Epiphany 3

January 23, 2025

Lectionary Texts

Nehemiah 8. 1-10 — Ezra reads the scroll that has been found (likely the book of Deuteronomy) to the returned exiles. .

Psalm 19 — “1The heavens are telling the glory of God…. The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul.”

1 Corinthians 12.12-31 —“You are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it … The eye cannot say to the hand…”

Luke 4. 14-21 — “God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…”

Preaching Thoughts

       It may seem like a jump to go from praising Creation in verses 1-6 to the Law of God in v. 7; but the law of God isn’t a legal code. It’s a “law” like the “law” of gravity. It’s the way things are by God’s grace, the way God works in the world. God creates the world full of beauty, and creates it to work together, to live in harmony. God’s “law” is the harmony of all created things. All Creation “speaks” that law. The “precepts” of God are not legal requirements; they’re the truth of our inherent harmony. From that we can see the “rightness” of living in harmony, as described by all of the laws in scripture, and the “wrongness” of violating our harmony. But the “law” itself is not an idea that can be put in words. It’s like the love between a married couple. They have words, ad even vows, that describe that love, but the love itself goes way beyond words or ideas. It’s a whole life of tender, fierce commitment. Creation “speaks” that “law,” but “there is no speech., nor are there words.” Just beauty and grace and deep, mysterious, life-giving harmony.
      “But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.” We don’t realize when we’re out of harmony. (Ask any choir director: people who are singing out of tune think they’re in tune.) So we ask God to both forgive us for the ways we are out of tune with God without even realizing it, and also to help us discover and confront those hidden faults. So we pray that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be in harmony with you, O God.”

1 Corinthians
 Paul’s vision is radical both “vertically” and “horizontally.” We don’t just believe in Christ, we’re part of Christ. Jesus was not raised from the dead as an individual; he was raised as a community, and we’re all it! And in that unity we don’t just love each other, we’re part of each other. We are all part of the same organism, cells in the same body, fingers of the same hand. We are all connected; we all have something to offer; we all need each other. We need each other’s individual gifts, all of us different and all of us necessary, like all the different organs in a body, or parts of a living cell. All the parts are distinct, but only as part of the whole. Remove them, separate them, and they’re nothing. This is the real, physical manifestation of the harmony Psalm 19 proclaims. So when you love your neighbor as yourself you don’t just love them as much as you love yourself, you love them as part of yourself, as yourself.

   This agenda, which is Isaiah 61.1-2, seems to be pretty much what God is about, and what Jesus was about, and what following Jesus is about. Whatever “spiritual” work we think Jesus did, or we’re supposed to do, is also “political:” it’s in the real-world context of justice, healing and liberation. This appears to be the main focus of the entire Bible. There are few book in the Bible—or, for vast spreads of scripture, individual pages even— that don’t repeat God’s insistence on liberation for the oppressed, care for the poor, healing for the broken, and power for the marginalized. This is God’s “law.” It invites to ask about everything we do or say: “How does this promote liberation? How is this good news for the poor?”
       Careful readers of Isaiah 61 will notice that Jesus stops suddenly in what he quotes: he reads through “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”— and stops without reading the next phrase: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus cuts the quote without the vengeance part. It’s consistent with Jesus commitment to nonviolence. Jesus doesn’t buy the image of God as vindictive. (Yes, he’s cherry-picking his scriptures. You may do that, as long as it’s consistent.)
       Like all of us, folks in Nazareth are hoping for a message that favors them. Jesus makes it clear that liberation isn’t for the inside group, but for outsiders, like gentiles such as Naaman and the widow of Zarephath. The heart of Jesus’ ministry is the announcement,and the initiation in both words and deeds of a realm of grace, justice and covenantal love he calls the “Kingdom of God.” A chief characteristic of iot is its radical inclusivity. Everybody belongs to God. There are no insiders and outsiders. Oops. That gets the audience riled up: if Jesus is for outsiders, they’ll make Jesus an outsider. Here’s an early foreshadowing of the cross: God acts for the oppressed, and we don’t like that, and so we oppress God. But God is still God. “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” God will pass through our oppression and go on, healing and liberating, in defiance of our opposition, even our violence, even death itself. God will pass through the midst of us and go on their way.

Call to Worship

Leader: Spirit of Truth:
All: open our eyes.
Spirit of healing,
set us free.
Spirit of love,
come upon us and send us to a hurting world. Amen.

2. (Adapted from Psalm 19)
Leader: God, your whole Creation displays your glory;
All: the universe is your beautiful song without words.
Your Word gives life; it restores the breath of our souls.
Your delight shines in our eyes and makes us beautiful.
But who can see their own faults?
Save us, God, from our self-ignorance.
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
give you delight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.

3. (Psalm 19)
Leader: All Creation is your praise, O God.
All: The sky radiates with your glory.
The stars are your autograph.
Night turning into day speaks your wisdom,
not in the language of words, but with light and wonder.
So we want to know your intent, and hear your Word.
It gives us life, sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.
Help us, then, to know your ways.
For we easily become lost without knowing.
May we follow in your path, and live by your Spirit.
May the words of our mouths and the thoughts in our hearts
be praise to you, O God, our Source and our Salvation. Alleluia!

