Epiphany 3 January 27, 2013 SABC
From this morning’s Old Testament reading we learn three important things about the Word of God:
(1) The Word of God comes to us in our hour of need.(2) The Word of God brings us under judgment and calls us to repentance.
(3) The Word of God is comfort to the repentant sinner.
The God who made us loves us; he wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is to do his will. God continually speaks, and he wants us to listen to his word. We listen best in times of need and the Word of God comes to us in our hour of need when, like the people of Jerusalem in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, we are ready to listen.
Some background: Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians (modern Iraq) in 586 BC. To prevent rebellion Babylonian policy was population transfer. The top third of the people were sent to Babylon as poor strangers. It worked. Babylon fell not to internal revolt but to Cyrus of Persia (modern Iran) in 525 PC. The Persians had a different policy to prevent rebellion. They chose to co-opt the local leaders. Cyrus returned the gold and silver vessels for Temple worship. He allowed the descendants of the exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Some returned; many stayed. In 1949 there were still 150,000 Jews in Iraq; 5 years later practically none.
Most of the peoples exiled simply adopted the religious and cultural identity of the people among whom they were settled. The Jews were different. In their time of need God sent them the prophet Ezekiel and the writer of psalm 137, “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered you, O Jerusalem” The Jews kept the law of God: Sabbath, circumcision, the food laws. They met week by week for prayer and study, for fellowship, and to remember Jerusalem. In exile they invented the synagogue. The word comes from the Greek “to come together.” So when God’s time came, some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem while others remained in Babylon to support them. After 20 some years and considerable prodding by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the returned people rebuilt the Temple.
Then they fell into sin. Obedience to the Word of God had sustained their grand-fathers in exile. Obedience to the Word of God motivated their fathers to leave the comforts of Babylon to return and rebuild, but then obedience melted away like ice in the hot sun. They maintained the form of worship and sacrifice but not the spirit of sacrificial self-offering.
Ezra the priest came to investigate and reform. He came about 500 BC with the next generation of exiles. Ezra brought the people together outside the Temple and read from the Word of God. The people were ready to listen.
And “all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.” They knew how far they had departed from the will of God, and they wept in repentance. The Word of God brings us under judgment and calls us to repentance.
The people renewed their commitment to know and to do God’s will. Every Jewish community had a synagogue where men, and women, met regularly to study and worship. Those community structures continue to this day.
The people repented and were comforted. The Word of God is comfort for the repentant sinner. “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.” We are comforted in the sense of the Latin word “com” and “fortis” with strength. We are made spiritually strong by God’s love and forgiveness. The joy of the Lord truly is our strength.
We are made strong in the Lord and we are made able to share what we have, from the abundance of God’s love for us, to share food for the body and food for the soul – social action and evangelism together. St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle that we are all parts of the one body of Christ, all strengthened by the spiritual joy of the Lord, continually strengthened by the spiritual food of Jesus own body and blood, the blood shed for our sins, the body risen as a promise of our eternal life in him.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, comes to his people in their hour of need. As in Ezra’s time the people needed to hear again the Word of God which Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue in the words of Isaiah. His teaching brought judgment and some repented. To them, and to us, Jesus offers the joy and strength to love and serve.
The Word of God comes to us in our hour of need.
The Word of God brings us under judgment and calls us to repentance.
The Word of God is comfort to the repentant sinner.