**Scripture is here for reference. If you’d like to go straight to the sermon, Just scroll down. Thank You.**
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
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. And 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. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. 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 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 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.”
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.
In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again;
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statues 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 forever;
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
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 the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not the hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 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 members, 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 members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
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 deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
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 appointed 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. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight. O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
In preparing for the sermon this morning, I decided to read and reflect on today’s readings everyday. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), so I decided to focus on the words that caught my attention.
“Blessed is the Lord, the Great God.” …and the people said, AMEN. AMEN. (Lifting up their hands)
I’m going to paraphrase a little here, but it continued with:
“They wept when they heard the words of the law.” Do you wonder why? Was the law something they were unable to keep? Did they weep because of the interpretation they received? Did they feel unworthy? Were they sorry because they were sinners? But Ezra says to them, “This is the holy day of the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” Instead, eat the fat, drink the wine and share what you have with those who have little or none, because this day is Holy to our Lord. Do not be sad, do not cry, the Lord is your strength. In essence, celebrate and make a burnt offering to God – in fellowship, in forgiveness and with joy, and share it with those who have less.
To be honest, this took me straight to the Eucharist, to the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. To the table where we, as Christians, come and celebrate – eat and drink and remember the one who made The sacrifice for us. The body of Christ. We receive the body of Christ during the Eucharist, but that is also who we are. What we are. The Church – The body of Christ as Christians.
In our New Testament reading, part of what really struck me was in v.22, “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” and again in v.24 “giving the greater honor to the inferior member.”
You know, I was having a conversation recently where it was brought up that this person was required to attend a lot of Christian Education classes in order to receive communion and that it was a privilege in it’s sacredness and this particular person didn’t feel that children, who had no idea what they were partaking of or in should be allowed at the table. Many of you probably know me well enough to know that this didn’t sit very well. So, I took a moment to take a deep breath and in that time, another person agreed with the sentiment. I was actually a little surprised, maybe even taken aback…this was a group of Episcopalians. I hadn’t realized that not everyone welcomed children to the table. I let conversation bounce around me for a moment and then said simply, “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.”
Now I didn’t pull out the scriptures from the Gospel of Matthew (18:1-5) when the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” and Jesus called one of the children over to him, sat them on his lap and said, “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”
But I did say, “You know, we have a lot to learn from our kids. The minute my child sees the table being prepared and the Eucharist raised up, he says, “Mommy! Mommy, the body of Christ! It’s time for the body of Christ!” and in his 3 year old excitement, wants to get there immediately to share in the table. He reverently waits for his turn at the altar rail…though most recently after receiving, he has taken to trying to share his life’s story with our communion ministers. I’m sorry, we’re working on it. But more importantly, it has given him a sense of belonging and love. He has learned this, not from attending a class, but in the doing – in the receiving – in the being welcomed.
Did anyone else start humming One Bread, One Body in their head after hearing the New Testament reading this morning?
One Bread, One Body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord. Gentile or Jew. Servant or Free. Woman or Man, no more. Many the gifts. Many the works. One in the Lord of all. Grain for the fields. Scattered and grown. Gathered to one, for all.
Unity. In our New Testament reading, we are being challenged to be united in the Spirit and in love, serve one another, particularly, the least of these. The lost. The broken. The marginalized.
In Christ, it doesn’t matter where you come from. I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the church together! No matter where you come from, what social status you hold, neighborhood, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation…it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have or think you have. We are ALL made in God’s image, and through the waters of baptism, all belong.
This reminds me of a poem I came across a few years ago:
While praying one day a woman asked,
“Who are you, God?”
He answered, “I am.”
“But who is “I am?”, she asked.
He replied, “I am LOVE. I am Peace.
I am GRACE. I am JOY. I am STRENGTH.
I am SAFETY. I am SHELTER.
I am POWER. I am the CREATOR.
I am the COMFORTER. I am the
WAY, the TRUTH and the LIGHT.”
With tears in her eyes, she looked
toward Heaven and said, “Now, I understand.
But, who am I?”
God tenderly wiped the tears from
her eyes and whispered,
“You are MINE.” (author Unknown)
My friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, we all belong and all have gifts to share with each other and the greater world beyond these walls. As our gospel reminds us, we have all been charged through the waters of baptism to share the Good News which gives voice to those who can not speak, a face to those who aren’t seen and an identity to the lost, marginalized and oppressed. This is indeed Good News.
In the words of Mark Thibodeaux, “Like the baby Jesus, we all need a ‘holy family’ to belong to. We need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. If we don’t, we run the risk of developing a sort of God-and-me spirituality with no support systems to hold us up when we are weak, no prophets to challenge us when we are wrong and no party-mates with whom we can celebrate the Lord’s goodness in our lives.”
As I listen and examine my own life and wonder at the possible call to ordained ministry, I invite you to listen, to wonder and to dream about what excites you, what fills you with love and hope and imagine – listen deeper to what God may be calling you towards in your own life. Amen.