Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

19 "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

“Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler.” Psalm 91:3

"Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler."
Psalm 91:3

God delivers his people from the snare of the fowler in two senses. From, and out of. First, he delivers them from the snare--does not let them enter it; and secondly, if they should be caught therein, he delivers them out of it. The first promise is the most precious to some; the second is the best to others.

"He shall deliver thee from the snare." How? Trouble is often the means whereby God delivers us. God knows that our backsliding will soon end in our destruction, and he in mercy sends the rod. We say, "Lord, why is this?" not knowing that our trouble has been the means of delivering us from far greater evil. Many have been thus saved from ruin by their sorrows and their crosses; these have frightened the birds from the net. At other times, God keeps his people from the snare of the fowler by giving them great spiritual strength, so that when they are tempted to do evil they say, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" But what a blessed thing it is that if the believer shall, in an evil hour, come into the net, yet God will bring him out of it! O backslider, be cast down, but do not despair. Wanderer though thou hast been, hear what thy Redeemer saith--"Return, O backsliding children; I will have mercy upon you." But you say you cannot return, for you are a captive. Then listen to the promise--"Surely he shall deliver thee out of the snare of the fowler." Thou shalt yet be brought out of all evil into which thou hast fallen, and though thou shalt never cease to repent of thy ways, yet he that hath loved thee will not cast thee away; he will receive thee, and give thee joy and gladness, that the bones which he has broken may rejoice. No bird of paradise shall die in the fowler's net.

Luke 4:14-21

Luke 4:14-21
"We need a mission statement." Hospitals, corporations and congregations spend hours and hours crafting cogent and concise sentences that express their purpose. I've been involved in more than a few of those writing sessions. We have always emerged with fine statements. We have not always managed to live out the mission they so eloquently expressed.

Jesus doesn't bother to craft a new mission statement for himself. He draws on Isaiah, who, centuries earlier, articulated God's good news for those living in exile in Babylon. I am struck by how down-to-earth this mission statement is. The poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed are specifically mentioned. They are the "target audience" of Jesus' mission.

If you belong to a Christian congregation, does it have a mission statement? How does it compare to the one Jesus gives us here? Recent surveys of young people who have distanced themselves from the Christian church report that they are dissatisfied with the inward looking character of most congregations. Might these young people be the prophetic voice that we need to heed? Might they be the ones who can summon us to draw closer to the mission of Christ in this broken world?

O Lord and Master, we have been brought into your body by baptism and commissioned to follow you. May your mission so shape and guide our actions that we can truly be your disciples. Amen.
Hub
Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,

17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

19 "to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
My brother was an exemplary farmer. He tended the land, worked hard and respected the danger and power of the machinery that he worked with. But one day, he was in a hurry to dump a load of wheat and get back to the field. He caught his gloved hand in the grain augur. Before he could pull it back, his little finger was mangled. Clutching his bleeding hand to his chest, he drove home and his wife drove him to the hospital. The surgeons sewed the dirtied and bloodied appendage back into one piece. They flooded his body with antibiotics to stave off infection. The finger was saved!

But, after a few weeks, he noticed that he had no feeling and no movement in the finger. The muscles and nerves were so damaged that the finger could no longer do its part. In fact, the finger actually hindered him in his work. He went back to the hospital and had the finger amputated. Using the metaphor that Paul uses in I Corinthians 12, we could say that even though the finger was in some sense a "member" of the body, it was not a partner in the body's ministry. Is our connection to the body of Christ merely a formal membership, or does the lifeblood of Christ, the crackling energy of the Spirit, flow through and empower us?

O God, you have lovingly made us part of the body of Christ. Continue to work in us so that your Christ-bringing Spirit might work through us. Amen.
Hub
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a (NRSV)

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.

16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?

18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?

20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect;

24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,

25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

31 But strive for the greater gifts.

Psalm 19

Psalm 19
These words were written while on a spiritual retreat at Ring Lake Ranch, Wyo., when I heard creation glorifying God.

