There are times when the lectionary seems not to provide anything on which to preach; none of the readings have any meat, or seem to speak to the current situation. Other times, I can imagine numerous sermons, all of them quite different, emerging from the readings. Sometimes, there are profound connections among the texts. The latter was true in the Book of Common Prayer lectionary, which selected texts from the Hebrew Bible based on their connection with the Gospel.
The lessons for the Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year C offer an embarrassment of riches. Here are the texts. The text from Nehemia tells the story of Ezra reading the book of the Law to the assembled congregation in Jerusalem. It is set after the exile, and most scholars see this as evidence that the Torah (the Pentateuch) was compiled in exile in Babylon and brought back to Jerusalem after the exile ended.
The lesson from I Corinthians continues Paul’s discussion from chapter 12 of the body of Christ and that marvelous imagery of “we are all members of one body.” It’s important to note that he doesn’t assert that Jesus Christ is the head and we are the members. Rather, we are all members of the same body, none of us having priority. But he goes further. When discussing order in community, Paul asserts that it is gifts of the spirit that need to be ordered, not offices in the church. The editors leave out the end of verse 31: “but let me show you a better way.” That is Paul’s transition to chapter 13, in which he extols love as the greatest of all gifts, binding the community together across its diversity of gifts.
The gospel is Luke’s version of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I know that will be the focus of my sermon, but the question is how, and if , I will be able to weave the other texts into this. We’ll see. Check back on Sunday.
These are marvelous texts for the beginning of a new year, and the (relative) beginning of a new ministry. They challenge us to think about our mission, our call, and our responsibility.