Almighty God, whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving presence: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Prayer after communion
Almighty Father, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world: may your people, illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
All the Israelite people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
The Levites also read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.“
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 One day pours out its song to another and one night unfolds knowledge to another.
3 They have neither speech nor language and their voices are not heard,
4 Yet their sound has gone out into all lands and their words to the ends of the world.
5 In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber and rejoices as a champion to run his course.
6 It goes forth from the end of the heavens and runs to the very end again, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
1 Corinthians 12.12-31
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Sermon on Third Sunday after Epiphany
Our Collect confirms that we are still in the season of Epiphany, in the more general season of Christmass. It is a glorious time in the liturgical year, even if the weather is poor, and we are a bit cold and wet when we go out to visit or off to work. Even inside the house, it is dark and the lights have to come on early. In spite of all this, the church is still in gold reflecting the glory of heaven upon us.
In the past few weeks our God has been revealed in the incarnation, in the visit of wise men, in Jesus’ baptism, and in the miracle at Cana. Today our God reveals himself with Words – “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” After all, who but God is able “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Who else would dare declare “freedom for prisoners”? Who would pronounce “sight for the blind” is available? Who would want to “release the oppressed”? Certainly not our politicians or the bullies in our midst. In my experience, only the prophets who have been touched by the Spirit of God have been so bold to proclaim such a message of hope to the world.
All of these proclamations are not anything that we would declare in our ordinary lives, are they? I would never declare that the blind could see. Would you? What about proclaiming freedom and release to all the people struggling under the restraints of this world? I would never be able to declare a prisoner free, even though I might wish it with all my heart. Perhaps the Spirit moves in me to make me speak those words of hope to the fettered of the world, because I have heard them for myself.
I hope that I could “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” the year of Jubilee when all debt is cancelled and everyone starts out with a clean slate, when no sins would be attributed to any person. – I truly want to be the person to declare such a state of grace for the world, but who would listen to me as I utter such words?
The event our reading describes is the very real epiphany of God in time. In our hearing, the scripture has been fulfilled. – That is the important thing – in our hearing. What does that mean? I don’t think it means that it is a tannoy announcement like at the bus station, it is not gossip, it is not chatter. When that sort of gibberish-like speech enters our ears, we don’t really hear it, do we? It doesn’t even go in one ear. That sort of prattle means nothing. We ignore it because we are not engaged by it, it means nothing to us at all, because it is just background noise.
But in our hearing means that a completely different type of language has come into our auditory universe, the speech-act has become symbolic in the most profound sense. Our world has been transformed with what even we do call an “epiphany”. Meaning has entered our world in a primordial way, hasn’t it?
In our hearing suggests that we understand our language in a different way. I think it means that we are engaged with a meaning which enlightens our so far limited world.
We have always heard of miracles, like the miracle at Cana when water became wine in last week’s gospel. I would like to ask you, isn’t hearing a miracle of the same sort? Don’t we all know that? When “we get it” – whether it be that problem in mathematics, that abstruse linguistic configuration, the perception puzzle in the glossy magazine, even the healing of the sick in the gospel – when we get it, everything changes. We can never look at that thing in the same way ever again because it is no longer a conundrum. The light bulb has gone off in our head and there is no darkness left there any more. All is revealed and we are open to a universe in which there is significance and meaning. In the most profound instances, it is when symbols connect with their transcendent meaning. The deaf do hear, the blind to see, the water tastes like wine, and life is experienced in all its fullness. – I think this happened when Jesus read the scriptures to those people naturally gathered in that synagogue and pronounced, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Nothing was the same for anyone in that congregation – nor in this one – ever again. The words of Jesus were seen as clear and full, no longer were they merely pious hope, but lives are transformed by hearing those words.
Why? Why did Jesus say this? We all know that the miracles of the scripture, healing the sick, freeing the enslaved, letting the blind see – all of these miracles were absolutely real when they heard the words finally.
How does this work? In our ordinary experience, when we don’t hear, we don’t understand the miraculous. What happens when we do hear? Doesn’t the symbolic become present? Doesn’t the divine appear in our very ordinary world and so transform it. This has happened since time immemorial, but it happens for us, when we hear Jesus speak to us. This is Epiphany, isn’t it? When Jesus speaks, we hear, and that hearing makes everything different, the world has a sacred dimension because the divine impacts on our lives. We hear the meaning of everything around us. Nothing escapes that transforming light.
When do we hear? When is that moment of perception realised in our lives? Each of us knows when that has happened. I wonder – do we ever hear our neighbours? That neighbour is next to you – it can be your husband or wife, your parents, your siblings, the person who lives next door – why, it could even be someone who lives on the other side of this universal global village! When we listen and hear that neighbour, don’t things change? We are connected with that person most profoundly, and it becomes loving our neighbour.
When we hear the other, does our world contract? Do we remain the island we think we are in our fear? No, there is an expansion of our world, we live on continents of openness, not contracting and constricting isles. When we hear, our world connects with another’s and we become engaged with a far greater world. We are no longer isolated when we hear
I would like to say that hearing is how we begin to fulfill the commandments Jesus set out for all who would follow his way in the world. Loving our neighbour begins by listening and when we truly love, the world is transformed. How can we hear and not understand the other person? I would like to think that this openness of hearing is the open heart of christian αγαπη