Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

Readings for 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 1/27/13: 
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10:
  • "So they read the book . . . with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." How have traditions of faith developed that try to take everything in the scriptures as literal truth? Here we have a community of faith gathering to hear the word read, and interpreted, to convey the meaning of sometimes confusing laws and scriptures. To be sure, different interpretations would arise, but it that more threatening than the kind of control that results when we try to contain and box in the living word of God?
  • "For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." Nehemiah finds a people returning from exile, returning to a land that for them was completely tied up with their understanding of and relationship with God. It's hard for us to even comprehend crying in joy because we're finally able to hear the words of Scripture again - what would it mean if these words of God simply brought us joy and life? The Living Word of God? How can we read the scriptures with fresh eyes, and listen with open ears, as if we've been away for SO long from God's word?
Psalm 19:
  • "The heavens are telling the glory of God." These famous words from the Psalm are often set to music. Everything in creation announces God's handiwork. 
  • This imagery of the sun "like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy", this personification of the sun draws to my mind Greek/Roman mythology, and no doubt made contemporaries of the psalmist think of similar images of sun-gods in other religions. The difference? Here the sun is put into place by God, not a god in itself.
  • God is more than gold, sweeter than honey. A simple message - but reminds us of things we put too often before God in our lives.
  • "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations..." This verse is often used by pastors before they begin preaching. I like it, but if there's a way to use a Bible verse too much to the point of over doing, this one makes it on my personal list!
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:
  • This passage, and the preceding week's passage from Corinthians, are great passages for congregations. No matter how many times we say that everyone has a ministry, a call to follow from God, it seems our congregants don't really believe that God means them. We will be using these two weeks to do a spiritual gifts inventory in our congregation, or at least spring off from these two weeks of texts. How can we get people to believe that God has blessed, gifted, and called them?
  • This passage is similar in content to the first part of this chapter, but it is much more visually stimulating. One can just picture a big body that was all nose or all feet, very cartoonish. It's easy to see the ridiculousness of such a proposal. That's how ridiculous it is, Paul teaches, to think that we can get along without one another, or that one's role is more or less important than another's role. Great opportunities for fun children's messages here as well.
  • This is also a great Sunday to celebrate Holy Communion if possible. The sense of body and being the body of Christ is made very real, and makes sense in the communion liturgy of Christ's body for us.
  • The hymn "Many Gifts, One Spirit" is perfect for this occasion, and will bring the message home. It is in the United Methodist Hymnal. Some lyrics: "In our difference is blessing, from diversity we praise One Giver, One Lord, One Spirit, One Word, known in many ways, hallowing our days. For the giver, for the gifts, praise, praise, praise!"
Luke 4:14-21:
  • This event is lifted out as special and unique, but it is important to note that verse 16b tells us that Jesus visiting the synagogue on the Sabbath was his custom, his regular practice. This is probably not the first time he had read scripture, either. What makes it important is that after reading these words from Isaiah, Jesus says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That means Jesus is telling them that he is the one appointed to proclaim release, recovery, and the year of the Lord's favor. How would the people have reacted?
  • I love this passage from Isaiah, particularly read by Jesus, because to me it sums up his purpose. His goal was not to decide which people should go to heaven or hell, or to figure out who was 'saved' or not, or who believed that he was God's only Son, and the only Way. He was sent to proclaim justice and freedom for the oppressed! He was sent to proclaim God's favor! That is GOOD NEWS indeed, not hell-fire and brimstone we try to make into good news.
  • In terms of timeline, note that this event takes place just after Jesus' temptation in the desert, which takes place just after his baptism. He has been prepared - recognized as beloved and chosen by God, has stood up to temptation, and now he is declaring himself, presenting himself in the faith community and saying, "Here I am - this is my task and I'm going to get to it now."
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