Leader: God of justice, the poor and the poor in spirit cry out.
All: Come, Holy One, and bring good news.
God of love, our hearts are blinded to your truth.
Come, Holy One, and bring sight to the blind.
God of righteousness, the oppressed plead for liberation.
Come, Holy One, and bring release to the captives and freedom for the oppressed.
Give sight to our spirits and set us free from our fears,
that we may be bearers of your good news in the name of Christ.

Leader: Loving God, we are your people, the Body of Christ.
All: We are one in your Spirit.
All over the world we gather—all different, all beloved.
We are all connected; we all are gifted, and we all need each other.
In the unity of your love we worship
together with those who are different from us,
and with our unseen siblings nearby and around the world.
With one voice we praise you; we thank you; we worship you.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, you have given us your prophets, so that we might hear your word and be enlightened. You have inspired the writing of Scripture, so that we might hear and be transformed. You have given us your law, so that we might hear and obey. Pour out your Spirit upon us now, God, and bless us with your living Word, your loving presence, your life of compassion and truth. Amen.

Eternal God, quiet the thoughts in our minds, that we may hear your voice. Calm the fears in our hearts, that we may see your way. Open the doors of our hearts, that we may walk in the path of Christ. Come to us, Holy Spirit and transform us by your grace. Amen.

Holy One, your Spirit makes us the Body of Christ. By your grace, overcome all separation, barriers and divisions; that we may truly join one another, honor those who are different, and worship as one. Lift up all our gifts and give voice to all our languages, that our worship of you may be complete. We pray in the spirit of Christ, who makes us one. Amen.

God of love, amide the world’s injustice and suffering your prophets promise healing and liberation. Now Jesus proclaims the vision is fulfilled in him. Open our eyes to see and our hearts to hear; open our hearts to know that Christ is among us, bringing about the redemption of the world. In hope and trust, we listen for your Word. Speak, for we are listening. Amen.

Listening prayer

O liberating God,
bring good news to my poor spirit,
release to what is captive in my heart,
and recovery of sight to what is blind in me
that I may hear your Word,
receive your Spirit,
and serve you with grace and faithfulness.

Living Christ,
we are members of your body.
Your life flows through us.
You are the nerve and we are your hands.
Move us according to your will.

Prayer of confession

Eternal God, Holy One, Holy Oneness, we give thanks for those moments when we are in harmony with the unity of the Body of Christ, and with all Creation. And we confess those times when we are out of harmony, when we act as separate individuals who do not need each other, who do not need all Creation. We give thanks for your Spirit, alive in us , who empowers us to seek justice; and we confess those times when we betray that calling. Forgive our selfishness, heal our fear, and draw us back into unity, by the grace of Christ.


Psalm 19 – A paraphrase

Creation sings the glory of God;
            the galaxies utter their prayers daily.
Each day is a word of God’s story;
             each night discloses the truth.
Oh, they don’t talk with words,
             their only language is silence.
But their message saturates the world,
             and sings out to the edge of the universe.

God has set the sun at home in this world,
             and every day it comes to marry us,
             comes to dance with vigor and grace.
It comes to our world from another,
             and fills the earth with its light,
no one is left out
             from its divine, life-giving warmth.

God’s love is all that we need;
             it restarts our hearts.
God’s wisdom is as sure as gravity;
             it sustains even the unwise.
God’s ways are pure beauty,
             delighting the soul.
God’s desire allures us,
             enlightens our eyes.

Live in wonder and awe and you become holy;
             you slip into the eternal.
The voice of God is What Is;
             pay attention and you truly live.
Throw away money for this kind of wisdom,
             even what you actually need.
Abandon all your loves for this Love,
             your favorite things, your most precious.

God, your love portrays me better than I;
             when I listen I become myself.
But who can see themselves clearly?
             Save me from my hidden faults.
Cut me loose from my attachment to myself.
             Set me free from my fears.
Help me live as a servant to life,
             not hurting or destroying.

God, may all my thoughts and words and actions
             be in harmony with your delight—
my Lifeboat, my Lover,
             my Life.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

We give our hearts to you, God: you create all things. You desire wholeness for all people, and your desire moves the world. You set us free; you lead us into new lives.

We follow Jesus, your Christ, the embodiment of love, who taught and healed, who fed and forgave. He confronted our systems of privilege and exclusion For his challenge to the powerful he was crucified; but you raised him from the dead. We trust you to raise us to lives of love and service.

We live by your power, Holy Spirit. O Mystery of Love and Justice, your Spirit is upon us for the sake of the world. Your vision of a redeemed world of justice moves us and gives us hope. In your power you send us into the world to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and liberty to the oppressed, for the sake of the mending of the world.

