These are my RAW notes from this morning's worship. Later on I'll try to format them and take out things that are not needed.
Good morning, Welcome to worship. In today’s first scripture reading we hear these words: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” No matter what may be happening, we have God’s promises—and those promises—promises of good news, recovery and freedom—good news for all the world’s suffering ones—those promises bring joy—and God’s joy brings strength.
Welcome to all listening on the radio today. We worship each week at 8:30 and 11:00—and this week we worship on Friday—10:00 at Brookridge Assisted Living.
Next week we have our church’s annual meeting. The annual meeting will begin at 9:45 after the first hour of worship—the 11:00 worship hour will begin whenever the annual meeting is done.
We rejoice with Amy and Ryan Anderson whose daughter Molly Grace was born Thursday morning! We’re praying for Shirley Smolinski who is home after falling and breaking her arm.
Are there other prayer requests or invitations?
Before our confession and forgiveness today, there is something I need to confess to you. Ever since the ELCA assembly August, some of our members have come to me with concerns that I have been insensitive and hurtful to some of the members of our church. I have expressed indecision and ambivalence toward our ELCA affiliation. At the same time, I have been outspoken about issues such as the authority of God’s Word and God’s plan for marriage and family. Because of this, I have hurt people who believe that the ELCA was correct in making the choices it did in August. Though I’ve known that I have disagreed with the ELCA decision and also with some people of our church, I have been insensitive and hurtful to many. I want to apologize to you if you have been hurt.
As to how to express myself in the future, I’m not sure what to do. Today again we have assigned scripture readings that seem to highlight the importance and clarity of God’s Word and its work in our lives. How can I preach on these without hurting you again?
All I can say is that I will do my best to be aware of how I may have hurt you, and I want you to know that I did not intend to hurt you or make you feel left out or excluded from our church.
FIRST READING… Nehemiah 8
Ezra Summons the People to Obey the Law
When the seventh month came—the people of Israel being settled in their towns— 8 1 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. 2 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. 3 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. 4 The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 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. 6 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. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 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. 10 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.” 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
The heavens declare the glory of God, * and the firmament shows his handiwork.
One day tells its tale to another, * and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.
In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
The law of the LORD is perfect
and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the LORD are just
and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear
and gives light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean
and endures for ever; the judgments of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can tell how often he offends? cleanse me from my secret faults.
Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.
SECOND READING 1st Corinthians 12:12-31a
On the Luther Seminary website “working preacher dot org,” Roy Harrisville the third points out that the assigned reading leaves out an important part, so I’ll be reading from Luke 4 verses 14 through 30.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
…14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
This time of preaching is by far the most difficult I have faced in a long time. I learned this week that I have hurt some of our church members by things I have said or – faced with assigned scripture passages that point to the power and truth of God’s Word—in Nehemiah and Psalm 19 and in Luke—and a scripture passage that speaks of Christian unity—a body with many parts—and here I get up to preach a week before our church’s annual meeting.
There is a part of me that just wants to sit down and be quiet. For what can I say that will keep us from wanting to push each other off a cliff.
I have a question. Did Jesus mean to make the people mad at him? It almost makes it look like he did. After Jesus interpreted Isaiah 61 by pointing to himself—all Jesus has to do is to speak God’s Word in order to make it come true… It’s by knowing Jesus that good news goes out to the poor and captives are freed and the blind see and the oppressed – do you know what it means to be oppressed? It means to be pushed down, to be controlled by someone who just wants to use you or keep you quiet. It’s by knowing Jesus that the oppressed leap up and throw off their chains and a new day begins! And I can imagine how angry the people got when they found out that Jesus was NOT going to do any miracles in his hometown but that all he was going to do was to read BIBLE VERSES about himself.
Jesus was not interested in making the people happy. He was, and he is interested in wanting to change their lives and set them free. But the way he does that is really annoying. He just reads BIBLE VERSES and applies them to himself. When you hear me read these verses, Jesus says, and when you understand that KNOWING ME is good news… then the power of the Holy Spirit will FLOOD your life and GIFTS will be given and people will be healed and released to love and serve and sacrifice right in the middle of a very oppressed world.
The fulfillment of God’s promise is given when Jesus connects those promises with himself in our hearing—and when we believe—for if we haven’t come to believe, then we really haven’t heard.
I want to go back for a minute to the Nehemiah reading… and to the Psalm… these passages celebrate the teachings and laws and words of God… yes, they celebrate what God says to them, even though—and if you read the TORAH—that’s the word translated LAW—if you read the TORAH you’ll find the COMMANDMENTS—and you will find RULES, INSTRUCTIONS and DIRECTIONS—both Nehemiah 8 and Psalm 19 celebrate God’s LAW. Nehemiah says that the people first wept when they heard the law of God read to them—but then Ezra the priest—this is on page 429 near the middle of the Bible—if you’re using one of the Bibles in your row you should find it there… page 429… Nehemiah 8—at the bottom of the first column…
And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly… you’ll see there’s a little footnote there… the word “clearly” can mean “with interpretations”… top of the second column… and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading…
Then verse 9… And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people… let’s read this part together… half way through verse 9… This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had wept when they heard the words of the law.”
What does it take for us to be GLAD when we hear the Word of God? There needs to be a certain amount of explaining, a certain amount of understanding… it doesn’t come automatically. Unless we have that understanding we’re going to be really sad when we hear God’s law because, for one reason, it’s going to feel like we’ve missed out on something… These people, some who had been far away from their country and some who had been there during long years of waiting—their first reaction to the reading of God’s Word is just to cry! Maybe they are thinking about all those years they were separated… maybe they were sorry for their sins… but Nehemiah and Ezra and others brought a GOOD word—not to take away the law—but to teach them that it is good… to teach them that the ways of God are JOYFUL!
It’s the same way in Psalm 19… The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes. Verse 10… More to be desired are they than gold… sweeter far than honey…
It’s not OBVIOUS from the beginning… we human beings want our OWN ways. We don’t want to be taught. Instead, we want God to DO SOMETHING for us.
But what we learn today is that believing and hearing and trusting and obeying God’s Word—that’s what really sets us free. And until we accept that we are going to be ready to push each other off the nearest cliff.
Some of our members here at this church have felt pushed off a cliff by me lately. I’ve been so ambivalent and ambiguous about what our church should do in connection with our ELCA denomination that some people feel pushed away. Every time I mention the Word of God or topics like sex or marriage or family people are reminded of this struggle that we’re having these days. I even thought about not preaching today at all as we are getting ready for our annual meeting next week.
But then I read the scriptures for today. And I see the celebration of God’s Law and God’s Word and I see Jesus reading scripture and saying it is FULFILLED and I just can’t not preach. And I can’t avoid saying things that hurt sometimes because it just seems that God’s Word pushes me to it.
I do not want to hurt anyone with my preaching or my writing or my teaching or my leading of Bible studies. But I feel just stuck—stuck with the Word of God—stuck with the Old Fashioned Lutheran interpretation of the Bible—and stuck in some ways, hopefully, with Jesus, who uses God’s Word to preach real freedom, and who doesn’t always do what the people want.
Did Jesus mean to make the people mad at him? I don’t think he intended to, but he wasn’t there to make them happy either. He was there to tell the truth. To use the Bible—that wonderful passage from Isaiah 61 that he reads in his hometown synagogue—Jesus uses the Bible to point to himself.
That’s what I need to do. Not point to myself, but to Jesus Christ. I hope we will always do that in the months and years to come.