Before the beginning
Before the beginning is silence.
Not "dead" silence for nothing yet has lived so as to die.
Not "total" silence for nothing yet is so as to be summed up.
This is the silence of before.
The silence before the beginning.
Then—the beginning.
God speaks and the silence is splintered, cracked, shattered.
God's first creation is sound.
God speaks and out of the womb of that first word, all sound is birthed.
Let there be the ringing hum of galaxies,
let there be osprey alarming and blue jay blustering;
let there be high spirited children's voices tossed into nighttime sky,
let there be nickering, neighing, and clinking metal of bits and bridle,
let there be crunching of gravel, sharp cracking of apple,
and glorious, gulping gales of laughter.
Let there be brawling bellowing thunder roaring down valleys like barrels rolling down stairs.
And yes, let there be sighing---of pine trees, and of lovers
and of the spirit as she hovers
over all that soon will come to be.
Hub
Psalm 19 (NRSV)

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,

5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12 But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.

13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

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

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
What happens when God's word is proclaimed? The story of Ezra's reading of the law describes the response of the hearers. Attentive listeners responded with "amens," upraised arms, bowing, weeping and finally celebrating.

Those of us who have been called to preach the gospel yearn for some sign that our words are touching minds and hearts. A nod or a smile is encouraging, even a frown or a puzzled look is helpful. I have preached in Lutheran churches in the United States and Central and South America, so I am used to (or resigned to) mostly respectful silence. I have also preached in a few Pentecostal and Baptist churches where "amens" and encouraging words are part of the tradition.

A worshipper in one of my Brazilian Lutheran congregations once spoke up during a sermon and the entire crowd almost fell off their pews! We all need to keep in mind though that what is important is not the response given to the preacher. The vital question is: How do the hearers respond to the living Word carried in by the preacher's paltry words? That's a question that can only be answered out in the world. That is a discipleship question!

Gracious Lord, may your Word continue to move me, change me and empower me to be your disciple in this love-starved world. Amen.
Hub
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (NRSV)

1 All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.
2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month.

3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.

10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
It was bedtime, so the parents put their young son to bed and then went into the next room. The little boy didn't like that. The idea of being in a dark room by himself did not appeal to him. He called out to his folks, telling them that he was scared and didn't want to be alone. His dad called back, "Don't worry, there are angels watching over you." The boy replied, "Maybe so, but I want someone I can see and touch."

Life for all of us can be scary, dark, disorientating. We cry out to our heavenly Father. Oh, we know of promises and angels and Scripture. But like that little boy, we want someone we can see and touch.

That is preciously what God has provided: God's own Son, born into this world, born in human flesh. God has come to share our lives. That is the wonder of Epiphany; that is the wonder of our faith. God in flesh made manifest!

Find us, O Lord, again and again. We so easily become lost and afraid. Come to us in your light and love. Amen.
Hub
Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

1 Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord to thee we raise;
manifested by the star to the sages from afar,
branch of royal David's stem in thy birth at Bethlehem:
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

2 Manifest at Jordan's stream, prophet, priest and king supreme;
and at Cana wedding guest in thy God-head manifest;
manifest in pow'r divine, changing water into wine;
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

3 Manifest in making whole weakened body, fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil's might;
manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill:
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

4 Grant us grace to see thee, Lord, present in thy holy word;
grace to imitate thee now and be pure, as pure art thou;
that we might become like thee at thy great epiphany,
and may praise thee, ever blest, God in flesh made manifest.

