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Third Sunday after the Epiphany: January 21, 2007.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Luke 4:14-21

First Reading

Today's first reading and Gospel text are homecoming readings, of sorts. Nehemiah reports how Ezra retrieved a scroll of the Torah of Moses and reads it to all the people who can hear. This reading is done after the return of the exiles, as the city of Jerusalem is being refortified and rebuilt. The people have come home and hear the words of Torah as a delight and a mercy. It becomes obvious to them much later that the exile is not yet ended. God's favor has not fully returned, at least not in a way that they would acknowledge, but for now they weep with joy at the experience of worship and devotion at home once again.

Luke records Jesus' homecoming sermon in Nazareth. He reads from Isaiah 61, invoking the experience of return from exile--one possible connection to Nehemiah. In fact, Luke's Jesus encourages this connection by proclaiming that scripture is fulfilled in their hearing. Jesus seems to be saying that Israel's long exile is now over. God's favor has returned. In next week's continuation of this story, we learn that not all will share in this return, however. Jesus dashes expectations as well as he establishes fulfillment. The punch line of this text comes in next week's reading, so we'll save more commentary for then.

Paul's words to the Corinthians contain a lot of "body" language, with typical Pauline flair attached to it. The phrase in v. 27 is noteworthy: "Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it." This phrase is not only wise for any group, but it is also astounding because of the contrast with the appearance of the Corinthians themselves. They are not much of a body, truth be told, with various factions fighting one another, a variety of problems both in the ethics of the community and in their practice of the Lord's supper, and the group of spiritually superior folks running around the place. Paul is stretching credibility when he describes the congregation as "the body of Christ."

The difficulty, of course, is not that they aren't the body but that they do not know it. They don't see or discern what the body is all about. That is the problem related to their celebration of the Lord's supper in chap. 11, as it is with their use of spiritual gifts. They do not understand what constitutes the body, so they do not act like the body of Christ that they are. Paul seems to draw on two things beyond the logic of vv. 14-26 to help nail down the concept for the Corinthians. First, he reminds them of the unity of the Spirit that comes through baptism (a unity that the Corinthians don't get, as evidenced in 1:11-17, for example). Paul uses a formula that shows up in some form in other of his correspondence in the service of this idea. Second, Paul once again reminds them that there are a variety of gifts (in the same categories as earlier in chap. 12) but also points to "greater gifts" that should be sought. We will look at those greater gifts next week. Here we must be content to see that Paul is offering a path to unity that flows out of baptism and into the agape that is the trademark of the earliest Christians.

Pastoral Reflections

Since the Gospel reading is one story cut in half, I prefer to preach on that text the next week, when we have the conflict in Nazareth. Not only does narrative conflict provide more interesting points for preaching, it helps to complete the concepts implicit in the Gospel text. Instead, it is my inclination to preach on the epistle text this week.

Of course, the body language provides the controlling metaphor for preaching on this occasion. But there are some things to be discovered (even using the Gospel reading to help) about using this metaphor. First, we don't choose to be in the body. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by our creator, and the various members in our bodies are placed there by God. The same is true of our participation in the body of Christ. We do not choose it; we are chosen and included by God. Even in the baptism of an adult, the ultimate choice is the Spirit's, not ours.

Second, different parts of the body are made to grow in various ways by genetic coding and process; they do not choose what part to be, nor do they grow on their own. In fact, cells that grow on their own--rogue cells, if you will--have another name in our culture: cancer. The growth of the body is something that happens only when every part of the body is working together. All of this is also true of the body of Christ. While each one has a gift to share, that gift is given and shared in concert with the rest of the body, with the growth for the individual and the whole provided by God. Rogue individuals, who grow not in God but of themselves, become to the body of Christ as cancer might to the human body. But in the case of the body of Christ, death is followed by resurrection, both for individuals and the body and a whole. The cancer is not terminal but leads to renewal and new life in Christ.

The Spirit calls the body into being, and we will learn next week that agape love is the gift that must be the hallmark of the whole and the common gift of each of the individual members. This love describes God's very being and therefore must be the lifeblood of God's body in the world. That is why Paul goes out of his way to point out that the other gifts of the community sound terrible, accomplish nothing, and benefit no one without agape love. This love is so important that Paul spends a chapter (our reading for next week) describing it. It is the greater gift and still more excellent way.

Stories of people who find the deeper meaning of agape love resonate deeply within our culture. They are the opposite of Michael Douglas's character in the movie Wall Street who suggests that "greed works." While that may be true for a limited time, it doesn't work in the long run. It does not bring satisfaction, or wholeness (salvation), or life to the body. Nicholas Cage's character in the movie The Family Man discovers how empty his life is when he chooses only for himself. He is shown what life would be like had he chosen differently, and he learns the meaning of giving himself away in love. LLB
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Author:Bouman, Luke L.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Previous Article:Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 14, 2007.
Next Article:Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: January 28, 2007.

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