Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

Lectionary Sermon for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-10  Gift of the Scripture

There is a humorous quote attributed to W.C. Fields, an American comedian, of the past, who was asked why he was reading a Bible. He replied, “I am looking for loopholes.”

There are no loopholes in the Bible. A loophole is a means of escape. It is an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded. Loopholes are for evading judgment. The Bible is not a book of judgment.

The Bible is a book of relationships. Primarily it is a book of God’s love for humanity. It is a book given as a gift as a guide, a means of understanding. A covenant offered by the one God who loves us so much that God became one of us. And it is through this love that we have hope no matter what our circumstances or situation.

It is true that reading the Bible may trouble your heart and soul. It may bring conviction and remorse due to our actions. When this happens the problem is with us, not the Bible.

Historical setting. Israel has come home. After years in exile in Babylon, the nation has finally been allowed to come back to the land they had been promised. Why did they end up in exile? Because they chose to ignore God.

“You know what happens to people who ignore God? Bad things, really bad things. It is not that God will cause the bad things, it is that when a person, or people, pull away from God then they will find themselves on their own. God does not force love.

The bad things that happened are a cause/effect issue in their

Relationship with God. God wanted to bless his people, but his people thought they could do fine without God. So God let them have their way.

God will let us reject his help. It was not like the people didn’t know what was expected. God had made it clear. God gives humanity God’s word in Scripture. The Bible is a book for knowing God. God is known not through secret ritual, nor through esoteric disciplines, nor through mystical incantations. God is known through the revealed Word of God.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 Now what I am commanding

you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to

us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

The Bible lets us know the heart of God. It is a relational revelation.

Even though the people had turned from God, God takes people back. God does not give up on anyone until they ultimately give up on God. God leads the people back to the land just as God promised.

The people came back to rebuild Jerusalem. And now, as the work is accomplished, the people gather. They gather to hear the word of God. They gather to hear how they hurt someone who loved them and what this hurt cost them. They had hurt God.

Listen again to what we are told, “Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” And then, “Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.””

And then we are told, The Levites instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there….and, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”

Evidently, the reading of the Word to the people caused some to have an emotional reaction of sorrow or guilt. For Nehemiah said, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.”

This is what the living Word of God does. It reveals the truth. And sometimes, the truth is painful. The Bible gave the people a point of reference as to why the exile took place, why Jerusalem was destroyed, and why they had experienced the hardship they had endured.

Jesus told his disciples “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment:” (Jn. 16:8) Conviction is not usually comfortable. The deeper the conviction the stronger the emotional response. However, the thing about conviction is that calls us to change, to seek what is right. The pathway to what is right is a pathway to freedom, a pathway to joy.

Scripture tells us, “For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5 CSB)

It is what Nehemiah says next sums up the best of what the Psalmist communicates. It is the best that comes from our grasping God’s word, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  (Neh. 8:1-10 NIV)

These are words of celebration. They are words of fulfillment that were spoken to God’s people by the prophets. This is what the Good News of the Kingdom of God says to us.

Our joy in the Lord. Our happiness in our God. Our hope for the future. This is the goal of Scripture. This is where faithfulness and dependence upon God’s word unveils. As the beginning of Psalm 119 begins, “How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the LORD’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart.” (Ps. 119:1-2 CSB) This is why we need to take what the Scripture says to heart. This is what God wants to bring into our lives.

The written word was the predecessor to the Word incarnate. Jesus came to bring us life, to bring us the truth, to bring us freedom, and joy. “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14 CSB)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, (2 Tim. 3:16 CSB)

Yes, the Scripture can convict us, make us uncomfortable, and trouble our conscience. It does this not to intentionally cause us pain, but to bring us to our senses, to open our hearts to the love of God, to guide us to forgiveness and hope. This is a reason to rejoice and celebrate. Let us learn from this record of the past in order to make our future brighter.

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