Sermon for the Third Sunday After Epiphany – January 23, 2022

Texts: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
I am a person who finds real joy in fixing things. A minor plumbing issue?  I’m on it! The vacuum cleaner is in distress? Let me get some tools and take a look inside. Which is why, recently, I was under the hood of the car with a wrench and my cell phone.
​The clock in my car was giving me fits. It’s no longer possible to reset the clock. The button that clearly says “clock” on the dashboard will not take instructions at all. And the clock was out of sync with real time by about 4 hours and 11 minutes. It’s not an easy time correction to compute when mental math is not your gift to begin with.  When your on-time presence at the ferry landing to return home depends on catching a ferry, it’s not good to miscalculate the time.
Now, the wrench and cell phone. After some pondering I realized that the only way to correct the clock was to disconnect the battery and then reconnect it. This resets the clock to 12:00.
So there are two times in the day to fix the clock. At noon and at midnight. I chose noon. At about 11:57 a.m. I disconnected the battery. Using my cell phone’s clock for calibration I reconnected the battery at precisely noon. And now the clock in my car is correct. At least until we lose an hour in the spring. Then, it’s back to the battery to reset the clock.
When Persia overcame the Babylonian Empire in the mid-500s BC it was in a sense like resetting the clock for God’s people. The Persian King informed the Jews that they could return home to Canaan. But the people didn’t depart in droves. Jerusalem was in a messy state and while the land was not empty – people had never ceased to live and work there – for the exiles going back meant leaving behind the relative of Babylon, a great city of culture and learning.
Over time various people returned to lead rebuilding projects. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount the process with all its ups and downs, including local opposition from people who had continuously lived in the land. After ninety-plus years of effort the last of the rebuilders to be chosen was Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer; a privileged role. He made his case for being sent to Judah to work, primarily in Jerusalem. The king was receptive and appointed Nehemiah to be the governor of Judah with the authority to recruit workers and fund the restoration by assessing the local people.
In the course of two terms as governor Nehemiah cajoled, argued with, and persuaded people to work with him. Nehemiah’s memory is honored for his leadership in Judah. He was a man of deep faith and prayer. He led as a servant of God, refusing to abuse his privilege as had previous governors. He not only fixed walls and streets, but also initiated social and religious reform. 
When the walls had been rebuilt and the temple restored, Nehemiah realized that there was still something that needed fixing. Somehow the connection between the people and God was still not entirely right. How could it be recalibrated?

So Nehemiah gathered the people together and had the scribe Ezra read the Torah, the law of God, to them. From early morning until midday the people listened. This length of time tells us that the reading encompassed more than the commandments, but also Israel’s long and complex history with God.
Perhaps some had never heard the whole account before. Perhaps some had never been in a position to listen well to it. But when they finally did, the Torah moved them to tears. Tears of sadness over not appreciating how amazing God was. Tears of remorse for recognizing how they had failed to keep up their part of the covenant with God and one another, and how that contributed to their suffering and exile.
But now they knew. God was here for them; had never left them. They were first and always, God’s people. And that was their way forward in faith together as God’s community. It was more than a recalibration. A total spiritual reconnection to God – accomplished.
Of course, that spiritual connection was tested and continues to be. The letter of First Corinthians says a lot about how the Holy Spirit forms us into the body of Christ. It is a beautiful image of Jesus being present in the world through his followers joined in purpose and shared energy for the gospel message. The spirit of God is on us together.
It works until it doesn’t. Sometimes a body is very slow to admit its failures. So Paul offered some guidance. The body is not a singular thing, said Paul. It is a collective. Sometimes a part gives out. And other parts have to step up for the body to remain functional.
The bottom line is this: God calls us to work with each other as the body of Christ. And to do this we need to recognize and honor our common humanity. This requires an awareness of both our gifts, and our limitations. If we are to be functional as the body of Christ, serving all, then throughout our lives we have to return to the fundamental spiritual work of honest self-examination and recalibration.
When Jesus began his teaching life, one of his first synagogue gigs was in Galilee where he read a stirring passage from Isaiah. He started with, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…he has appointed me to bring good news…” he ended with “…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And everyone just stared at him.
Of course they did. The “year of the Lord’s favor” is the 50th year when God’s law calls for a complete and total reset of all spiritual and social debts. It’s way beyond recalibration.
Then Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This is the time. Here is the need. Bodies and souls that need to be fed. Minds and hearts doing hard time in captivity waiting for release. Closed eyes that need to be opened. Oppressed people in need of freedom.
Jesus begins his work in us when we subscribe to God’s vision of recalibration and good news. Blessed are we who hear what Jesus is saying. The message of Jesus to us today is still this: you are the body I have come to heal and restore, and you are my body in a world that is crying out for healing and restoration. Amen.

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