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Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19:1-4, I Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 14:14-21

This week we begin with a story from the book of Nehemiah, about Ezra reading scripture at the completion of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. I apologize to those who were discussing the lectionary texts this morning at breakfast. I momentarily confused this story with another about lost scrolls being found in the temple wall (in II Kings 22:8 and following) significantly earlier in Jewish history. Having just turned seventy I’m aware that the synapses sometimes make hugely erroneous leaps and connections. Sorry, about that!

In this story, the Jewish people have been in exile in Babylon. Nehemiah (cupbearer to the king) and Ezra (a priest) have been allowed/authorized, separately, to return and rebuild the city walls and the temple in Jerusalem, as the people begin to repopulate that city. It is probable that it has been some time since they have heard such a complete reading “from the law of God” (Nehemiah 8:8)—“with interpretation.” They are so moved that they weep. (vs. 9)

Here are a couple of foci for reflection. 1. Finding renewing power in old words that perhaps have been overlooked or ignored or forgotten for a while can sometimes be the occasion for an epiphany. Where and when has that occurred in our lives? 2. There has been much discussion over the years about the place of “law” in religious and spiritual experience. In our tradition we tend to resist a “legalistic” approach, but are there ways in which reflecting on basic principles (laws) of human relationship can be an occasion for growth, even epiphany?

Psalm 19 certainly suggests that that is so. After waxing eloquent again about seeing (and hearing) God in nature, it declares that “the law” revives the soul, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes. (vss.7-8)

This week’s Gospel lesson, from Luke 4:14-21, is another story of the reading of scripture, this time by Jesus in his home synagogue. If one continues into the next few verses, we see that it is a story that doesn’t end well. The people know this kid and have a hard time believing that his ministry can be of any significance. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they ask. (Luke 4:22) It is here that Jesus utters the words, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” (vs. 24) Indeed, they are soon “filled with rage,” driving him out of town intending to throw him over a cliff. (vss. 28-29)

To what extent did Jesus choose the particular words he read? The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, but he “found the place” where these words about justice were recorded. Was this reading, or the one in Ezra for that matter, connected with a sense of “jubilee,” the Old Testament ideal of a restoration every seven years—a time when slaves are freed, property returned, forgiveness afforded, etc. It was an ideal little followed then—or now. Maybe we need to be recalled to it on a regular basis, maybe even more often than every seven years.

Then Jesus says something utterly remarkable, giving rise to their rage. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) In Luke’s Gospel this is Jesus’ inaugural public address. Luke, with his emphasis upon those who are so often marginalized, would have particularly appreciated the words. Jesus is somehow saying, “These words define my ministry, are a statement of whom I am.”

I suggest, though, that it would be worthy to reflect on a simpler human dynamic in this encounter. We often seem to want to leave things in the past or push them forward as hopes for the future that we don’t have to deal with now. Those would probably have been two common reactions to the words from Isaiah. Jesus comes along and says they are something you have to deal with right now, today. They are meant to take life in your everyday living now.

This week’s epistle lesson is a continuation of last week’s focus on the gifts we have received from God’s Spirit. We are challenged with the metaphor of the body. We are the body of Christ, many parts with different functions and gifts—eyes, hands, ears, noses, etc. The whole body works only if each part does what it was designed to do. Part of the power of the metaphor is its reminder that Jesus’ ministry is not just something in the past. The resurrection occurs again and again as we become Christ’s living body to one another and to the world. We may be the only Christ someone encounters. It is how that Divine Love takes on flesh “today,” “now,” that matters.

The truths, the ideals, that many of us hold dear, are as old as eternity, and they are part of the eternal manifest in the now, in our time and place, if they break forth and touch and move and empower us anew. Each time that happens they are still being “fulfilled.” The Word (and “the Law”) takes on flesh and we becoming “living words.”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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