Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sermon on 3rd Epiphany

One thing I ask of you, O Lord, that I do not use my reason against the truth. Amen.

Starving for the Truth

There is a hunger inside each of us for the Truth. This is not only true of our own day, with so much spin, so much manipulation of the facts, that it is at times hard to find the Truth, but it is also true of centuries, millennium ago, as the faithful sought out ways to find the Truth…

In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jewish people are returning from their exile, returning home from the Babylonian Captivity.

They had been starved for the truth in their exile, but upon their homecoming, “all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate in Jerusalem. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.”

There was a hunger to know the Truth, to know what God had expected of them.

And after a series of unpronounceable names who stood near Ezra, “they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” And the people who had been starving, wept for hearing of the truth…

But Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levite priests did not just want weeping, they wanted to celebrate that truth too.

They said to the people, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for 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.”

By hearing the Truth, the people were able to celebrate for they learned that the joy of the Lord is their strength. The Scriptures were there to lead them to that joy, which they had been starved of, in their expulsion from the land.

In the time of St. Paul, there was some disunity among the Christians living in Corinth. He reminds them that their unity is based on their baptism:

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

No matter who we are in our lives, Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female, we are baptized into one body, the body of Christ. And yet there existed in the community, some who looked down upon others, seeing no need for them among the community.

Others saw themselves as inferior to other members, not as equal. To both of these, Paul speaks clearly…

“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.”

There are no greater or lesser members of the body of Christ, for we are to care for one another, we are in it together…

And have we not experienced that here…when one member of our parish suffers, we all suffer with them, when one member is honored or rejoices, all rejoice together.

To a community that was starving for the Truth, St. Paul gives them the Truth, they are all members of the body of Christ, equally, and individual members of it for our unity is in baptism, because through it we become part of the body of Jesus Christ.

After Jesus’ own baptism, knowing that the people were starving for the Truth, he began to preach in the synagogues of Galilee and his name spread.

When he returned to his hometown, he went to the synagogue and was handed a scroll, he read from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed 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.”

To the people there, who were starving for the Truth, starving for the savior, he says, today, this scripture is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is fully present, right here, right now.

As one author put it, it was his inaugural sermon, for indeed he would bring good news to those who only knew bad news, release to those held captive by their lives, by their illness, by their own prejudices, he would let the oppressed go free, to rejoin their families and society, he opened the eyes of the blind, and proclaimed by all he said and did the year of the Lord’s favor.

He embodied the spiritual reality of the Good News of which Isaiah wrote, which God had sent him down to earth to do.

He is the truth to those starving for the truth. Which is as true today, as it was in his own day. But now, we are the ones to help embody his message, to be part of our life and witness as Christians.

As one song writer put it, “I can hear Jesus’ quiet voice in the words he said, words that set the captive free, words that lift the dead into the living. In his dying now he asks us in his stead to be the one, be the one. Be the one to speak the words of truth, be the one to quell the lies. Be the one to see that justice will be done. Be the one to learn from children, be the one to teach the wise, be the one, be the one, be the one.” (Ray Makeever)

And if we are to be the one, we need to learn from Ezra and Nehemiah that to lead people to the Truth, is to lead them to joy, for the joy of the Lord is their strength.

And we need to learn from St. Paul, that we are all members, all have our part, no matter how big or small, lesser or not, we are all equal in God’s eyes for God has put us together.

And to follow Jesus, and speak to that hunger for truth means we have work to do, which is how Episcopal Priest and hymn writer, Carl P. Daw, Jr. put it.

Till all the jails are empty and all the bellies filled; Till no one hurts or steals or lies, and no more blood is spilled;
Till age and race and gender no longer separate;
Till pulpit, press and politics are free of greed and hate;
God has work for us to do.

And that’s the Truth. Amen.

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