.  We all have something special, something unique to give to each other, to St Peter’s and to our communities – and it won’t necessarily be something glaringly obvious or terribly clever or even a ‘doing’ sort of thing (for example it could be simply and quietly and consistently praying). 

It’s worth reflecting on all this, on these readings, on Jesus’ words.

What does it all mean to you personally?

What does it all mean to us as a church? Is there something we could be doing about it as a church?  Or even something we could stop doing?

I’d like to finish by reading Jesus’ words one more time:

Jesus says:      “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 favour.”

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

No comments: