Sermon Seeds: Good News, Good Ways/Changing the Landscape
Third Sunday after Epiphany Year C
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Sermon Seeds Year C from The Pilgrim Press – Order now
Additional reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
One Great Hour of Sharing preaching resources at http://www.ucc.org/january_31_lectionary_reflection_oghs_2016
Good News, Good Ways/Changing the Landscape
by Kathryn M. Matthews
Jesus has come home to Nazareth, to his own congregation, the one that watched him grow up, the place where “everyone knows his name.” So far, in Luke’s Gospel, we haven’t heard about Jesus healing sick people, multiplying loaves and fishes, casting out demons, or bringing anyone back from the dead. However, according to N.T. Wright, Jesus has been preparing for this for a long time, like a brilliant musician practicing or an athlete in training: he’s been praying, studying, and passing a grueling test out there in the wilderness (Luke for Everyone). About that test, Matt Fitzgerald observes: “One might imagine that his encounter with the devil would leave him empty, but in verse 14 Luke echoes the claim of 4:1 and affirms that Christ’s tank remains full” (Luke, Feasting on the Gospels, Vol. 1). And Ruth C. Duck reminds us that we, too, need that time in training, that time apart: “What wilderness,” she asks, “must we engage to emerge filled with the Spirit?” (Luke, Feasting on the Gospels, Vol. 1).
While our reading begins by describing Jesus as “filled with the power of the Spirit” (v.14), all we’ve been told so far is that he’s been teaching in some out-of-town synagogues, and, according to Luke, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country” so that he “was praised by everyone” (4:14-15). But it turns out, as we will learn in verse 23, that Jesus has been performing some works of wonder out there, in places like Capernaum. Maybe it was stories about those deeds that drew the crowd and built up their anticipation, more than the power of his preaching: Jesus, it seems, was a sensation, and people were eager to see what he would do, not just to hear what he would say.
Staying with the tradition
“Small town” hardly begins to describe Nazareth, since the entire village consisted of only a few hundred folks, about the size of a medium-sized United Church of Christ congregation, and the setting in this scene may not have been an actual building but just a gathering of faithful Jewish people. Kim Beckmann turns to the work of John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed (in Excavating Jesus) to draw this picture of Nazareth and the Judaism in which Jesus was raised to be both faithful and observant. In fact, Jesus’ inaugural address to his hometown, in which he lays down the main themes of his entire ministry, is in elegant and powerful continuity with his Jewish prophetic ancestors: “Jesus,” Beckmann writes, “sings Isaiah’s song of good news for the poor, in the key of his mother Mary of Nazareth” (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1). A few chapters on, Mary’s song in the Magnificat, from the Gospel’s very first chapter, still rings in our ears, and in our hearts.
It’s not that every text isn’t important in its own way, but this one is special. Surrounded as we are these days by the inflated and sometimes incendiary promises of political candidates – however lacking in specificity they may be – we might better compare this speech to the inspiring inaugural addresses of leaders in the public sphere: what gets said here today will be the plan, not just a promise, for the days ahead.
The heart of Jesus’ message and mission, the big picture, is in this short sermon/Bible study containing a few verses from the book of the prophet Isaiah but significantly omitting Isaiah’s line about “the day of vengeance of our God.” Alan P. Sherouse sets the scene and describes a quietly dramatic moment: “Inside the synagogue, the meticulous pace of Luke’s narration signals the importance of the moment. Action slows. Every motion is described.” In this way, Luke “creates suspense” until we hear “the first public words from Jesus’ mouth…’The Spirit of the Lord.'” After all, as Sherouse notes, this is the Gospel of Luke, with the Spirit right at the center of the entire story; he calls this passage “Luke-Acts in miniature” (Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, Vol. 1).
Grace for everyone?
N.T. Wright suggests that Jesus’ omission of revenge from his mission would have offended those first-century Jews who understandably hungered for God’s vengeance on a whole host of enemies and oppressors – a wholly human longing, it seems. So it wasn’t his eloquence, Wright says, that “astonished” them but his “‘speaking about God’s grace – grace for everybody, including the nations – instead of grace for Israel and fierce judgment for everyone else.'” Wright sees Jesus drawing on “the larger picture in Isaiah…of Israel being called to be the light of the nations,” and presenting a Messiah who “has not come to inflict punishment on the nations, but to bring God’s love and mercy to them.” Next week, we’ll spend more time on the crowd’s reaction, in the verses that follow this week’s reading, but Wright finds reason for their violent response in today’s passage (Luke for Everyone).
Craig Evans explains that the Jewish people at the time of Jesus spoke Aramaic, so an explanation had to follow the reading of the Hebrew Scripture, much as we today follow the Scripture reading with a sermon (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels). At first it seems that Jesus’ sermon couldn’t be much briefer, just one line, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” but the text says, “Then he began to say to them” (v. 21). If they were indeed “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (v. 22), perhaps that line was only the beginning of the sermon, and we aren’t given the rest of it. It’s intriguing to think about where Jesus went with his message, but surely he never strayed from speaking about opening the eyes of the blind and bringing good news to the poor and oppressed.
A people hungry for good news
Richard Swanson helps us to sense how Jesus’ words must have moved the hearts and re-ignited the ancient hope of the poorest and the powerless among his people; he explains, for example, the “why” of Jubilee, the practice – or at least the vision of the practice; it was the dream of God, after all – of restoring, every fifty years or so, land and possessions to people who had lost them.
This kind of restoration may offend our capitalist notions of private ownership and what we see as “fair,” but Swanson explains the need and the “rightness” of forgiving debt and giving back land. (Barbara Cawthorne Crafton calls Jubilee “that all-bets-are-off year” when even “bad real estate transactions [are] redeemed,” Luke, Feasting on the Gospels, Vol. 1.) He reminds us of the nomadic roots of the Jewish people, who wandered a long time before making their way into the Promised Land. When they arrived, they understood that the land wasn’t really theirs but God’s, and they lived on it as God’s guests, as stewards of God’s land. Jubilee is a wonderful acknowledgement of, and response to, the way we humans get things all out of whack, and before you know it, somebody has way too much, and others not nearly enough. Jubilee is the vision that makes things right again, God’s way of restoring, Swanson writes, “the original balance and connectedness” among the people (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).
While scholars debate whether Jubilee was ever actually practiced, it still served as a vision of what Swanson has often described as “the right-side-uping of the creation” by God that they were faithfully and fully anticipating. Jesus isn’t coming back home to preach a new message that offends ancient traditions, like some sort of trouble-making radical enamored of “current thinking” that he learned out there, in the wider world – quite the opposite, in fact: “Jesus has just rung a bell that echoes back to the first entry into the land,” Swanson writes. “Old hopes are often domesticated hopes, at least for people young enough to have been forced back on the oldest, more durable hopes. What if in this scene Jesus learns something about this old passage, these old hopes, by watching the faces of the old ones in the gathered congregation?” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke). A wondrous thought: that Jesus himself, in reading the Word aloud, has his own epiphany, or at least a deeper understanding of what is really happening here, and his role in it.
There’s more than one kind of blindness
Was Jesus “just” a good rabbi, a really good preacher, someone whose sermons moved people, at least for the moment, or was he much more than that? Renita Weems observes that Jesus “claimed that he was God’s agent of promised salvation” (New Proclamation Year C 2000-2001). And this salvation, scholars of Luke’s Gospel assert, is often described as, or at least facilitated by, “opening the eyes of the blind” or “restoring sight to the blind.”
Yes, there are stories of such healing on two levels: sometimes Jesus actually made a physically blind person see, but other times he had the much more difficult task of getting the spiritually blind to open their eyes to the truth. Just as regaining physical sight changes the whole life of a person, so opening our minds and hearts to the truth of the gospel transforms all of us who “have eyes to see,” and, we might add, “ears to hear” or better, “to listen.”
Whom is grace for?
According to Marcus Borg, Jesus’ speech, while it comes from the tradition of those who were listening, must have clashed with what Borg calls the “social world” of Jesus, the culture and the holiness code that surrounded him, the social and religious understandings that said those poor people, those blind people, those debtors, and a host of other folks just didn’t measure up to the purity that marked the insiders and kept the outsiders, well, outside (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).
At first, everyone was admiring Jesus’ gracious words, and then it occurred to somebody to “consider the source” – and suddenly familiarity started to breed contempt, and someone asked, “Hey…wait a minute, isn’t this just Joseph’s son? How can he be sounding so smart, and how can we take him seriously?” No wonder that Jesus responds by saying that no prophet is accepted in his hometown (more on that next week, when we continue to verses 21-30).
