EPIPHANY 3, C, 2016 – January 24, 2016

 SCRIPTURES – Nehemiah 8:1-10; 1 Cor. 12:12-31; Luke 4:16-30

 

Introit                                                                     Proverbs 24:11-14; antiphon: Proverbs 24:10

Pastor: If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

People: If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart

perceive it?

Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.

Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Pastor: If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

 

Collect of the Day  

Heavenly Father, You give value to every life. Give Your people the wisdom to see the value You give to life and the love to reflect that value in our living, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Old Testament Reading                                                                Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

  All the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And 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…

  Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground…

  They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 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 as 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 to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Epistle Reading                                                                                  1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

  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. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

  For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should 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. And if the ear should 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. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

  The 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.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? You are earnestly desiring the higher gifts. But I will show you a still more excellent way.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                        Luke 4:16-30

     Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and 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 proclaim good news

to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

      And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well." And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

 

 

Ezra opened the [Book of the Law of Moses] in the sight of all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground… And he read from it from early morning until midday. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. Neh. 8

 

Boy, can you imagine sitting down in church at 8:00 AM and then listening to the Bible being read and its teachings explained until 2:00 in the afternoon? That is what the people of Israel did on the day that Nehemiah describes in chapter 8 of his book. They sat in church for at least six hours. What about the morning news? What about a morning workout, or the cooking program on TV? What about lunch?

 

This was no ordinary worship that Nehemiah was describing. It was the beginning of the yearly Feast of Booths, a special time of worship. And, it was their first feast in a long time, as the people had recently returned to the land of Israel after 70 years of slavery in a foreign land. They had been conquered and enslaved because they had ignored and rejected God’s Word for decades, until God finally sent an enemy army against them to punish them. It was now time to relearn and remember.

 

What did they hear from the Torah, the Books of Moses, during those six hours? They heard how God had created all things by speaking them into existence – how powerful is His Word! – and then how He had made a man and a woman in His own image and likeness to enjoy a unique oneness with Him. Sadly, they turned away from Him to their own selfish desires and sinned; but He forgave them and promised to send a Savior, a descendant of theirs who would crush the devil, their enemy, and rescue them and their descendants. They heard how God called their father Abraham to follow Him, and that the promised Savior would come from him and be for the blessing of all people. They heard how Abraham’s descendants and their ancestors, the people of Israel, were enslaved in Egypt and then delivered by God’s mighty hand. In other words, they learned again of who their God was, how freely and abundantly He blessed them and even took them to be His children, and what His will was for their lives.

 

We need to hear this again and again ourselves. Like those people, we need to listen to and take God’s words to heart by saying, “Amen! Amen! This is true!” when we hear them. For, we live in a time of great ignorance of God, and so great slavery to sin and error. Many today are stumbling to the slaughter, without a certain hope or a future with the living God.

  • We see this in rejection of parenthood and the killing of babies by abortion because the pregnancy was unplanned and undesired. Worries about what the future might be and how life would change rule, not love for and trust in God.

  • We see this in the growing enslavement to things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sexual desires, and how this devastates many lives.

  • We see this in the despondency and despair of many elderly, and also teens, and the high rate of suicide. (It’s the 3rd leading cause of death among teens.)

    Sometimes this is the result of the rejection of God and His teaching; but often, it’s the result of simple ignorance: of not knowing God, His love and His good will, or even simple facts about this world and life that He created.

     

    For instance, when I meet with couples I will be marrying I spend one session talking to them about children. I get very basic. What is pregnancy? It’s the beginning of a new life – a human life – when a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg come together within her. The new cell that is formed is alive – for it will grow and divide and consume energy – and it is not a part of the mother. It’s of a different chromosomal structure from every other cell in her body, and if it were not for the fact that immediately after the sperm and the egg join together the new cell throws up a chemical screen that hides its presence – think of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak – the mother’s immune system would seek it out and destroy it as a foreign invader. Our abortion culture wants people to be ignorant of this, for abortion rests on the idea that the woman controls the pregnancy and that the fetus that is growing within her is, in essence, part of her. This is a lie! Her own body testifies to this! The embracing of this lie has led many to stumble to the slaughter: unwanted babies to their deaths, and abortion patients and practitioners and supporters to spiritual death and God’s judgment because of the sin and guilt of murder.

     

    This is your culture. Many of your friends and neighbors, and perhaps even family members, embrace the lie that life is ours to control and so are stumbling to the slaughter. Perhaps they are ignorant of the God of life because they don’t know His life-giving and life-sanctifying Word. Or, maybe they know it but reject it. “But,” you say, “what can I do? My strength is small. I have little influence.”

     

    Your strength is not small! You not only know the living God; you are His children! You have received His mercy, the forgiveness of all of your sins in Christ, the Son of God whom you know was made flesh to rescue you and all people! You have His words, which are not only wisdom for your soul; they join you to Christ and give you an eternal future in heaven with your God and Father! God’s words are powerful to change hearts and bring forth life!

     

    You must give your ears to them and with your mouth and in your heart say, “Amen! Amen! This is true!” It may be that your friends and neighbors, and perhaps even some in your family, will not like this. They may even speak out against you and reject you for your faith. Jesus Himself endured this. We, His people, must expect the same.

     

    But, you who have found God’s wisdom and life in Christ have a future. Your hope will never be cut off. The Jesus we hold to, and who holds us in His hand, is Lord over all. When the people of Nazareth rejected Him and tried to kill Him, He walked through them and went away. He would not be harmed or killed until the time came for Him to offer Himself on the cross to take away our sins. As you hold to this Savior in faith and say, “Amen! Amen! This is true!” to His words, you have this Lord of life governing your life. If you are rejected and made to suffer for holding to Him, He will turn this to your blessing and to the blessing of others.

     

    Do not faint, then, in the day of adversity. Do not ever think that your strength is small. You have been baptized into Christ! You have been made to drink of His Spirit! Your life belongs to your heavenly Father and you are in His care, now and forever. “Amen! Amen! This is true!”