Sunday Sermon +Sunday, January 27, 2019
Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Luke 4:14-21

Watch here (Minute 29:00)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Why do we tell stories?

Why do we tell stories to each other? Why do we post stories online in the form of videos on youtube, Instagram, or facebook? Why do authors write books and producers produce television shows and movies?

Why do we tell stories?

We tell stories because in them important truths are told. Stories convey truths that move us, that connect us, that give meaning. Stories express truths that entertain and humor us, terrify and scare us, shape and form us.

Our scriptures this morning show us the power of sharing stories of faith recorded in the scriptures.

Our first reading this morning is from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was probably written about 4 centuries before Jesus and continues the story of the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem after their long time in captivity.

In the specific passage we read today, the scripture is being read in the public square for all the people.

Chapter 8 Verse 1 … All the people gathered together … It was like Christmas or Easter.  Everyone showed up for church. They were all there.

Chapter 8 Verse 3Ezra read [from the Torah] from early morning until midday. Sometimes we get feedback around here that if our liturgy lasts an hour & 20 minutes that the liturgy is way too long.   Here, they were in church from early morning until midday – if we say early morning was 7am and midday was Noon, that would be a 5-hour church service.  Imagine 5 hours of readings and sermons! Consider yourselves lucky if we only go an hour & 20 minutes.

They didn’t just read the Torah, but Ezra, along with other elders of the congregation, Chapter 8 Verse 8 … “Gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”  Elders circulated among the crowds to interpret the scriptures.  Accompanied by the reading – were sermons.

So what happened?  What happened in Jerusalem when the holy stories of faith were told? As the scriptures were read in the presence of the assembly?

Nehemiah 8:6 … The people bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground …

Nehemiah 8:9 … The people wept when they heard the words.

Nehemiah 8:10 … When they were finished, Ezra sent them away on a mission: “eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared.

When the stories of faith were told and interpreted – there was a response!

Now let’s look at the Gospel reading.

Again we have another story of scripture read in the assembly and interpreted. The context for this reading is the observance of the Sabbath. The children of Israel attended synagogue to hear the Hebrew Scriptures read by a Rabbi and interpreted by a Rabbi.

In this case, Jesus was the rabbi who read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and then preached the world’s shortest sermon.Jesus told a simply story from Isaiah and then sat down and said as recorded in Luke 4:21: “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Like in Nehemiah … this story telling provoked a response among the people.

Next Sunday, we’ll read about the specific reaction people had. For today, let’s just say people certainly had an opinion about Jesus’s one sentence sermon.

In the assembly, we read and interpret these stories from scripture, we tell these sacred stories of faith, because they give shape and meaning to our life together!

Have you ever thought of how central the scriptures are to our worship?

My sermons are based on the scriptures for each day … Every Monday I read the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.  I often read them again on Tuesday when I gather with other Lutheran pastors.  I then go about crafting a sermon that is directly related to the scriptures.

Each Sunday’s scriptures determine the hymns and choir anthems. Before he chooses the hymns and anthems, Cantor Mark reads the scriptures to get a sense of which hymns, anthems, and music, best relate to the scriptures and proclaim the scriptures. It’s no accident if you see a connection between the reading and the hymns.

The scriptures come alive in our prayers … the Prayer of the Day each and every Sunday is directly rooted in the scriptures for that day.  The Eucharist Prayer that Cantor Mark chooses for the various liturgical seasons, are also chosen based on the scriptures for the season.  If you pay attention, you will see scriptural images in the Eucharist Prayer.

In these ways, we follow the ancient pattern recorded in both Nehemiah and in Luke today … the scriptures are read, and sung, and prayed together in the assembly, the story of God’s work is proclaimed, and this shape and form us as the children of God.

It must be noted: the reading and hearing of God’s word is a partnership.

While Cantor Mark and I have the responsibility to know the scriptures and organize worship and my sermon around those scriptures, you have a responsibility and duty to hear the scriptures and receive the stories.

You have a responsibility to prepare yourself to hear the words of scripture. The responsibility to come to worship and prepare yourself to be open to the stories told that day.  You have the responsibility to do as we prayed this morning in the Prayer of the Day: to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures.

That responsibility begins even before worship. Outside of worship, there are several ways you can prepare yourself to receive God’s Word through the reading and interpretation of scriptures:

You can join us for the Congregational Retreat in February as we learn about the Bible, about its content and origins, about how it was put together and how it is central to a life of faith.

You might attend, the Tuesday morning or Wednesday morning bible studies each week, as the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday are read and discussed.  And if you can’t attend those bible studies, you can read the scriptures from the past or upcoming Sundays throughout the week.  They are printed in the bulletin and also available on the Trinity website.

You could come to the Wednesday Night liturgy at 6:00pm.  The scriptures onWednesday Night echo those of Sunday – reinforcing central themes and leading us deeper into God’s Word revealed in the Bible.

Together, we are in partnership in the reading and receiving of God’s Word.

The Good News for today, is found in Jesus’s one sentence sermon. In his sermon, Jesus proclaimed in the hearing of the people that on that day, in that synagogue, on that Sabbath, the scriptures were fulfilled!

As Christians we celebrate Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the scriptures. As Lutheran Christians we celebrate and receive the words of scripture as the manger which holds the Christ child – that the scriptures in their diversity, are unified in their proclamation of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

As we gather around these holy stories of faith, he scriptures are fulfilled in the proclamation of Jesus Christ!

These ancient stories of faith come ALIVE as we publicly announce God’s Work in Jesus Christ. God’s work in Jesus Christ:

Delivering good news to the poor …
Releasing the captives … freeing the oppressed …
And proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

The hearing and receiving of God’s word provokes a response! It is a living word speaking the truth of forgiveness, mercy, and new life. God’s word has power – the power of life and death – as each one of us is led from sin to righteousness through the power of God.

And in this good news, we are sent!

The people in Nehemiah were sent from the public reading of scripture to take food to the poor and the hungry. We are sent today to feed the hungry, to remember the poor, and be the story of Christ in the world.

So, why do we tell stories? Why do we tell these stories every Sunday in the worshiping, reading, proclaiming, singing, and praying of our liturgy?

We tell these stories so that they may move and shape us as the children of God.We tell these stories so that as we are brought to new hope and life through these stories, we may be sent to bring new hope and life to the world.

In the power of the Holy Spirit, may you be granted the faith to be shaped in the power of God’s word. In faith, may you prepare yourselves every week to receive God’s Word. In the strength of the Spirit, may you go forth being these stories of God’s liberating work, for a world that continues to be held captive in sin.

Thanks be to God.