God’s economy in our own social world
Perhaps it’s too easy to read this text and assume that we would have reacted differently than the crowd did that day, gathered around Jesus on the Sabbath. On our Sabbath, we go to church and often hear a similar message, and yet, when we leave our houses of worship and return to the rest of the world that God loves, have we closed our eyes to what is really happening? For example, have we closed our eyes and our hearts to the challenging reality that, as Beverly Gaventa puts it so simply, the “gospel demands a certain attitude about possessions” (Texts for Preaching Year C)? How would you describe that “certain attitude”?
Ann M. Svennungsen reflects on the economic implications of the Jubilee, which not only benefitted the poor but also presented “a hope, a challenge to all private ownership rights, and an affirmation that God owns the land and that God’s economy supercedes human economies” (New Proclamation Year C 2007). Those are strong words, and difficult, maybe even dangerous, to preach. It’s hard to believe that such a message would go over well in a number of communities that claim the name Christian today, as we too feel trapped in a system that, more and more, seems to be producing wealth for a few and poverty for too many.
What shall we do?
What’s a church, what’s a follower of Jesus, to do? Have we lost our way from the course Jesus set in this inaugural address? As Christians, we’re not just studying history, the biography of someone who lived a long time ago. We’re reading our own biography, our own operating instructions, our flight plan, our “Mapquest” directions for life.
Jesus’ inaugural address is about the politics of compassion, and he tells us to “Be compassionate as God your Father/Mother is compassionate.” That’s the better translation of Luke 6:36, Marcus Borg says, not “be merciful,” but “be compassionate.” As Borg says, in an age of excessive individualism, we would rather talk about “a thousand points of light,” each one of us doing our thing to better the world, rather than the idea of the community re-shaping itself, re-ordering its priorities, changing the system and transforming our relationships, whatever it takes, to meet the needs of all of God’s children and to extend a compassionate response to the suffering of the world. Mercy may suggest one person bending down to someone in need, but compassion – that means feeling with another, right alongside them. Not from above, but from right alongside (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).
Could we say the same thing?
How does the church follow those operating instructions, that path of discipleship? As Robert M. Brearley puts it, “we have buildings, budgets, staff, and members, but do we have the power of the Holy Spirit?” (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1). Could we walk into our churches on Sunday and proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” or on us? Several writers have interesting responses. First, Ernest Hess speaks of our current interest in clarifying our purpose in life, helped by Rick Warren’s best-seller, The Purpose-Driven Life. Hess finds it “surprising and troubling” that Warren doesn’t include this passage from Luke in the many passages from the Bible in his book. “Apparently,” writes Hess, “this succinct and powerful statement of Jesus’ own purpose is not considered relevant for informing a Christian’s ‘purpose-driven life'” (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1). Strong words about a popular book in our contemporary culture!
Barbara Cawthorne Crafton recognizes the gap between how things are today (or were back then) and the songs that Jesus and his mother sing – of healing and justice and all things made right. But “Scripture,” she says, “is much more full of hope than of journalism.” She compares it to the political/social reality at the time of the Declaration of Independence, years before the revolution was won: “All political ideas live in the human imagination before they become flesh in the human community. So it is with all prophecy.” The important lesson for us, she says, is to “remember how we first received the messianic hope in the Gospel of Luke: justice and healing for those who suffer illness and wrong….Today we understand this eschatological hope to be not only about God’s agency, but about our own” (Luke, Feasting on the Gospels, Vol. 1).
Indeed, Carol Lakey Hess calls this little story from Luke a kind of “plumb line of Jesus’ teaching” that can “measure our work,” not focusing on “righteousness” so much as seeking those in need and responding as Jesus would. I think Hess is right on when she speaks of “[w]hatever we take to be the heart of the gospel” that “will be the central shaping force in our life of faith” (Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 1). What do you “take to be the heart of the gospel”?
What is the heart of the gospel?
