Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Nehemiah 8: 1 – 3, 5 – 6, 8 – 10
1all 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. 2Accordingly, 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. 3He 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.
5And 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. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 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. 10Then 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 Corinthians 12: 12 – 31a
One Body with Many Members
12 For 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. 13For 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.
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to 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. 16And if the ear were to 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. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The 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.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And 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. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But strive for the greater gifts.
Luke 4: 14 – 21
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 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, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
Isn’t Jesus’ view of his ministry, which he gives a glimpse of to his fellow Nazarines through the lens of the prophet Isaiah, amazing!
What a list!
God’s Spirit has anointed him to:
- bring good news to the poor
- to proclaim release to the captives
- recovery of sight to the blind
- to let the oppressed go free
- to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
It’s worth asking ourselves what the motivating factor is in our ministries. We all have a sense of what it is God asks of us and the beginning of the year is a God time to think about that and what principle is at work in our ministries.
Jesus depicts his calling as one great mission of radical love, healing, liberation and divine favour.
However, the desire not to rock the boat is extremely strong in institutionalised religious practice, whether it be Judaism in the first century AD or the church today.
The people of Nazareth knew suffering, terrible suffering; a great deal more than the New Testament lets on. They had come to a view of how things should be and what the Messiah should look like and they were not going to budge! They had grown institutionalised.
Paul calls the church the Body of Christ, which is a good image because it is organic, and organisms know how to adapt in order to survive. Institutions struggle to do so and often survive long beyond their use by date.
The reason for this is institutions are perceived to be the sum of their constituent parts, namely those who form part of them. In other words, when we associate with an institution, we understand it to be something into which we fit because it stands for something we associate with. That works well until it changes.
We are in danger then of two things: either we see it as no longer standing for that which we hold to be important, or we understand that the change is going to require us to change if we are still to be associated with it. Both are uncomfortable, especially if the change involves a paradigm shift (an altering of how we perceive reality) that challenges the way we think and live.
Jesus, as he stood in the Nazareth synagogue faced just such a situation as he read a passage from Isaiah. What happened is a lesson in how slowly we, as individuals, cotton on to what is going on.
Our Gospel reading goes up to Vs 21. In Vs 22a we are told that all spoke well of him. The congregation, at that point, hadn’t actually thought through what he had said. He was the home boy, all grown up, and reading the Scriptures in his home town place of worship. They were, it says, amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth (Vs 22b). The response was of the order of, “Hasn’t he grown into a nice young man, and just look how beautifully he reads!”
Then the penny begins to drop and they ask, Is this not Joseph’s son? (Vs 2c). Well, they knew that of course, but the implication of what he had just said (too ghastly to contemplate) was beginning to dawn upon them.
When Jesus then makes it quite plain that he is claiming to be the Messiah, by Vs 29 we read, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
When the penny did finally drop, things became uncomfortable.
But there is a difference between our age, and Palestine 2000 years ago. We have gone through all sorts of philosophical shifts over time, most of which have been documented and have therefore been processed in our thinking. If you monitor Facebook or the opinions expressed by the average person about who God is and how he relates to us (most unfortunately) most people view religion as a commodity. It has a certain value and that determines to what extent we either do, or do not, apply it to our lives.
Have you ever wondered how on earth Europe could have been rent for decades by bloody wars between Protestants and Roman Catholics? If you’ve ever quietly thought yourself to be a little more civilised than the people of those times, as I have once or twice, think again.
Yes, those wars were extremely unfortunate, but ironically, the reason they occurred, amongst a number of other motives, was because people took God seriously. And that is a good thing.
In short, we no longer take all that seriously what is said from the pulpit. We have placed Enlightenment principles (which essentially dethroned God and placed human reason – a limited perspective on reason, anyway) on the throne. As a result, as soon as we are faced with anything unpleasant, anything (Paul may have said) that challenges the flesh, we conveniently decide (in an instant) that that will not enhance our sense of wholeness, and we simply ignore it.
We are, in short, an extremely rebellious lot, and if theologians are right in saying that rebellion was the overriding motive of Satan, then we have some self-examining to do.
The insidious idea that God is a kind of Father Christmas, there to do our bidding, is only one better than the growing idea that God is not a person, but a blind spiritual force: again, which we can use for our so-called betterment.
Let me read from the Scriptures one day and say to you all, “C’mon. Up you get. We are now going to implement this,” or words to that effect, and watch the discomfort run through the building.
“Who does he think he is?” would be the first thought.
And the second would be, “I’m outta here.”
The Rev’d Doug St George, one of my favourite people, used to say, “If I preached the truth, I’d empty this church in three weeks.” He never did empty the church so hopefully that is not a sign that he didn’t preach the truth!
Now, you’ll be relieved to know that I’m not about to issue any divine edicts right now because one only does that with a clear sense of God’s direction, but I do want us, in the aftermath of a hopefully happy Christmas time, to sit up and think about where we are in the hierarchy. Who is on the throne of your life? Is it really God? To what extent is your self-preservation more important than God?
As I typed this sermon, my grandson was being born. The sense of someone new and challenging (as children always are) was very much at the forefront of my thinking.
We have passed through the season of Christmas and watched the impact, in our minds at least, of a new birth on the family of God.
What I ask us to ponder today is this: When Jesus revealed himself to the good people of his hometown as he really was (someone intent upon implementing God’s agenda), they wanted to kill him.
Are we threatened by radical love, possibly because we’ve had our hopes dashed before, or that is not what we expect?
It is always worth recalling that the safest place to be is out on a limb with God.
God can do magnificent things through someone surrendered to him. Not a popular idea today in our individualistic, rebellious, market-driven age. So whatever theories we latch onto about how people think and what they expect in 2016, with the writer to the Hebrews we know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13: 8). We also know that the essence of human nature remains the same too.
For this reason the solution that is Jesus, remains the only solution to the human dilemma and it is when we come to him in trust and humility that we experience a love that we can find nowhere else.
As we enter a new year, how open are we to receiving a greater revelation of who God is and what that may require of each one of us?
29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. (Luke 4: 29)
Wonderful God, whose revelation of love for us all comes in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. Help us to open our hearts to all that you have for us, whether comfortable or uncomfortable, in the knowledge that Jesus is the Lord. Amen
We give thanks for those who look after the finances of the church; those who promote giving, those who collect and count the collection, those who keep a record of giving, those who do the banking and those who have overall reporting responsibilities.