- First Reading Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
- Psalm Psalm 19
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
- Gospel Luke 4:14-21
Let us pray:
Holy One, here we are at your feet once more. You are our teacher, speak to us in ways we understand. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, Amen.
I am in a Covenant Group that meets once a month. We are a group of young pastors, three with positions, two without, and one in the care process. Together we are reading Ruth Barton’s book: Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community. One of the things we are discovering is that when you are gathered intentionally around the goal of transformation in community, it tends to really open one another up to each other and to God. Deep sharing happens, where lives can be transformed and renewed.
That’s what happened in Jerusalem 450 years before Christ. Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the governor of the region of Israel had just completed rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after returning from the Exile. Without even their homes complete, they call for the Torah, God’s law for the people, to be read aloud in the Temple court once more. So, Ezra reads it in the hearing of the whole assembly, children included and they are moved to tears. Why do they weep? The text doesn’t tell us, but Commentator W. Carter Lester offers us some ideas:
“Perhaps they are overcome with regret for the loss of the Torah during the exile. Perhaps they have been reminded of how far short their actions have fallen from God’s expectations of them. Or perhaps their tears are tears of joy, for the recovery of the Torah and for a sense of God’s abiding presence and providential care.
God’s Word can do all of that, because the Scriptures give us a lens to look at this world and our lives through God’s eyes. We are reminded of God’s presence and love when we otherwise might feel alone and abandoned; we are pierced with words of judgment when we might otherwise be puffed up with arrogance and self-satisfaction.
When we gather together as God’s people, when we are conscious of coming into the presence of the living and holy God, when we center our worship on God’s Word, when we offer all of ourselves to God, we cannot help but be changed over time. We gather to give glory to God and to have God make a difference in us so that we can be sent to make a difference in God’s world.”
Let me say that again: “We gather to give glory to God and to have God make a difference in us so that we can be sent to make a difference in God’s world.”
How does one go about making a difference in the world? I am only one person with only a few gifts to share. Luckily, 500 years after Nehemiah, Paul reminds us that we are not alone. We, as many members of one body, are empowered to do what we do as a community – through many different spiritual gifts. Paul gives us a list of some of those gifts, reminding us that we can do more when we are together. He asks: Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all posses gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” 1Cor.12:14, 27, 26, 29-30. His questions are rhetorical; of course none of us has all those gifts individually; usually we can’t find the gifts of listening, generosity, time and financial management, can-do-fix-anything, or attention to detail all in one person, either. But together, we do. Together, we have gifts aplenty to go around and share with one another and with this congregation’s ministry in the world. We are each part of the whole picture, the whole body of Christ, witnessing to the world. Have you examined your own gifts recently and taken stock of what your gifts are?
What are the gifts you bring to this community of faith? Are you a musician? A leader? A servant? A giver? A volunteer? Whatever your gifts are, in God’s name, together you do make a difference to this community and beyond. Some of you have been here a very long time and know exactly what this church has been through in its second half of 110 years of existence come February. There is much to celebrate…and still more to witness to on behalf of the many newcomers to the valley still searching for a church home.
Some 50 years or so before Paul was writing, Jesus was visiting his hometown. “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 to 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.’” Luke 4:16b-21
As we prepare for lent, beginning February 10th on Ash Wednesday, I would urge us all to reflect on what our gifts are in this time and place, and seriously consider how we might serve one another and the greater community with those gifts. We do much already, but together, as one body, I am pretty sure we could do more. What are your gifts? Are you using all of them for the Lord? If you are, well done good and faithful servant. If you are holding something back, even if you don’t think it is a gift, it just might be what the Lord needs to assist in transforming someone else’s life in this community of Love, this community of God’s faithful ones.
I wonder, what would it look like if each of us were to reach deeply into ourselves and place upon the altar of the Lord all of who we are? Might the Lord use us in ways we may not even have dreamed of yet?
May all glory be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.