The Adventurous Lectionary – The Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 24, 2016
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
I Corinthians 12:12b-31
Today’s readings orient us toward God’s revelations in our lives. God’s law, embedded in our hearts and in the universe, may take many forms. Following God’s law enables us to experience and share grace in daily life. Divine revelation is found in the depths of our being and awaits our response. Saying “yes” to God’s revelation in our lives binds us to divine inspiration in our congregational, community, and planetary journeys.
For many of us, there is little joy in hearing about rules or law. We see law as inflexible and limiting and standing in the way of joy and freedom. It evokes judgment, penalty, threat, and the need to hide one’s true identity and behavior to avoid punishment. In contrast, the Law of Moses is the source of celebration for those who hear Ezra’s words. After years in exile in which the nation’s culture and customs were curtailed and almost lost, the reading of the Law is met with tears of joy. The Law defined the people as God’s beloved children and gave them a renewed sense of identity. The recovery of the Law, as a manifestation of divine providence and care, allowed the people to make a new beginning in relationship with their creator.
While this passage may not resonate with congregant’s experience, it invites preacher and congregant alike to consider what documents of faith shape our identities as Christians. In contrast to the Jews of Nehemiah and Ezra’s time, we don’t feel ourselves set apart and this may be a problem in our pluralistic age. We don’t often see ourselves as “other.” North American Christians reap the benefits of our privileged status. Consequently the boundary between church and culture, church and social values and expectations, is often barely existent. Christians reflect their political persuasion and American identity as much, if not more so, than their Christian faith. We identify God, guns, private property, success, and patriotism as interdependent, when a creative distance between God and politics might enable our faith to shape our politics rather than the other way around. The flag on the chancel identifies our faith as much as cross and scripture.
Does our faith as Christians serve as a type of “law” that enables us to have a critical relationship to both culture and government? Can our faith define us on Christ’s terms rather than the liberal, conservative, or capitalist agenda’s?
Psalm 19 describes the interdependence of personal and cosmic law. All creation shouts God’s existence and reveals God’s love. The divine harmonies of the heavens are reflected in harmonies of the spirit, and revealed in our congruence with God’s inner law. The law within and among us sets our spiritual GPS and enables us to be in harmony with the cosmos and faithful to God in our daily interactions.
The passage from I Corinthians 12 continues our meditation on the body of Christ. The well-being of the parts and whole are interconnected. A healthy body depends on each person discovering and living out her or his vocation. This requires that each member receive the nourishment of the whole to which it contributes. We are made for relationship. Our joys and sorrows are one. Out of relatedness emerge the unique gifts of each member of the community.
A Jewish story relates Rabbi Zusya’s proclamation: if the Messiah comes, the Messiah will not ask, “Were you David, but were you Zusya?” Our vocations are unique, contextual, and always evolving. As we “listen to our lives” (Frederick Buechner), we can “let our lives speak.” (Parker Palmer) Healthy community enables us to discover our vocations in congruence with God’s vision and, thus, in discovering our gifts find ways to share these gifts with others.
The adventurous preacher needs to remind his or congregants that within the body of Christ:
• Our lives are part of a dynamic fabric of interconnectedness.
• Each of us emerges from our relationships.
• There are no self-made persons, but persons in relationship, actualizing their gifts through a creative synthesis of personal giftedness, community support and influence, mentoring, and divine inspiration.
• Every gift and, thus, every person matters in community.
• There are many possible vocations within a community, all of which are necessary to its flourishing.
• Our own gifts evolve all the time.
• Our gifts are meant to serve the community.
Mark 4 describes Jesus’ first public presentation. Jesus shares the good news of God’s realm as it grows in our world. God’s realm of Shalom involves healing, hospitality, and hope. God’s presence will bring good news to humankind and this good news is the result of divine initiative and human response. The promise of God’s spirit is that we can become partners in our Creator’s world healing process. We can feed the poor, visit the prisoner, and heal the afflicted. In the death-full culture of Rome, we can be rays of hope, revealing a different set of values, guided by loving affirmation.
Our congregations are challenged to be places where good news is proclaimed and lived out, and where humans can experience abundant life. Accordingly, we need to be intentional in revealing the good news in our lives and our communities. God’s good news nurtures our souls and cells and also the souls and cells of others. We cannot, as Martin Luther King asserts, be what we our intended to be unless our brothers and sisters are who they are intended to be, living out their gifts as God’s beloved children.