Weekly Introductions to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Ephiphany 3C)

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

While the Bible is full of sermons, prophetic speeches, and prescriptions about how worship of God should take place, it is relatively rare to get a picture in the Scriptures about how worship ACTUALLY took place.  We learn from this text that worship is something that everyone “with understanding” did together.  We also learn that the people stood when the Book of the Law was opened, that they listened with attentiveness for hours on end (a preacher’s dream!), that they “bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground”, that the reader of scripture not only read but “interpreted” and “gave the sense” of the passage so the people could “understand the reading“, and that the people wept as a result of their hearing the word.

Further we learn from the prescriptions of Ezra the priest/scribe and the Levites that
the worship was to be followed by celebration.  The people were to drink sweet wine and eat the fat of the meat.  Included in this admonition to celebrate was the command to give a portion of the celebratory meal to those in need.  In all of this we see great reverence for God and his word in the worship of the people (what we might call the vertical dimension of worship) as well as a great sense of community (what we might call the horizontal dimension of worship).

Psalm 19

Psalm 19 is an interesting Psalm in the way it elevates two classic foundations of revelation.  The Psalm begins by elevating nature (general revelation) in the way it “proclaims the Lord’s handiwork” and “tells of the glory of God.”  In verse seven the psalmist shifts away from the foundation of natural (general) revelation and speaks of  the “Word of Law of the Lord” (i.e. special revelation).  By joining these two foundations for revelation the Psalmist is giving a full picture of how we come to know God.  The final verse of the Psalm shifts from plumbing the depths of the Lord via natural and special revelation and instead offers the hortatory “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  In light of the power of nature to reveal the Lord, and in light of the scriptures given to us, may we all say and meditate on those things that the Lord finds acceptable.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

One!–that is Paul’s adjective of choice.  Everything is one–one body, one Spirit, one baptism, one Lord.  There is only “one” exception to this unifying word: members.  The body, says Paul, does not consist of one member.  Each of us is different.  Each of us is a separate member.  And Paul asserts that God “arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”  Because we are inclined to see as the world sees Paul must warn the church that some members will seem weaker and less honorable.  In God’s view however these are the most indispensable and are worthy of greater honor and greater respect. Paul reminds us that if one member of the body suffers we all suffer.

Luke 4:14-21

In our gospel lection we are given Luke’s introduction to Jesus’ teaching ministry.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus begins his teaching ministry in a synagogue in Nazareth.  While there Jesus stood up and unrolled the Isaiah scroll, and searched for the place that this was written and then proclaimed it, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recover of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor.”  Upon sitting, and with everyones eyes trained on him, Jesus then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  This introduction to the teaching ministry of Jesus will begin what scholars recognize as the most “socially concerned” of all the gospels (to get a flavor of this see how Luke adjusts the material found in Matthew’s sermon on the mount).  Luke intends to show Jesus’ concern that proper worship of God, righteous living, and hope for the future include the marginalized and oppressed.  In this lection then we see a continuation of what we already read in Nehemiah and 1 Corinthians 12.  In the same way God has loved us as weaker beings we are to love those who the world considers weak.

Celebation of Worship

As you prepare your hearts, minds, hymns, and prayers for Sunday consider those amongst us who the world might think are “weaker” and “less honorable.”  In what ways do we give them greater honor and respect?  How do we all suffer when they suffer?  How are we incomplete without them?  Consider also the description of worship given in Nehemiah 8.  Are we as eager to worship and be moved by worship as were the ancient Israelites returning to their and after a time of captivity?  Do we also need to be reminded of the “joy of the Lord” in worship.  Do we also need to be reminded to prepare a portion of our celebratory meal for the person who has none?

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