Indeed, our churches have spent so much energy and time in arguing over that which is not at the heart of the gospel, or that which goes against its core message, that we’ve squandered resources, both physical and spiritual, for preaching and living the gospel itself. It’s not only justice that matters, or inclusion; it’s spiritual healing and wholeness, for it’s salvation that we are about, it’s opening the eyes of the spiritually blind (including our own), not just salvation in the sense of making our way to heaven or persuading others to accept our beliefs. Svennungsen describes the challenge to balance “justification and…justice” in our ministry: “The sight Jesus brings is meant for those made blind for lack of vitamin A and for those blind to the love and grace of God” (New Proclamation Year C 2007). What a challenging thought for churches, especially for those holding annual meetings during this time of year, an excellent moment in the life of the church to re-examine our ministries and the way we do them, and discern where we are next to that “plumb line of Jesus’ teaching”!
A last word, from Barbara Brown Taylor, draws our attention for a moment to Luke, the writer of this Gospel, who tradition says was a doctor of medicine. Taylor is inspired by Luke’s example of a life transformed: “I like to think that Luke never resigned his job as a healer. He just changed medicines.” Instead of physical remedies for the body, Luke “told stories with power to mend broken lives and revive faint hearts.” This is our call, too, as “evangelists” who preach the good news, and speak the words of new life: “People talk, and lives change. People talk, and other people are made whole” (“Gospel Medicine,” in Gospel Medicine). The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, too, and we too are anointed to bring good news to the world that God loves so well.
The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews serves as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.
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A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
For further reflection:
Walter Brueggemann, 21st century:
“What a stunning vocation for the church, to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful – and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.”
Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, 20th century
“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century
“This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.”
James Baldwin, 20th century (about the March on Washington 1963)
“That day, for a moment, it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real, perhaps the beloved community would not forever remain that dream one dreamed in agony.”
William Sloane Coffin, 20th century
“The lack of material well-being among the poor reflects a lack of spiritual well-being among the rest.”
Khaled Hosseini, “The Kite Runner,” 21st century
“…there is a God, there always has been. I see [God] here, in the eyes of the people in this [hospital] corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find [God]….”
Alice Walker, 21st century
“Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.”
“Wake up and smell the possibility.”
Graham Greene, “Brighton Rock,” 20th century
“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
Charles Chesnutt, North Carolina storyteller, 20th century
“There’s time enough, but none to spare.”
One of the important marks of the Christian community is its unity; thus, the United Church of Christ’s motto is the prayer of Jesus “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). For more than fifty years, our denomination has hoped and prayed and worked for the unity of the whole church, the Body of Christ, dreaming of a day when the followers of Jesus will see past our differences and find common ground in our identity as disciples of the one who prayed for our unity long ago. Sometimes this unity may be seen as official, in the ecumenical agreements we enter, and in the union of our predecessor denominations almost sixty years ago to form the United Church of Christ.
Other times, this unity may be experienced spiritually even when there is nothing official to “bless” it: for example, the United Church of Christ has received many affirmative responses from members of other churches who appreciate our Stillspeaking message of extravagant hospitality. But this unity is perhaps most powerfully experienced in a local church, when many different people come together, out of their own private lives, and find meaning, purpose and support in the life of a congregation.
The paradox of unity and diversity
It may sound paradoxical, then, to believe that another important mark of the Christian community is its diversity. Many different gifts, many different stories, many different journeys come together in the life of a church and we are, indeed, “better together” than any of us would be alone, and certainly better than if we were pitted against one another, “us” against “them.” Perhaps it is more fitting to say that, when we build a church, we weave a beautiful but strong fabric of many colors, rather than seeing ourselves as laying one grey stone upon another. (Once again, the hymn, “Many Are the Lightbeams,” #163 in The New Century Hymnal, would be most appropriate for this Sunday in the season of Epiphany.)
The Apostle Paul wrote his letters just a few years after Jesus went around dismantling boundaries and hierarchies and distinctions – and the people in the churches were already thinking once again that some of them were better than others, higher than others, with more important gifts than others, and therefore more important roles and ministries than others. Yes, it happened that quickly, in the earliest churches: the discussion got started that might fracture the community, divide it, drain it of its energy and life.
Things were already slipping back
Paul, like a wise pastor, called them back, instructing them gently but firmly about where all those gifts come from – the Spirit – and the churches were reminded that all that stuff the world told them – some of you are slaves, and some of you are free, some of you are women and should know your place, and so on – and even some of the things that their religious traditions told them – some of you are Gentiles so you’re not included in the welcome, and some of you do not measure up to the requirements of holiness so you can’t come in, either (not that we do those things today in the church) – Paul reminded them that what life in the Spirit was all about was subverting those boundaries and distinctions, casting them off and welcoming everyone and everyone’s gifts. And then, today’s reading ends with the simple words, “But strive for the greater gifts.”
