3 Epiphany Year C: Neh 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 19; I Cor 12:12-31a; Lk 4:14-21
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
January 24, 2016
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
It seems to have become the norm for us to use the Bible against one another as a weapon. We quote the words on the page and attribute the power of judgment and condemnation to them. At times, we are the ones who feel the pain of a weaponized Bible and, at other times, we are the ones arming the Bible for its most destructive potential. Whether or not we are the ones who have holstered this book and accrued the ammunition of I am right and you are wrong, we are all cut by the cold edge of a blade that allows no room for leniency, no room for interpretation.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Bible is to allow it to be a living Word. Its much easier for us to memorialize it as a stone monument, refusing to yield even to the life breath of God which blows upon it. How much do we miss when we take words written on paper and etch them into stone regardless of the destructive tendency it may cause us and others who are forced to bend to its will. And for many of us, that is just what we have done.
Without meaning too, we have corrupted that which is holy, profaned that which is sacred by using Scripture as a force of our own will in which to bend and dominate the lives of others around us. As long as we stand firm on what we believe scripture means and refuse to embrace that scripture might mean many things to many people, refuse to disavow our right and wrong, black and white thinking, refuse to really hear how scripture has inspired those around us, we will find that scripture is always met with weeping and not with joy.
Today we hear the story of Ezra and Nehemiah, two Israelites who are faithful to Yahweh, have participated in the rebuilding of the Temple after exile, and are now in the process of reforming the Jewish religious tradition. Ezra reads the scroll and the people hear it as weapon. They hear words that convict them for their transgressions. They get more focused on law and legalism than on hope and promise and they weep. They weep for all that they lack, for all the times in which they have fallen short, for all the laws which they have not kept. They weep because somewhere in their understanding of the book of the law of Moses, they got the impression that the book existed as a tool of condemnation”and it can easily be read that way. Consider all the religious traditions today that do just that”that read the Bible not as joyful, not as inspired, but as a tool in which to condemn and judge one another.
To read the Bible in that context, as a list of rules of what to do and what not to do, is to forget that this book is the Good News”it is the news of our salvation by a God who made us, who loves us, and who wants us anyway”no matter how much we have fallen short of the mark.
This is exactly what Nehemiah and Ezra and all the Levites remind the people as they begin to grieve and lament”in the hearing of this word, in the reading of this book, this day is holy to the Lord God; do not mourn or weep, but rejoice and feast and share what you have with those who do not because the proper response to God is joy and concern one for another. How different our world might look if we were to party every Sunday after church and invite all those without to join us or even if we were simply to go to lunch following the service and take someone who has less than we have with us?
The Bible is not about legalism or even rigidity, but about finding life, finding true joy. At times we may well be convicted by the word, we may need to repent and return to God in particular ways. But piety is not the same thing as holiness, at least not in our Victorian understanding of piety. Because holiness, at least the holiness described in Nehemiah, is celebration. It is eating fat and drinking sweet wine and sharing with those who have nothing prepared. Life in God produces gladness, not regret, shame, or guilt. When we are listening for and living out God’s word our weeping becomes rejoicing, our fasting becomes feasting, and our concerns become the care of others.
After Jesus finished reading the scroll, he rolled it up and said, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Christ has come. He is God’s Word lived out for us. The Word that draws us into life, into love; and that is worth celebrating.