Nehemiah 8:1-3. 5-6, 8-10 Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Luke 4:14-21
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Can you imagine being present in the assembly described in our first reading ? The Jews had just returned from Babylon after seventy years in Exile. They had come home ! They knew that it was God’s plan to return them to Jerusalem and the Promised Land and they were assembled in thanksgiving for God fulfilling His promise. To celebrate they read the Torah the first five books of the Bible and solemnly listened. There were people in the crowd who offered explanations of the texts to those assembled, and from dawn until noon they steeped themselves in the Word of God. The excitement was palpable. It was a special day too, it was the Feast of Trumpets. On that day the trumpets sound to announce that no work was to be done that day. It was to be a Sabbath, much like our Statutory Holidays but with religious content, so much so that people wept for joy at the good fortune given by God. And it was a day when the goodness of the land was shared with the less fortunate, people opened their hearts to each other.
What an occasion that must have been. I sense that the feeling was like VE Day. You’ve seen those pictures of people in the streets, laughing, smiling, kissing at their extreme joy that the horror is over. That’s where the Jews were. Then they took a solemn time-out to hear the word of God and then to continue their celebrations. That’s not too dissimilar to what happened seventy years ago for us. We celebrated and made room in our lives for God, with regular Church attendance and just knowing it was right for our children too; the world would now be just the way God intended.
But as the years rolled-by the excitement faded, the joy subsided and God faded into the background of our lives. We settled down to the mundane of life and concentrated on the daily grind of survival. At the same time losing faith that God would provide.
The Jews after Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time did the same. They gradually moved away from God and each other and stopped sharing, taking-up the cause of self-preservation, not realising that we are in this together, regardless of the Age in which we live.
Things went on like that for generations. God waited hopefully that the Jews would see the error of their ways and return the world to the way God intended. They didn’t. But the people remembered the glory times and longed for a leader who would set things right. And that is what the Gospel is about today. Jesus after His baptism and temptation committed fully to His ministry and went about preaching the gospel anew. His words were well received throughout the land and so He was given the opportunity to preach in His home town of Nazareth. Again the people liked to hear what He said. They had found their leader, their Messiah, but He started to say that although He would lead the Jews to Salvation He was going to lead others too, other nations, us the Gentiles. They felt betrayed and although they had clearly seen He was the answer to their problems He clearly wasn’t just for them. Nationalism crept into their minds and they rejected Him. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” fell on deaf ears. God was fulfilling His promise and the people would not listen. My greatest fear is not that people will not listen but that there will be no one to speak, speak the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus will return but will there be anyone here who knows what’s going on. Will there be people in the crowds to interpret to explain what is being said, the way there was in Ezra’s time ? Yes, but only if we keep the Good News in the people’s consciousness, their frontal lobes.
We are coming up to Vestry, which is a time for us to assess the past year. First question is always what does our bank account look like ? Then we talk about numbers, then we talk about our actions, our ministry our groups and all the good things we have done. That’s all well and good but really the first thing we should do is ask have we spread the Gospel message ?
Paul at some lengths in the epistle today talks about the talents we have, it’s a theme we have followed for the last three weeks; what gifts did we receive at baptism and how can we use them ? He uses the human body to explain that as the Body of Christ we all have different abilities and duties. He even makes the point that those who seem to be the least worthy are indeed to be the most treasured and respected. Paul wants to ensure that we are all equally appreciated because we are truly all in this together. And that is Vestry.
We can look back with a feeling of accomplishment on the activities of the last year. We have indeed taken care of others, we have been generous. We have worshipped together. We have broken bread, and a lot of other good foods too. So we have accomplished quite a few things. Vestry is our New Year when we look forward to new accomplishments. As we gather at the meeting let us think carefully and prayerfully how we can keep the Spirit alive in the Church, each other and ourselves. There is a lot to be done. And we can do it. If we take the Word of God seriously and let it govern our lives, let us interpret it to each other and to our friends and family beyond. This year will be a wonderful year starting when we sit down and discern our next steps on this path through our life, our eternal life. Amen.