       We love and trust God, the Creator of all things, who creates us as one: one Body, one Creation.
       We love and trust Jesus, who taught and healed, fed and included insiders and outsiders alike. For his prophetic witness he was crucified; and he was raised from the dead. He is raised now as a community, the risen Body of Christ, and we are its members.
      We love and trust the Holy Spirit, whose breath makes us alive, whose grace makes us one, whose varied gifts bear fruit in each of us differently. By the Spirit’s power we serve in lives of healing, love, courage and justice, in the name and the company of Christ.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Pour out your Spirit upon us: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the time of God’s grace, in the power and the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear audio clips, on the Music page)

Do Justice (Original Song)
Do Justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.
Love, help us humbly live your justice, your love, your mercy.

God of All Gentleness [Luke 4]
(Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God of all gentleness, God of pure love,
you do not watch us from heights far above,
you are no tyrant, but patient and mild,
present with grace in the poor, in the child.

God of all mercy, may we be the ones
bearing your love to your daughters and sons,
not out of pity but humbly, with grace,
for in the poor we see your human face.

God of all justice, give us hearts to care,
hope to free prisoners of fear and despair,
courage to challenge the ways that oppress,
deep love to reach out to heal and to bless.

God of compassion, your Spirit now pour
into us all, for it’s we who are poor,
hungry for justice, for healing and grace,
and for full life for the whole human race.

God, We Are Broken (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, we are broken, for all flesh is weak.
Grant us the healing and peace that we seek.
For all that pains us, beyond our control,
grant us your healing, our bodies made whole.

God, we are broken; our hearts are not one.
Sometimes it seems that our souls come undone.
Bring us renewal and calm in our soul.
Grant us your healing and make our hearts whole.

God, we are broken: for families and friends
suffer when love fails and faithfulness ends.
May your forgiveness and grace play its role.
Grant us your healing; make covenants whole.

God, we are broken, for many are poor,
and we ignore those who lie by our door.
God, may your justice like great rivers roll.
Grant us your healing; make all people whole.

God, we are broken for hate and all war
wound us so we are not free anymore.
Make us one people from pole to pole.
Grant us your healing, and make the world whole.

Make Us Merciful (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

Merciful parent, God, prodigal with grace and love,
welcoming children through your pain,
gently receive us all, break down our shame’s dark wall,
that we may never leave again.

Gentle and gracious God, you who love your children,
you take us in though we turn away.
Fold us in your embrace; fill us with peace and grace,
that we may live your gentle way.

God, give us spacious hearts, generous and kind and wide,
no matter what hurtful things folks do.
Help us to love and bless, steadfast in gentleness.
Lord, make us merciful as you.

Raise Up Your People
(Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, you who raised up your Christ from the grave.
Raise up your people and bless us and save!
Help us be mindful our life is in you
when we surrender you raise us up new.

When all the powers of evil assail,
not by our strength but your grace we prevail:
when we are lowly and gentle in love
power is not ours but flows from above.

Give us the faith, God, to fearlessly live,
love with our whole hearts and bless and forgive.
Your Word is borne, God, in all that we do;
in our forgiveness is Christ raised anew.

Vine and Branches
(Original song)

You are the vine and we are your branches,
one with your life and rooted in your heart.
Flowing with grace, with life you fill us,
strengthened that nothing can break us apart.

You are the vine and we are your branches.
Deep in our hearts your life is flowing through.
Rooted in you, we grow and flourish.
You live within us, and we live in you.

You are the vine and we are your branches.
One common blood flows though all of our veins.
We all are part of one another.
We all are branches of one living vine.

You are the vine and we are your branches,
flowing with power greater than our own,
bearing your fruit to all Creation,
till all the seeds of your love have been sown.

You Are the Nerve [1 Cor. 12]
(Tune: Finlandia]

O God, your Christ is risen in your people.
On earth Christ has no body now but ours.
We are the flesh and blood of your compassion:
moved by your Spirit, with its loving powers.
God be our heart, and we will be your Body,
serving in love in all our days and hours.

We are your feet, that go with joy to others
to share your love, the gospel we confess.
We are your eyes that see what is and may be,
that see each person’s need and loveliness.
We are your hands, that work with strength for justice,
your hands that shelter, heal and feed and bless.

Love, move in me, and guide me by your Spirit,
even when I don’t see or understand.
My life is yours, to be your living Body,
that I may love and serve at your command.
This is my life, my purpose and my power:
you are the nerve, and I your willing hand.

Your Hands and Your Face (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God of all holiness, baptized in you,
we are your Body: your presence shines through.
We, poor in spirit, are blessed with your own.
May our lives shine forth with your grace alone

We who with Jesus do mourn with the world
shall see your banners of deep joy unfurled.
We who are hungry for love freely shared
feast at the banquet that you have prepared

May we be merciful and pure in heart,
your gentle peacemakers, doing our part.
Dying and rising, we do not fear loss,
sealed with your Spirit and marked with your cross.

Blest and beloved and baptized to serve,
we are your Body and you are our nerve.
Not by our effort, but by your pure grace,
may we be your hands and your human face.

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