Rev. Lyle McKenzie, Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Nehemiah 8:1-3,5-6,8-10 Ps.19 1Corin.12:12-31a Luke 4:14-21
Any of you raising your hands, bowed over facedown, weeping?
How about this scene: All the people are gathered together in the bright sanctuary of Church of the Cross… and the reader went to the book of the Bible, words which God had given to all the people. Accordingly, they stood before the Bible in front of the assembly, women and men and all who could hear with understanding. This was Sunday, the first day of the fourth full week of January, also, Reconciling in Christ Sunday, affirming LGBTQ2S+ individuals and communities. And they read from the Book, facing the assembly in Church of the Cross from early morning, not quite until midday, in the presence of the women and men and all who could understand; and the ears of the people were attentive to the book of the Bible. They opened the book in the sight of all the people, and when they opened it, all the people stood up. Then they blessed God, in God’s greatness, and all the people responded Amen; Amen; lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped God with their faces to the ground. And they said to the people, “This day is holy to God, do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Bible. Then they said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is Holy to God, and do not be grieved, for the joy of God is your strength.”
How about that scene? Can you imagine us responding like this to reading/hearing from the Bible today? Some parts of the Bible cause me to listen more attentively, I might even shed a tear depending on my mood. I’m not likely to lift up my hands, that’s over the top for me and maybe most Lutherans! But to be moved by what we hear from the Bible and its interpretation? According to the original Ezra/Nehemiah story, the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem was also restoration of God’s law and covenant since exile. The people are given the opportunity to hear it again, and have it interpreted/translated so they could understand, and they are moved to awe and tears.
Could that happen for us? What about the Psalmist’s poetry? Paul’s words about the many members of one body on this Reconciling in Christ Sunday? What about Luke’s description of Jesus’ reading today? Can you imagine us worshipping in awe, and brought to tears by what we hear?
We talked in the Bible study this week about our easy access to the Bible, in most any language (but not all!). The gift of being able to read/hear it at anytime. And even if we struggle with understanding, we have others to assist us, although choose your sources carefully. Many, most of us, don’t know a longing to hear the words of the Bible like the people of ancient Israel as they rebuild the city and their lives after exile.
But maybe some of these words, Ezra/Nehemiah’s words, the Psalmist’s, Paul’s, Jesus’ words hold that possibility today more than we can imagine, if we move beyond familiarity, to the deep longing we have in us, the deep longing in the world.
Pastor Lyndon spoke last week about the lecture by Chris Hedges at UVic. I don’t want to repeat or try to recap what Hedges said, but only a feeling in my gut, and maybe in others that may explain the overwhelming response of over a thousand people coming to hear his words; a feeling that there was a prophetic truth to the words about a world crumbling, and more and more people being crushed under the weight of the disparity and despair. I wanted to weep. It is certainly sad enough, but maybe numbness and fear are more what we have come to feel. Like an exiled people struggling to rebuild, or just keep from crumbling the walls, imagined and attempting to be built.
An exiled people rebuild walls, and they gather to hear the words of God, and to understand, and they are in awe, and weep – weep in grief at what was lost, in confession for what was forgotten, but Ezra and others tell them not to weep, but be joyful in God; to eat and celebrate and share with those who don’t have any; be joyful for the joy of God is our strength. Can you imagine hearing and feeling like that today?
Maybe it is possible, hearing Paul’s words to an early Corinthian church struggling with being a community in diversity, different but equal before God and one another. And so Paul writes to them offering this very understandable but profound image of the body and all its parts and how they are different, but equally important, even the seeming dishonoured members, treated with honour, and no one part being able to do without the others. Do we hear these words on a day of affirming our diversity in gender and sexuality, that we have seen and used as barriers to some and between us, and between people and God? And add to that skin colour, ethnicity and culture, social and economic circumstance and status, age, ability, education, religion and practise and all that we have and hold as barriers between us. But instead today, affirm what Paul was affirming almost two millennia before, that we, many different members, are all one body in Christ Jesus! That we lost, that we forgot, that we failed to hold on to this truth in our guts and lives and world, but now, today, hear it again in the words of the Bible, would make us weep in grief and sadness, if it were not for the words of the prophets that call us instead to joy in God that is our strength, and to share that joy in unity with others. (with a young person walking past and seeing the flags and sign…)
Or to hear Jesus’ words, in the synagogue of his home community, from the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming anointing by God to bring good news to those who are poor, release to those held captive, sight to those who are blind, freedom to the oppressed, to proclaim God’s time of favour. Can you imagine hearing that in the face of so much that is crumbling and crushing so many, and by words and acts of compassion and justice for people dispossessed, disconnected, in despair; we participate as Jesus proclaims and does in his life and time, for every life and time, restoring, rebuilding the life and harmony, the Shalom! of God’s jubilee of justice and peace for all people.
In the latest issue of Geez magazine, Contemplative Cultural Resistance (Winter 2018, No. 51), the topic is “wealth redistribution.” The connection to Jesus’ words today, to the words of Ezra/Nehemiah, and Paul’s about equity and restoration, equality and unity, about compassion and the longing for communities and nations and a world of greater, not increasingly less care and compassion, are clear. In this issue, a number of the articles and images are by and of people who were included in the basic income experiment in Ontario. 4000 people were chosen to receive a basic yearly income of $17,000 to observe results in their health and wellbeing over time.
The program was cancelled in July of 2018, by the new government. One woman writes, “Basic income opened a door back into my life. After depression and a string of injuries knocked me out. The relief it brought allowed so many possibilities to rise up out of two years of darkness and anxiety.” And another, “Basic income has allowed me to support charities in Ontario that are special to me. I have been able to support Ontario farmers by purchasing their products. I have been able to eat more healthy with the extra income. I have been able to for the first time save money for my future. You have taken my security and future away.” $17,000 made these differences possible. Could we imagine a day, a time of God’s favour that would see a redistribution of wealth so that everyone’s basic needs are met? Can we imagine communities, a province and nation and world where that was possible? It makes we weep.
To gather and hear these words today, to lift up our hands, or not, bow our heads face down, or not, weep or not; but that God’s words affect us by the power of the Holy Spirit that filled Jesus and in Christ fills us, to rebuild and restore, unite and reconnect, redistribute and renew, challenge and change and inspire us in hope and fire to go out sharing the goodness and abundance that God provides so all have enough, and all are welcome and valued in all our beautiful differences, and all join together in joy, the joy of God that is our strength. Imagine this glorious vision and mission of God, that we enact each time we gather, with words and prayers and song and table of bread and sweet wine, fed and restored to live the same in our lives and this world, for God for others, for joy! The joy of God that is our strength. Imagine. And let it be so, in all our relations, Amen