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    • Sunday service - Holy Communion October 2, 2022 at 9:30 am – 11:00 am Grace Church 215 Pleasant Street, Sheldon, VT Website: www.gracechurchsheldon.orgTime:  09:30 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Sun.Join Zoom Meetinghttps://us02web.zoom.us/j/83929911344?pwd=alZQTWZMN0ZkWFFPS1hmNjNkZkU2UT09Meeting ID: 839 2991 1344Password: Call for detailsOne tap mobile+13126266799,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (Chicago)+19294362866,,83929911344#,,1#,816603# US (New York)Dial by your location        +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)        +1 929 436 2866 US (New York)Meeting ID:…
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Epiphany 4C RCL January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6.8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

All of our lessons this morning are dramatic, moving, and full of significance for us today.

In our reading from the Book of Nehemiah, the people have just returned from exile in Babylon. During the exile, they have lost everything. The temple in Jerusalem has been leveled. This was the center of their worship and their life together. They are desolate, grief-stricken. So what do they do? Lose faith? Give up? No.

They study the scriptures and the law. The scholars and teachers go over and over the Law to learn its meaning and let that meaning sink deeply into their hearts and spirits. The law is the set of moral teachings that holds them together and gives order and meaning to their lives. They spend all those years in captivity, over fifty years, studying and researching and refining their understanding of the scriptures.

Finally, they are allowed to return home. When they arrive, the leaders of the people assemble all the people together. The leaders read tgen the law—for hours—from early morning until midday, and the teachers and leaders interpret the law to the people. They have just been through a time of great difficulty and challenge, a defeat by the mighty Babylonian Empire. They have been deported to a foreign land. But they have studied the scriptures, and prayed, and used this time of darkness and bondage to turn to the light of the Lord and to seek God’s guidance.

As the law is read, the people are so moved to hear the voice of God guiding them that they weep. Imagine this huge crowd of people weeping.  They share this moment of deep gratitude for God’s care for them and for their opportunity to return home and rebuild. They weep because they are so thankful for God’s presence with them all through this long journey.  Then they have a feast and we note that they are instructed to share this good food with those “for whom nothing is prepared.” No one is left out.

In our epistle for today, we have one of the basic texts for baptismal ministry. Paul is writing to a congregation that is torn by division. A self-appointed elite group is telling people that, if they do not have certain gifts, in this case, the gift of speaking in tongues,  they are not really members of the group, They are not true Christians. What if a congregation today were to say, if you don’t have perfect pitch and can’t sing perfectly at all times, you are not a Christian? That would certainly leave me out.

Paul is writing to these people as their founder and loving pastor. I can imagine how distressed he must have been to hear of the way in which this self-proclaimed group of leaders was tearing up the fabric of the community. Perhaps he might even have been quite angry. Where is the love in that kind of fracturing?

Paul offers them and us the compelling metaphor that a Christian community is like a human body and that the Church is the living Body of the Risen Christ.  Two thousand years ago he is saying that the Body is inclusive. Everyone belongs. Differences are a source of strength. We can learn from each other. And he says that those who are the weakest and most vulnerable deserve the highest respect. He is echoing our Lord, who said that the last shall be first.

As you may have guessed, this is one of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible. What a thought! We depend on each other just as much as the eyes and ears and nose and hands and feet and arms and legs and hearts and lungs of our bodies depend on each other to function. Everyone is necessary. This means that we are called to value each other, to respect each other’s gifts and to be tender and forgiving toward each other’s weaknesses.

All of this is summed up in our gospel. Jesus goes to his hometown. He goes to synagogue every Sabbath. He reads the powerful passage from Isaiah which sums up the ministry of the Suffering Servant, his ministry, our ministry. We are called to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Our ministry is to heal, to encourage, to help free people from whatever imprisons them. Each in your own way, with the gifts God has given you, is carrying out the ministry of our Lord in your life. This is what it’s all about.

And when we have a job to do here, each person joins in with his or her gifts. The result of this is that we have a good time when we are together, a time full of love and lightness. This past Sunday, we had our Annual Meeting. We carried out our business, but we also shared joy and laughter. To be able to laugh together is a sign of light, love, and health.

The shalom of Christ is not yet fully here. Like our ancestors who came out of the Exile with renewed faith and vision, let us continue in our ministries, Let us spread the light and love of Jesus with the gifts God has given us. And let us gather to allow our Lord to feed and renew us and to worship and learn together in the presence of God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

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