Revised Common Lectionary: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Narrative Lectionary: Nicodemus, John 3:1-21 (Psalm 139:13-18)
Ezra the priest led the community of exiles who returned to Jerusalem in a ceremony of restoring the temple in Nehemiah chapter 8. Ezra read portions of the Torah out loud to the people, and the people worshiped God. The governor Nehemiah, along with Ezra and the Levites, instructed the people to rejoice–not to mourn what was lost in the exile or how the people had gone astray, but instead to celebrate God’s faithfulness.
Psalm 19 is a song of celebration for God’s instruction and word, from the heavens to the earth. The psalmist begins with a song of God’s glory extending from heaven, describing how the sun emerges like a groom newly married and ready for the day. The psalmist shifts to the law of God, the instruction given by God that is faithful and true, and more desirable than anything on earth. The psalmist concludes by seeking God’s forgiveness and purification before God for any wrongdoings they are not aware of, so they may be innocent before God.
The Epistle readings continue in 1 Corinthians with 12:12-31a, along the theme of spiritual gifts. This section focuses on unity in the body of Christ. The church in Corinth faced many divisions, chief among them which teacher to follow (1:12), and which spiritual gift was more important (1 Corinthians 12:1-11, last week’s reading). Paul now turns to reminding the church that they are one body in Christ, that the body needs a variety of gifts and cannot function without the others. All ought to have the same care and compassion for one another. While they are individually members of the body, they are one body in Christ, and not everyone can have the same gift; but all gifts are needed for the church.
Jesus’ ministry begins in Luke 4:14-21. Jesus taught in his hometown synagogue, reading from the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-2) and telling the people that the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing at that moment. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him to proclaim the good news to those who were oppressed, poor, marginalized because of their disability, and imprisoned. Jesus proclaimed that these words of liberty and restoration was fulfilled as they heard it.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus in John 3:1-21. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was intrigued enough by Jesus that he came to visit him, but came at night so no one else would know. Nicodemus stated that he and others (“we”) knew that Jesus was sent by God because of the signs he performed, but Jesus replied that it wasn’t possible to know God’s kingdom without being born anew or born from above. Nicodemus took this literally, but Jesus spoke of being born of the Spirit. Nicodemus still didn’t comprehend. Jesus told him that if he couldn’t understand the earthly things Jesus taught, how could he understand heavenly matters? Jesus then used the example of Moses placing a serpent on a pole while the Israelites were dying from snakes—when they looked up, they were healed. So too must Jesus be raised up—on a cross—in order for the people to find healing and be saved. Jesus then declared that God’s love is so great for the world that Jesus came to save all who believe, and not to condemn. However, people preferred the world’s bleakness over the light that Jesus brought. All actions will be exposed in the light of Christ; this is the judgment.
In Psalm 139:13-18, the psalmist poetically describes the intimacy of God’s care for us as well as the mystery of God’s wonderful greatness. The psalmist writes of how God knew us in the womb as we were formed. Before we existed, God knew all the days of our lives, and all of God’s thoughts are beyond our comprehension.
The awe and wonder of God is revealed to us through the work of Jesus—through his teaching, through his healing, and through the way he turned the world upside down. For Nicodemus, what Jesus spoke of was impossible—and yet he was drawn to Jesus because he knew God was doing something new. The neighbors of Jesus in Nazareth were drawn to Jesus because of his authority and declarations of God’s good news—but as we will learn in next week’s reading, when it becomes good news for others, they will turn away. God is far beyond our comprehension and understanding. Far too often we have understood God in a small, personal way: a god who grants wishes and desires, instead of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth and the entire Universe, who also shows us the way of Wisdom through Jesus in how we ought to live. As the ancient Israelites worshiped and celebrated, God remains faithful to us, even our fickle and flighty selves.
Call to Worship (from 1 Corinthians 12:12, 21, 27)
Just as the body has many parts,
All parts belong to one body.
Though we are many,
We are one in Christ.
One cannot say to the other,
I have no need of you,
For we are indispensable.
We need each another.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that we think we know better. We think we know what’s up. We think we have the right to judge others. We think that we know what’s best for the world because it’s best for ourselves. Forgive us for our selfishness and short-sightedness. Remind us that You formed each of us as You formed the universe. Call us into repentance, to turn back to You. Creator of All, we humbly come before You, recognizing our own mortality and insignificance, and yet, because of Your love, we know we are valued, and we need one another. In humility and mercy, may we forgive as we are forgiven, and seek Your wisdom ways. Amen.
May the peace of Christ guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May we be thankful. May we be filled with God’s compassion, love, and mercy for one another. May we be at peace with one another. May we have peace in our hearts. May we go forward knowing the love, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ is with us, now and always. Amen.
Patient One, You have watched humanity grow from the stardust and have patiently waited for us to seek You before all other things. You patiently waited millions of years for life to form on this planet. You waited in anticipation as we learned to communicate and create art and find You. You are still patient with us as we seek Your ways against the ways of this world that we have made. Guide us into patient living, O God: patient with one another, gentle in spirit, longing for forgiveness, rooted in compassion. Help us to know that our patience is rewarded as we pursue justice and peace by being slow to judge and quick to forgive. Keep us to Your ways and help us to abandon the ways of this world toward greed and selfish gain. Guide us into Your rhythm of life, so that we may hear the heartbeat of the universe and know the fullness of Your love in our lives. Amen.