Sunday, 23 January 2022

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor’

‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’ (I Corinthians 12: 27) … the Menqa or Boat Shelter in Saint Paul’s Bay on the north coast of Malta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 23 January 2022

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany III):

9.30: Castletown Church, Morning Prayer;

11.30: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, the Parish Eucharist.

The Readings: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘He went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom’ (Luke 4: 16) … inside La Scuola Greca Synagogue in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

May I speak to you in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 4: 14-21) is set in in an in-between time in the Church Calendar, between the Christmas and Epiphany stories and the beginning of Christ’s public ministry in Galilee.

Our Epiphany stories over the last three weeks or so were telling us who Christ is, as priest, prophet and king. Those Epiphany moments are brought together in this Gospel reading.

Instead of succumbing to the temptations of a dramatic but false start to his ministry (Luke 4: 1-14), Christ begins his ministry in a very slow, thoughtful and considerate way. We are told that it was habit in the first stage of his ministry for Jesus to attend the synagogue on a Saturday, and we are told too that he taught in the synagogues regularly (verse 15).

Regular worship, scripture reading and teaching are the foundations of this ministry and for all his actions.

In the synagogue in those days, there were two readings in Hebrew, with a running translation into the vernacular, perhaps in Aramaic or in Greek.

In accordance with Jewish practice, on this particular Saturday, Jesus may have been the third person called on to read, after the priests and the Levites. Indeed, he may even have been further down the list.

The scroll of Isaiah was given to him to read and he returns the scroll when he is finished reading (verse 20).

The portion Christ reads from (verse 18-19) is actually three verses, and they do not come in sequence (Isaiah 61: 1, part of Isaiah 61: 2 and a portion of Isaiah 58: 6). So, even if he had been handed a pre-selected portion of Scripture to read – perhaps following in sequence from two or more previous readers – he makes a deliberate choice to roll back the scroll and to insert a portion of an earlier, extra verse (Isaiah 58: 6).

Christ tells the congregation in the synagogue that morning that the Scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing. Scripture has not been read that morning just to comply with part of the ritual; it actually has immediate meaning, significance and relevance that day. Christ is not merely reading the words, he is promising to see them put into action, to transform hope into reality.

It is as though these verses become his inaugural address or his campaign promises. He sets out his priorities, his hopes, his expectations. He tells those who are listening what is at the heart of everything he does and everything he asks us to do:

● to bring good news to the poor
● to proclaim release to the captives
● to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
● to let the oppressed go free
● to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

These are the core values of Christ’s ministry and these are the core values shared by the Church, no matter what our differences are today.

As I was walking around the churches of Malta over the last week – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Presbyterian – I realised how so many of the differences between the Churches today were created in the past at the Reformation and in the generations that followed by people who never asked you and me about how we would like to shape the agenda for the Church of the future.

And, quite frankly, I do not want to share in an agenda that I had no part in shaping.

Instead of seeing the differences between the churches as threats to one another, I want to see them as gifts that remind us of who we might be.

And Christ’s agenda in this morning’s Gospel reading is not about how to respond when we differ about liturgy or about how we speak about our faith through doctrine.

This has been the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends on Tuesday (25 January), the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. As I stood looking out onto Saint Paul’s Bay on Thursday and the site of his shipwreck in Malta, I was reminded that Saint Paul was arrested after a vigorous ministry in which the values that Christ proclaims this morning were at the heart of his thoughts, words and deeds.

In our Epistle reading (I Corinthians 12: 12-31a), Saint Paul turns to the nature of the Church, drawing on images of the human body.

He talks about how all the members of the Church are one together and share in the one Spirit. Whatever our ethnic or social origins, ‘we were all baptised into one body’ (verse 13), into the risen glorified body of Christ, and empowered by the same Holy Spirit acting in the Church.

The key verse is verse 14: the body needs a variety of members; so too the Church needs a variety of spiritual gifts, each making its own contribution.

At the time, the Church in Corinth was divided by exclusivism and by the refusal of some of the Corinthians to share the meals, to share communion, to share sacred time with fellow Church members from different backgrounds.

When Saint Paul’s letter arrived, it must have shaken some of the Corinthian Christians out of their comfort zone too. They are to respect one another, no matter what their background is, they are to share and to eat with one another, they are to share each other’s news, rejoicing at their good news and weeping at their bad news (see verse 26).

Saint Paul lists three groups with God-given gifts:

● apostles who continue spreading the good news;
● prophets who have new insights into God’s plan;
● teachers who teach the faith.

He then lists some other gifts: some help the poor and needy; others are leaders, managers, in church affairs. Perhaps we all need to grow in the use of the gifts, great or small, given to us.

We are no longer the children of the Reformation, and we need to get on with the challenge Christ poses in his choice of reading this morning. Who are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed in our midst today? Compassion for them is at the heart of Christ’s ministry and mission, and is at the very core of why we should be actively working for ecumenism and the unity of the Church. Will they know we are Christians by our love?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

‘He stood up to read and … he unrolled the scroll’ (Luke 4: 18-19) … a scroll in the Jewish Museum in the Ghetto in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 4: 14-21 [22-30] (NRSVA):

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Saint Paul’s Church at Saint Paul’s Bay in Malta … the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ends on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Life-giving God,
who sent your Son Jesus to proclaim your kingdom
and to teach with authority:
anoint us with your Spirit,
that we too may bring good news to the poor,
bind up the broken-hearted,
and proclaim liberty to the captive;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty Father,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped,
and obeyed to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

Jesus in the Synagogue, as imagined by the Northern Ireland-born artist Greg Olsen

Hymns:

381, God has spoken – by his prophets (CD 23)
218, And can it be (CD 14)
494, Beauty for brokenness (CD 29)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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