The apostle Paul’s beautiful reflection on the unity and diversity of the church rings true for us today in the United Church of Christ, and it is exquisite in its simplicity and clarity: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (v. 27). Carl Holladay writes of this oneness and diversity, the “many” that we are, by pointing to our relatedness. We are not “many” like “many pebbles in a box,” but are “organically related. The pain one part experiences is experienced by the other parts. They form an ecology of suffering and rejoicing” (Preaching through the Christian Year C).
Even a small part can affect the whole
My mother had to have surgery on her back forty years after an automobile accident put her right ankle into a slightly wrong position. Years of walking out of balance took a toll on her back, an “ecology of suffering” and pain, one might say, since the parts of our body work together and affect one another. Health professionals and pastors recognize the interrelatedness not only of our organs and physical structures, but also of our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health. All of these are part of one “body” or person, yet they are also distinct, intricately interacting with one another in a wondrous and delicate balance, a thing of great beauty to consider. Another hymn from the Epiphany season section of The New Century Hymnal, “God of Change and Glory” (#177), by Al Carmines, sings of this unity in God’s love, in the midst of our diverse gifts.
So, then, how do we approach this beautiful metaphor for the church? One could be tempted to think that each of us has our own role, and that we should accept and play our role appropriately, even if that implies limitations. Thus, for many centuries, men in the church have made portentously official pronouncements on “the role of women,” as if it were different from “the role of men” (and they – all men – had access to knowledge about that distinction that women did not). Why do we all, including Christians, seem to want to find the right label, the right category, for one another?
The dream of Paul’s theology
After all, the same Paul who wrote this powerful description of the church in First Corinthians also spoke of the eradication of social differences in his letter to the Galatians: when we are baptized into the body of Christ, we’re no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek, male and female, but one in Christ (3:28). One might dream that the roles and stereotypes, along with restrictions they bring, might melt away, too. Alas, this has not been the history of the church these past two thousand years, and the oneness of the church has not always given full expression to the many and varied gifts within its body. This exclusion is woundedness in the Body of Christ. (Before we judge those who reacted negatively to Jesus’ words in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, we might consider how the prophetic words of feminist scholars have been received (or not) in the church for a long, long time.)
If we could indeed come together, to be “better together” than we would be alone, and yet retain our individual dignity and giftedness, we might enrich our lives as a community that recognizes and celebrates the many different ways God has made us human beings, full of beauty. If we shared the tasks of ministry and of building up the church, recognizing the gifts that God has given each of us for different ministries without having our vision restricted by categories and presuppositions, we might discover a treasure trove of gifts waiting within the life of each congregation.
The point is really love
And rather than bicker over who, or which job, we might strive for that unity that helps us experience one another’s pain and one another’s joy, diminishing the one and increasing the other, just as Paul describes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (v. 26). Is that what our churches look like today? In many ways and many places, the answer is undoubtedly “yes.” Where it is not, we are led, at the end of today’s reading, toward “greater gifts” that would enable us to share our lives this way: “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” We know what is coming in the familiar passage that follows, the soaring, poetic passage on love. Perhaps that is, in the end, where we need to begin even more than with unity and diversity: we need love to be the mark by which we are known, and unity amid the diversity will follow. In the end, this love comes from God, and it is the love that we come to know in many different ways, often from the most unexpected people.
For further reflection:
Fred Rodgers, 20th century
“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 20th century
“Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”
John O’Donohue, 20th century
“May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.”
Gwendolyn Brooks, 20th century
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Stanley Hauerwas, 20th century
“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.”
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
[When the seventh month came – the people of Israel being settled in their towns] – all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “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.”
The heavens are telling
the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech,
nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out
through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens God has set a tent
for the sun,
which comes out like a beloved
from a wedding canopy,
and like an athlete runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
The law of God is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of God are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of God are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of God is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of God is pure,
the ordinances of God are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also
from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O God, my rock and my redeemer.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 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. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But 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.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“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.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Liturgical notes on the readings
In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:
First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel
The first and second readings are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.
The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.
A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.
Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.
The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday” — not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”
So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the “received” tradition!