Third Sunday after the Epiphany

The Hearing of the Word

When the remnant people, in Persia, returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem, the book of the law of Moses was read publicly to encourage them. Reading rom Nehemiah:

All the people of Israel 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.

The public reading often invokes a response from the listeners. It has a powerful effect on those who were returning to Jerusalem. They were receiving a blessing from God through Ezra and were in an attitude of worship. This helped open their hearts to the message. Again from Nehemiah:

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.   (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6)

In many liturgical churches it is customary to read the appointed scriptures of the lectionary during the worship service. This was an ancient tradition in Judaism. It was true in the time of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading::

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.   (Luke 4:14-20)

How did these two public readings of God’s word compare? Let us see. It is clear that the listeners in the synagogue were attentive to what Jesus read. From Nehemiah we read that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” But how did the response of the listeners compare between the two Group? Again, reading from Nehemiah:

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.”   (Nehemiah 8:9-10)

The people wept when they heard the law. They understood that they had forsaken the law of Moses and they were grieved. The power of the word of God is beautifully addressed in the Book of Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

God’s Word is truth. God reveals our innermost being. He is a just God. But he is also loving and forgiving. The psalmist wrote:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.   (Psalm 19:8-9)

How we respond to the Word is all important.

After Jesus read the appointed scripture from Isaiah, He made this bold statement to his hometown people of Nazareth who knew him as the carpenter’s son:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:21)

The word “today‘ jolted the listeners. It is one thing to hear scripture with piety and feigned reverence, but it is quite another to understand the scripture is always now. To be sure, Jesus proclaimed a powerful fulfillment of prophecy. His listeners were not prepared for this, but neither were they in worship as the exiles. We remember that they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff and kill him.

How do we respond to the reading of scripture? Or how do we respond to the sermon? This may make us feel uncomfortable. It often leads to sorrow, but also joy when we repent. Without repentance the Word of God cannot be fully active in our lives.

With an attitude of worship and humility before God great things can transpire. The returning exiles rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem and the new temple. Equally as important, if not more so, their faith in God was restored.

Reading from the Book of Acts, The Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders:

And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.   (Acts 20:32)

What is our destiny?  What is our inheritance? It is dependent upon our hearing of the word. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.   (Romans 10:15-17)

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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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