Sunday, January 23, 2022

Third Sunday After Epiphany

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Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
by Reawaken Hymns

Soon we will celebrate the birth of Jesus.
We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day:  “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people.”
We light our candles to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world.  With the coming of this light there is joy, joy that is ours not only at Christmas but always.
Help us to have the joy that does not depend on earthy happiness but on you.  Help us to be filled with your joy so that we may share it in a world in need of joy. 
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, and who proclaim salvation.
Our God reigns!
God comes in the power of love and justice; therefore, let us wait with eagerness and worship with joy.
God comes to judge the world with righteousness, the people with truth.
Let the heavens be glad; let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar and all that fills it. Shout for joy, all the earth! Let us worship God.

Out of the deep shadows, we are attracted to your brightness, Glorious God. From the trauma of life’s battles, we are drawn to the peace you alone can provide. Away from the irreligion and earthly passions, you invite us to center our lives in you. Come, Holy One, to reign among us. Bring the joy we cannot know apart from you. Lead us in the ways of justice and righteousness that you intend. And establish among us your word and works that we might announce them to an anxious world. Amen.

Holy God of Advent, we confess that it is not easy to wait for you. Our world worships the power that acts quickly through force. How difficult it is for us to wait on the power of your rule, which comes slowly through love. We admit that while claiming to desire your reign of peace and justice, we are enmeshed in the ways of war, hatred, and injustice. We leave little room for you to act in our lives. We turn now to you in repentance and open ourselves to your Spirit. Forgive us and show us how to clear a path for you. Come to us in your son, Jesus, and reveal your reign on earth. Amen.

Hear now these words of assurance:
“Remember these things, O Israel, for you are my servant; you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me now, for I have redeemed you.” In the name of Jesus, our sins are forgiven.

Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Micah 5: 2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. Hebrews 10: 5-10
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

GOSPEL LESSON ………………………………………………………… Luke 1: 39-45
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

SERMON ………………………………….… Inside Out ……………………………………….Rev. Mike Daly
A small college with a religious affiliation had an annual event called “Christian Emphasis Week.” The student leaders would invite a Christian speaker to come to campus and preach and discuss faith. The event aimed to increase faith in the spirit of a religious revival. It was a popular thing.

One year, the students at this college got more than they bargained for. They invited a speaker that none of them had heard of. A professor on campus recommended this speaker because he had a reputation for being exciting and dynamic. Feeling like the Spirit was leading them, they agreed to “take a chance.” 

On the first night of Christian Emphasis Week, the chapel was full of the faithful. The room was abuzz in anticipation of a great start. Now, keep in mind the room was filled with “faithful” – the folks who might be called the “insiders.” 

The “Animal House” types in the fraternities and sororities stayed away. The non-religious “outsider types” stayed away. As well, the students belonging to other faith traditions stayed away. 

The room grew quiet as the speaker walked to the podium, opened the Bible, and read scripture. When finished, he closed the book, picked it up, and then threw it out the open window just to the right of him.  

The congregation sat in stunned silence. Did he really just do that? Did he really just throw a bible out the window?! 

The preacher then calmly said, “There goes your god (small “g”).” And then, he went on to preach a challenging sermon on the difference between worshiping the Bible and worshiping the God who comes to us through the scriptures. 

David Fitch of Northern Seminary says, “(Our) gospel will not be the old standby we’ve known through the small booklets we’ve read over the years. It will be contextualized in this space that is opened up in the neighborhood. There is no one set gospel starting point. There are numerous entry points. God is working for the renewal of all things. We can enter in, trust God, and begin to participate in what God is doing….” 

Jesus had that same knack, to be shocking. Even in his hometown. Jesus is back in Nazareth; He has friends to catch up with, family to see, and a worship service to lead at his home synagogue. 

Jesus arrives at the synagogue and gets settled in. The service opens like all the other services. Songs are sung, prayers are prayed, and then Jesus opens up a scroll to read a familiar passage from scripture. 

Pastor and writer Barbara Lunblad says – Surely the choice of reading was not accidental for Jesus or for Luke the storyteller. Oh, it’s true they handed Jesus the scroll of Isaiah, but then Jesus found the place where it was written. That is, he found this particular place and read these particular words from the prophet.

Though Jesus had been teaching in Galilee before, Luke doesn’t report anything that Jesus said publicly before this day in his hometown. Luke is a careful writer. Everything has a place – and a time – and a reason. When Jesus stood up to read, he chose to read these words, and when he sat down, he said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today is Jesus’ first public word. The first word remembered this side of the wilderness. Today this word is fulfilled.

