January 23rd, 2022 – Hear the Word

Sermon for Epiphany III, 2022, Random Lake                                                                      1/23/22

Theme: HEAR THE WORD

Text: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Luke 4:14-21; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Introduction     We don’t see a reading from Nehemiah very often.  At first, it may look like a boring bit of Old Testament history.  But, let’s take another look.

            We may be witnessing the most important day in the formation of the Scriptures.  Ezra, who is at the center of this drama, is credited by some scholars as the one who pulled together all the ancient strands of oral and written words into what is  called the Hebrew Bible.

In the dramatic scene unfolding in this account, Ezra, the scribe, brings into the assembly the “book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.”  The audience includes “both men and women and all who could hear with understanding.“  Picture the crowd hushed, as the book is carried in and opened in the sight of all the people.  Most could not read.  Many had never seen a book.  “The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.”  Ezra stood on a platform above the people, and they all stood up.

            Here is an early model of our worship practice.

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 faces to the ground.

            The book of the law was read “with interpretation.”  Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra, the priest and scribe, and Levites [or teachers], interpreted the reading.  Stunned by the truth of their mistakes and the failure of the nation to live up to God’s expectations, some wept in shame.

But Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.  Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of [food] to those for whom nothing is prepared…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

So, here’s God’s plan for us today: HEAR THE WORD and respond with understanding, humility, and joy.

I           My sense is that large numbers in our nation have never heard the Word of the Lord in Scripture.  They haven’t opened the book that Ezra read to the people.  When have you heard citizens refer to the law of the Lord?  Or who mentions our need to care about God’s expectations?  A lot of bad behavior flows from sheer ignorance of right and wrong.  There is an epidemic of people who think that their opinions or desires are all that really matters.  Or so it seems to me.

            How else can one explain parents in Michigan giving their troubled son a gun as an early Christmas present?  They showed him how to use it and ignored his disturbing drawings in school asking for help.  They refused to act on the school’s reasonable advice, that the teen be taken out of school for some special help.  Did they know that he had his “Christmas present” with him and might shoot a number of children and adults?  Did they care?  Apparently, they had their own agendas.  This is an extreme example of the lack of moral knowledge.

            It bothers me that so many politicians think that they need only to attend to their constituents—right, left, or center—rather than do what their oath to the Constitution, or better yet, the law of God expects from them.  I know that things can be very complicated.  But there is also the concept of right and wrong apart from personal preference, power or money.  It would be wise to read the Scriptures and to heed God’s Word.  Citizens, pay attention!

II.         Jesus–God’s Word to humanity–came into this world to help all people to keep in mind the will of our Creator. He came to save us from our self-centered ignorance.  Moreover, when human resistance rejected his teaching and his example, Jesus, the Christ, was willing to lay down his life for us, to provide a path to peace and joy through the sea of human rebellion.

            Today, Luke brings Jesus to us at the time of his inaugural sermon in his home town of Nazareth.  Luke has informed the reader of Jesus’ miraculous birth, the songs of heavenly messengers, prophesies spoken by devout witnesses in the temple, and Jesus’ anointing at his baptism, authorizing him to be the servant Son of God.  By the power of the Spirit, Jesus had overcome Satan’s temptation and done acts of healing all over Galilee.  Now, he comes to synagogue, “as was his custom.”    As in Ezra’s time, the crowd was breathless.

            Like a visiting celebrity, Jesus received the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, stood up, found the passage and read.  He obviously knew the Scriptures and unrolled the scroll to Isaiah 68:1-2 and 58:6. 

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, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

            In majestic confidence, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, as teachers did.  The eyes of all were fixed on him. Then he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

            The citizens of Nazareth were not pleased when Jesus made clear that his mission was for all people, even those considered outsiders and enemies. The mood of the audience darkened until they were ready to throw him off a cliff and throw stones at him.  Remarkably, Jesus passed through the midst of them and went his way—such was the authority of the Spirit-filled Son of God.

III         Friends in Christ, we do well to read and listen to the words of Scripture. I trust that the Lord will lead us to a proper interpretation.  First, we will grow in appreciation of ourselves as people loved and redeemed by God.  We will hear in our hearts good news in a time of discouraging words.  We will find release from captivity to sin and from all the false thinking of our era.  But, furthermore, we will be empowered to distinguish right from wrong, and be led to healthy ways of thinking and acting, not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

            The Apostle Paul makes it clear that we will never be alone as members of the Church, the Body of Christ. The second reading for today gives us that wonderful analogy of life together by saying we are like a human body.  We can’t make it alone, just like an eye or an ear or a hand or any other part needs to be attached to the whole. 

            It’s sad to think of those who say, “I’m a Christian,” but go their own way apart from those who listen to God’s Word and worship on a regular basis. 

            Such loners are vulnerable to join groups that are cut off from the Word of Christ and prone to resist Jesus’ mission.  They are tempted to listen to that other voice that tried to throw Jesus off course in the wilderness–the voice of Satan, the accuser, the one who tears down and scatters the flock that Jesus gathers.  The church that listens to God’s Word needs to resist the forces of evil that divide people from one another.

            If we are attentive to the words of Jesus, the fulfillment of all of Scripture, we will seek the true, the good, and the beautiful. By God’s grace, we will follow the path toward righteousness and well-being.  We will walk, strong and confident, in the steps of Jesus–resisting the detours of anger, violence, and captivity to sin.

Conclusion  I close with this prayer from an old hymnal still worth praying:

Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life , which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ….

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