Thursday, January 25, 2007

Epiphany 3C

Nehemiah 8:2-10; Psalm 113; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Luke 4:14-21

The Lord be with you….

….and also with you
, right?! I knew you’d say that. Those words are encoded, I think, in the DNA of every Episcopalian. They are part of who we are. The Lord be with you….and also with you. There are so many words we Episcopalians know on a cellular level. Our Father, who art in heaven….Lift up your hearts….we lift them to the Lord….the word of the Lord….thanks be to God.

In the same way hundreds, maybe thousands, of less liturgical but probably no less sacred words can feel as natural as breathing. They are part of who we are. I discovered some of my sacred words when we lived in New York, where no one knew how to spell y’all or had ever eaten grits or rotel, bless their hearts. And I’ve discovered lots of those words as a parent, words I don’t remember learning when I was younger – perhaps they seep into our cells through cups of milk or orange kool-aid. Words like mommy and daddy and why, words like where does it hurt and because I said so.

Despite what we say about sticks and stones, words are so very powerful. It’s amazing, don’t you think, that this jumble of shapes in black in white, this stream of sounds shaped by breath and lips, these words have such tremendous power in and over and through our lives. They create and convey such meaning. They are part of who we are, and in part they shape who we become. Words like, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward…Into your hands, Lord, we commend your servant and we commit his body to the ground…

Words are powerful whether they are spoken by prophets or politicians or poets or ordinary people. The words of national leaders can bring a country to war. The first words of a child can make parents’ hearts skip a beat. Words of anguish and desperation – I can’t do this anymore – can rip families apart. Words can crush egos and dreams – you’re not right for this job…you didn’t pass…we can’t give you a loan. Words can offer hope and healing – I’m sorry…I love you…let us pray. A single word can change everything, can reshape us and our world. Cancer. Deployment. Infertility. Promotion. Recovered. Yes.

In our readings this morning, two men, separated by four centuries, unrolled sheets of papyrus and, reading from them, proclaimed the word of the Lord. Ezra stood among the scattered stones and people of Jerusalem. Nothing was as it had been seventy long years before, before the Babylonians destroyed the city and the temple and carried most of the people into exile. In a strange land where strange gods were worshipped, many of the people of Israel struggled to remain faithful to the one God whom they had worshipped in a temple that no longer existed. When they finally returned….home? Jerusalem itself was unrecognizable, and the few who had been left behind were strangers.

But when Ezra opened the scroll of the law – the Torah – and began reading, the words washed over all who were gathered there, filling the cracks in their broken hearts, reviving their spirits, quenching their thirst to remember who and whose they were. Powerful words of a covenant that God had not forgotten. I am the Lord your God, they would have heard Ezra read from Genesis. Behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you again to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done everything I have promised. I am the Lord your God…. On that morning, the word of God changed everything, rebuilding from rubble a community of lived faith.

Jesus stood among the gathered people of his hometown, which probably looked exactly the same as it did twenty years before, when he was a young boy running through the streets, laughing with his friends, bringing home frogs in his pockets. As he drew in his breath to begin reading the words of the prophet Isaiah, some who were there doubtless could think back some of the very first words he said as a child, so many years ago...amma…abba…why…

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Jesus read, words everyone there would have known as well as they knew their own names, 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.

All eyes were on Jesus as he rolled up the scroll and drew in his breath to begin commenting on the words he had just read. Then, Luke tells us, he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” On that morning, the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah, like the town in which the words were read, and the people who gathered there…the town, the people, and the words were the same as always. On that morning, the Word of God changed everything. On that morning, Jesus began to say to them, “I am the Living Word, I am the one anointed by the Spirit to bring good news, to proclaim release, to recover sight, to free what has been bound. The words you hear have come to life in me, divinity mingled with DNA. Today and every day in me this scripture is fulfilled.”

And so it would be, Luke goes on to show throughout his account of the life and ministry of Jesus. That very day, and the next, and the next, and every day after that, Jesus spoke the good news of God’s love, proclaimed release to those enslaved by sin, restored sight and hearing and mobility and health, brought freedom to those bound by oppression, bound by the hate or fear of others. That very day, and the next, and the next, and every day after that, one person at a time, Jesus showed that the word of God is much more than a jumble of shapes in black and white or a stream of sounds shaped by breath and lips. The Word of God is Compassion. Inclusion. Welcome. Justice. Invitation. Healing. Wholeness. Restoration. Forgiveness. Grace. The Word of God is Love.

Every Sunday morning, we gather together to open up the scriptures and read the words that have shaped us as individuals and as a community of faith. Sometimes the words sound familiar and sometimes they sound very strange. How do they sound today? If we’re also opening up newspapers or listening to words on television or looking at the seemingly infinite number of words on-line, all of which try to shape us as individuals and as communities, well then the Word of God must sound very strange indeed. How can the scriptures be fulfilled when today and every day we are bombarded with words like escalation, poverty, epidemic, genocide, hunger, hate crimes, abuse, abandonment, strained relations, sickness and schism?

Today, Jesus said, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. our hearing. Against all those words with which the world tries to tell us who we are, who we should be, Jesus asks that we listen to him, to the Word of God. The Word of God is Love, and because the Word was made flesh and bone and breath in Jesus Christ, we now have that Word – that Love – encoded in us, encoded far deeper than DNA. It is part of who we are as the Body of Christ, shaped by power of the Word of God, anointed by the Spirit in baptism to proclaim the good news in our flesh and bones and breath, with our hands and feet and eyes and ears and only as a last resort our lips (to paraphrase St. Francis, who said, “Proclaim the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”).

The scriptures are fulfilled in our hearing that the Word of God changes everything. What if we, as the gathered Body of Christ and as individual members of that Body, what if we really brought that word to life? What if we made our lives speak today and every day? What if we brought to life today the words from Isaiah? What if we brought to life today the words of our baptismal covenant, words we know on a cellular level? Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? I will with God’s help. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?....Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?....Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?....Will you strive for justice and peace among all persons, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will with God’s help.

Are we really hearing this? Then, sisters and brothers, today and tomorrow and the next day and every day after that, these scriptures are fulfilled. On this we have God’s Word. Amen.

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