“Abel was a keeper of sheep.” Genesis 4:2

"Abel was a keeper of sheep."
Genesis 4:2
As a shepherd Abel sanctified his work to the glory of God, and offered a sacrifice of blood upon his altar, and the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering. This early type of our Lord is exceedingly clear and distinct. Like the first streak of light which tinges the east at sunrise, it does not reveal everything, but it clearly manifests the great fact that the sun is coming. As we see Abel, a shepherd and yet a priest, offering a sacrifice of sweet smell unto God, we discern our Lord, who brings before his Father a sacrifice to which Jehovah ever hath respect. Abel was hated by his brother--hated without a cause; and even so was the Saviour: the natural and carnal man hated the accepted man in whom the Spirit of grace was found, and rested not until his blood had been shed. Abel fell, and sprinkled his altar and sacrifice with his own blood, and therein sets forth the Lord Jesus slain by the enmity of man while serving as a priest before the Lord. "The good Shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep." Let us weep over him as we view him slain by the hatred of mankind, staining the horns of his altar with his own blood. Abel's blood speaketh. "The Lord said unto Cain, The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.'" The blood of Jesus hath a mighty tongue, and the import of its prevailing cry is not vengeance but mercy. It is precious beyond all preciousness to stand at the altar of our good Shepherd! to see him bleeding there as the slaughtered priest, and then to hear his blood speaking peace to all his flock, peace in our conscience, peace between Jew and Gentile, peace between man and his offended Maker, peace all down the ages of eternity for blood-washed men. Abel is the first shepherd in order of time, but our hearts shall ever place Jesus first in order of excellence. Thou great Keeper of the sheep, we the people of thy pasture bless thee with our whole hearts when we see thee slain for us.

“I sought him, but I found him not.” Song of Solomon 3:1

"I sought him, but I found him not."
Song of Solomon 3:1

Tell me where you lost the company of Christ, and I will tell you the most likely place to find him. Have you lost Christ in the closet by restraining prayer? Then it is there you must seek and find him. Did you lose Christ by sin? You will find Christ in no other way but by the giving up of the sin, and seeking by the Holy Spirit to mortify the member in which the lust doth dwell. Did you lose Christ by neglecting the Scriptures? You must find Christ in the Scriptures. It is a true proverb, "Look for a thing where you dropped it, it is there." So look for Christ where you lost him, for he has not gone away. But it is hard work to go back for Christ. Bunyan tells us, the pilgrim found the piece of the road back to the Arbour of Ease, where he lost his roll, the hardest he had ever travelled. Twenty miles onward is easier than to go one mile back for the lost evidence.

Take care, then, when you find your Master, to cling close to him. But how is it you have lost him? One would have thought you would never have parted with such a precious friend, whose presence is so sweet, whose words are so comforting, and whose company is so dear to you! How is it that you did not watch him every moment for fear of losing sight of him? Yet, since you have let him go, what a mercy that you are seeking him, even though you mournfully groan, "O that I knew where I might find him!" Go on seeking, for it is dangerous to be without thy Lord. Without Christ you are like a sheep without its shepherd; like a tree without water at its roots; like a sere leaf in the tempest--not bound to the tree of life. With thine whole heart seek him, and he will be found of thee: only give thyself thoroughly up to the search, and verily, thou shalt yet discover him to thy joy and gladness.

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
I love the season of Epiphany. Part of that is practical; Epiphany is a bit of a reprieve. All the Christmas activities are over; the Lenten activities haven't started. It is a time when as a pastor I can slow down a bit. But even more, I love the themes of this season: light, revealing and wonder. This is a time to see and know the Christ who is here with us.

Christmas tells us that the light of God has entered this world in Jesus Christ. Epiphany now calls us to see and live in the light. The eternal Son of God is here in this world, calling us to Himself.

The hymn Songs of Thankfulness and Praise proclaims this beautifully. "Grant us grace to see you, Lord, present in your holy Word." Christ is here! In the pages of Scripture we encounter Him. I would add, in the sacraments we are washed and fed as we meet this Lord. We see our Lord in the community of believers and in the "mutual conversation and consolation of the saints." We meet the Lord in the needs of our neighbors around us. What a joy! We are invited to see Jesus!

Precious Jesus, reveal yourself in this world today. Let us see your hand and know your presence, for you are the one we need. Amen.
Hub
Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
1 Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord to thee we raise;
manifested by the star to the sages from afar,
branch of royal David's stem in thy birth at Bethlehem:
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

2 Manifest at Jordan's stream, prophet, priest and king supreme;
and at Cana wedding guest in thy God-head manifest;
manifest in pow'r divine, changing water into wine;
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

3 Manifest in making whole weakened body, fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil's might;
manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill:
anthems be to thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.

4 Grant us grace to see thee, Lord, present in thy holy word;
grace to imitate thee now and be pure, as pure art thou;
that we might become like thee at thy great epiphany,
and may praise thee, ever blest, God in flesh made manifest.