Sermon – Epiphany 3

It is just about a year since I came here to meet the vestry for us to discern together whether I should offered the call to be the Provost here.

A day had been arranged for a number of candidates to meet the vestry, to chat to the other clergy, to meet the office staff and generally have a good look around. I remember in the course of one of the conversations on that day one particular question. It came right at the end of one of the sessions. You know, that moment in an interview-type of situation when the killer question comes. I remember saying, is there anything else you want to ask me. “Yes, came the answer, just one more question”. I swallowed hard and tried to imagine what it might be. I had readied myself as best I could to answer anything that might come up. Liturgical questions, theological questions, political questions, even personal questions all went through my mind.

“Yes, just one more question …
… how long are your sermons?”

This mornings readings contain a couple of very short sermons. Pithy sermons. Sermons that people understood. Sermons that people remembered. Indeed, the one by Jesus was only one line long.

Consider first though the essence of the sermon that we heard from Nehemiah. And it is good for us to consider this, for it is the answer to the question – what do you do after a building project.

This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.

Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, …do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

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.

I said that this was all about what you do after a building project. It is true. Nehemiah is all about what you do after re building Jerusalem. It is the answer to the question, what do you do after phase 4. The answer is, you eat and drink and make provision to include others in the bounty that you are celebrating. The answer to the question what do we do next is, have a good time with God and draw other people in who are as yet unprepared.

I sometimes wonder whether we hear the whole of the good news in this kind of thing. It would be all too easy to preach only about that bit about sending portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. As though charity were enough.

If someone were to ask you what the essence of Judeo-Christian spirituality was, what would you say? Oh how I long for someone to give Nehemiah’s sermon as the answer to that question.

The essence of religious life is not mere charity. It is drawing people into abundance. Setting them free so that they can enjoy things. That means freeing people from whatever keeps them from joy so that they can celebrate and Eat the fat & Drink sweet wine.

Eat the fat. Drink the wine. It is a commandment. And a commandment too often unheard.

For sure, the Christian life is about carrying one’s cross sometimes. But God never commands us to suffer. God commands us to eat and drink and have a good time. God is with us in the hard times – I am certain of that, even when it does not feel as though God is with us. But if God is with us in the hard times, God expects, demands, commands and encourages us to celebrate the rest of the time. God promises to join in. Eating. Drinking.Celebrating

At the end of every service, we say, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” If we were following Nehemiah’s example we would say, “Go in peace and eat the fat and drink the wine. And prepare portions for those who are unprepared.”

Now, let us look at Jesus’s sermon as see what he has to say.

Actually Jesus’s sermon was a one-liner. “This day in your presence, these words have been fulfilled”. That is what he said. However, we need to look at the words that he was speaking about. He had taken the book of the prophet Isaiah in his hands and begun to read.

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

I think that the key thing to note is that the themes are just the same. He speaks of good times and speaks of drawing others in.

Nehemiah was preaching in a new beginning – the people regrouping after rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and rediscovering the law. Jesus is in a similar situation – this is the first formal occasion that is recorded of him in a synagogue.

You can see in Nehemiah the pattern of synagogue worship being established. The book was read and then interpreted. The same pattern that is easy to see in our worship today.

The first part of our service is properly called the synaxis. It is the synagogue bit.

In the context of synagogue worship, Jesus takes a scroll and unrolls it and deals with just the same kind of themes as ever. God is good. Eat the fat, drink the sweet with. The year of the Lord’s favour is upon us.

And include those who are bound or enslaved or unprepared. Free the captives and include them in. Whatever it is that binds people, it is our job to free them so that they can be a part of the feast too.

The good things, the fat and the wine are for us all.

The fat and the wine are for everyone.

And that, is the gospel. Amen.


  1. Jimmy McPhee says

    This is a delightful piece
    and I want to thank you for it.

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