Sermon – 25/1/04

Jesus took hold of the scroll ? a Hebrew scroll. And every eye was on him as he unrolled them and read from them.

He managed to find in them the news of salvation. News that referred to himself. He read to the people from the words which were their own. His sermon was short. ?Today,? he said, ?scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing?.

Today, here in Bridge of Allan, we must search the scriptures for God. Today we must open the scrolls. Unroll the text and read for ourselves from God?s word and with quiet souls look for God to speak to us in them.
It is hard not to be thinking about the tragedy that has come to the Price family this week. And there are others amongst us who have hard things to think about at the moment too. As death and loss are such a part of this life?s sorrows, I thank God that I do not belong to a church which preaches as some seem to do, the eternal smug happiness of the believer. Sometimes things happen or news comes which is the saddest one could hear and sometimes it is right to take that sadness into our prayers and to search in our souls and in our bibles for God?s compassion. Sometimes we have to hold on tight and listen for God to speak whilst our hearts are sad. This week, I am searching the scriptures trying to hear God when grief is raw.

As I search the scriptures I find Paul?s magnificent description of the people of God likened to one body. Each of us different yet each with a part to play. Each of us uniquely made by God and each sharing in the work of God.

This week, this week when grief is raw, I have known and seen God?s people acting as a body. Some listening for God. Some praying to God. Some doing practical things. Some standing by and waiting and watching, looking for the time, the right time to do what is needed. I shall come back to that in a moment, but let us just look at Nehemiah for while.

We hear little from the book of Nehemiah in our set Bible readings ? it so happens that on this Sunday we are told something simple. Nehemiah is the story of discovery, which is why we get it at this time of Epiphany. The story is a simple one. The people, gathered as God?s people rediscover their faith through the discovery once again of a book which had been lost which contains the word of the Lord.

And you can feel the excitement building through the story, of which we have only a part this morning.

The word of the Lord comes to them anew and from then on their eyes and ears are opened to a new work of God. And celebration and excitement and worship and awe. The word of the law is holy. And holy things fill people with both awe and laughter.

It so happens that it is on this Sunday we are reminded that however hard things are, however sad things are, however difficult things are, God is still to be discovered. We are reminded too that very often God comes to his people gathered corporately. I have often told you to beware of those who preach a saviour whose grace is merely personal. Today, we learn of the people discovering God anew in the assembly. Gathered together, they discovered the Lord. We have Paul telling us how the body of God, all his people need one another and are knitted together in unity. Gathered together we do the work of our God. And we have the people in the synagogue discovering God?s word and work anew in a dramatic way. Gathered together, they found the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, was in their midst.

We meet between Christmas just gone and Easter, still to come. God?s coming and God?s salvation. Incarnation & Salvation. Two aspects of the one occurrence ? God?s utter determination to be with us through everything. The utterness of God?s commitment. The utterness of God?s love. We meet in Epiphany, the time when we discover God.

Epiphany is a season where we celebrate the recognition of God?s coming, God?s presence in the world. Each of the bible readings this morning is a little Epiphany, a little revelation of God.

Epiphany is light itself. Sometimes we can forget the depth of the darkness into which God?s light is shone. Light which consumes and conquers sure enough, but darkness which is real all the same. This week our challenge is to find our own Epiphany. Our own revelation of God when hearts are sad and some of God?s people feel broken.

Jesus unrolled the scriptures, and read to the people and found Gospel. Found himself described in fact.

Now, we unroll another scroll and look at words which Jesus did not have access to ? Paul?s comments in the first letter to the Corinthians.

And we find Paul working out the Epiphany message ? that God?s Love is open to all, accessible to all.

Whatever you may hear and whatever you are told, know this: that God loves you and cares for you enough to incorporate you into himself for evermore. Jew or Greek. Slave of free. You or me! Paul is telling us that not one of the distinctions which God?s people might be tempted to make between themselves whilst on this earth are known and acknowledged by the creator God who made them.

We are one. One people and one body.

It is not too difficult to give thanks to God for Paul?s image of the body working ? here a hand, there a foot, there and eye.

We are one. And we work for the Lord.

We cannot all do the same thing. Though we can all watch and wait and pray. Paul reminds us that we were created ? all different and all individual and all special. Unique in fact. And, paradoxically, Paul reminds us that in one way at least, we are all the same. Loved by our maker. Loved by the one who created us.

Gathered into one.

Baptized into one body.

Redeemed along with every creature by God?s grace into a kingdom where all are one in faith and hope and love.

And this I believe.

This I believe when grief is raw. That we are loved. That we are precious. That God is with us. And if it were not true when grief is raw then it is not worth knowing at all.

On this day know this, that your God has come to us.

On this day know that your God loves you.

On this day know that God gathers us into one body.

On this day know that God is there to be discovered.

On this day know that the we are a people, a gathered people, who have a God who brings comfort.

For his compassion embraces all people. His law is wisdom and freedom. For in his word we find life itself. For anointed by the Spirit, we now proclaim it. This day and every day. Amen.

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