Sermon Podcast: Epiphany 421 Jan 2019 By Sermon Podcasts
Georgina Byrne, Canon at Worcester Cathedral, 27 January 2019.
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I wonder whether you’ve ever been electrified by a play or a film? Have you been so stunned by a performance, a TV programme or a cinema experience that you’re left thinking about it for days? Has a book changed the way you think about something? Or, dare I hope, a sermon?
The Old Testament reading for today, in Nehemiah 8, gives us Nehemiah’s account of Ezra, who read aloud from the law of Moses for several hours. The people, we are told, listened attentively, engaging with those who interpreted the words, to make sure that they understood. We get the sense that this was an utterly thrilling, life-changing experience. Not just for one or two people, but for everyone. At the end of this day of studying the word of God, Ezra and Nehemiah send the people away and encourage them to feast. This has always fascinated me. A profound, life-changing religious encounter with the spoken word has taken place, and the leaders tell the people to feast. They are not given worthy instructions, they are not told to live holy lives in response to what they’ve heard, they are not told to go and repent, or to weep, but to feast. To eat fat and drink sweet wine, to celebrate in a rich and generous way that their lives have been changed.
Not only are they to feast, they are to make sure that others, who have nothing prepared, can feast too. In other words, a deep encounter with God in the text leads to joyful celebration, something truly delicious: worship, prayer, celebration, and also community-mindedness and generosity.
We are currently in the period of Epiphany – when we remember the manifestation of Christ to the world, the revelation of who Jesus is; he is God among us. The gospel readings in the period of Epiphany are all about making Christ known to the world. So, in this period, it is important to remember our own role in making Christ known to others. This can, if we are not too careful, sound like rather a chore. A worthy, and honourable but rather dull thing; something that, as Christian disciples, we are supposed to do. We are supposed to tell people about Jesus. But what if making Christ known was more about joyful interaction with people, about feasting and making sure that other people had opportunity to feast? What about if making Jesus known was about overflowing with joy, loving the community, praising God, and flourishing?
Last week, we heard the Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana, where he caused the wine to flow, a wonderful image of God’s generosity, an overflow of wine and celebration. This is not about Jesus making sure that people have enough to eat and drink but allowing everyone to share in the party and overflow with enjoyment.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus himself makes clear, as he reads from the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue, that what he brings is good news – and that the good news about God is something lived out in action. It is something real, tangible. Not just a marginally better life for the poor, or a concern for the poor, but good news for the poor. Sight for the blind, release for captives, freedom for the oppressed.
The good news is that God invites us to feast, to a life of good things, of real rejoicing. And not only us, but all God’s children: those who are lost, desolate, grieving, trapped by circumstance, unable to see the goodness of God. It is our calling to share good news, news that is genuinely good, and really delicious.
If the word of God truly still transforms us, then we can make this known by our deeds when the scrolls are rolled up, the Bible is closed, and we are back at home. We might even begin by sharing food with friends and neighbours, demonstrating in action something of the generous, sweet and delicious love of God.
- Have you ever had your life changed by a book, film, or sermon?
- What happened? How did it make you do things differently?
- What is the most wonderful thing about your faith?
- How might you, this coming week show the generosity of God to someone else?