This word changes things. Dramatically. Nothing will be the same. Jesus is setting forth his agenda, borrowing words from the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit has anointed him from the beginning for this mission, even as the Spirit descended on him in baptism and then led him in the wilderness. But what has Jesus been anointed to do? In Isaiah’s words, it becomes clear: Bring good news to the poor. Proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Let the oppressed go free and proclaim God’s jubilee year-when …debts are cancelled and land is returned.

First, he read from Isaiah. Then he preached. Luke doesn’t document the entire sermon, but we are given the main point. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

The first reaction from the congregation was positive.  “Good sermon,” “beautiful words,” “you’re an excellent speaker,” they all said. “Our hometown kid is doing all right; we have a lot to be proud of.”

It’s here, after the initial accolades for Jesus, that biblical scholar Will Willimon points out that a question begins to stir within the room. The people ask, “If Isaiah’s prophesy has already been fulfilled, how come nothing happened?” (Right? What’s really changed?)

In other words, we, who have been faithful, and we who are most closely related to you…family, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. “Where is ours?” “Where is our favor from God?”

Jesus, why haven’t you performed any of those miracles here, the way we have heard you did in Capernaum? Hearing the scripture?  No, no, no, what do you mean, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing?” We’d like a reward – a tangible reward – for our faithfulness. We DON’T want to be challenged even more.

It was then that Jesus threw the Bible out the window (metaphorically speaking) – or at least their understanding of scripture. They thought Isaiah’s words and benefits were only for them, for Israel, for Nazareth. The faithful…the “in” crowd.

Jesus throws that understanding out the window. He turns their worldview inside out. And that does not go over well. God cares for the poor, for the marginalized and outcast, and for the oppressed. The good news, God’s love and grace, is as much for the outsiders as it is for the insiders.

Williom reminds us how tragic this attitude can be because, “When insiders try to restrict God’s grace to themselves, they end up cutting off the very grace meant for them.”

The outrage seems to be over the wideness of God’s love for others (for the whole world). And Jesus hits a raw nerve with this group by pointing out that their over-indulged pride and self-interests will create barriers between God and God’s own people – high barriers of their own making.

Their resistance to letting God be God creates jealousy. And in that jealousy, they are lost. What makes this Sabbath service turn ugly in front of family and friends is Jesus’ reminder that God’s work, on behalf of the outsider, is biblical too.

He points to Elijah and Elisha – who do this very thing – healing and performing miracles to anyone in need. And, their zeal for loving God by serving others has influenced the Seder meal by making sure the table always includes an empty chair, and an extra poured cup of wine, just in case someone unexpected shows up. No matter who comes, friend or enemy, they are to be welcomed.

Jesus will act out this commandment to love and serve “others,” outsiders, time and time again. The Apostle Paul does that too. He affirms Greek, Gentile, Jew… And Paul reminds us that terms like “insider” and “outsider” are our terms. Not God’s.

There is a story told of a small-town community in Pennsylvania. Late in the evening, a rock was thrown through a window of the home of a Jewish couple. It was the third day of Hanukkah, and the home vandals broke the window, reached inside for the electric menorah on the table, and smashed it on the ground.

The people of the neighborhood were horrified that a hate crime had occurred. What didn’t happen was a whole lot of folks saying to themselves, “Oh, that’s too bad for them, but I’m glad I am Christian, so that didn’t happen to my family.”

Instead, a woman named Margie rallied the neighborhood in support.  She went out and purchased enough electric menorahs for every house on the block.  25 in all!  And for the rest of Hanukkah, all the homes had menorahs shining brightly in their windows. The vandals never returned. The barriers between people were broken down, and love overcame hate.

You may be wondering what happened at that little college in the story I shared earlier. Well, the group of students who attended that first night left in a huff. Outraged. And soon, word began to spread around campus about what had happened.

However, the next night, as those religious regulars stayed away, guess what?  Those “sinners,” those Animal House type students, those students with a “different” religious identity to Christian – they showed up.

They all showed up! They had heard so much about this dramatic presentation they were too curious to stay away. The place was packed. And there they stayed, late into the night.  And by the end of the week, the “faithful” returned as well.  

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Breathe on Me Breath of God
by Reawaken Hymns

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.

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