3rd Sunday after Epiphany

January 21, 2001
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Reading 4: 
Luke 4:14-21
By Rick Marshall

Luke 4:14-21

This text is the first attempt in Luke at engaging the issues of what it means to be the Messiah. The story of being baptized by John dramatizes the idea of what it means to be Messiah, which is to embody the creative transforming power of God: Going down in order to come up, death leading to new life. Jesus is in the synagogue and uses a text from Isaiah which defines the pragmatic consequences of what it means to embody the creative transforming power of God. Luke 4:14 says that Jesus returned from the wilderness temptation"in the power of the Spirit." It is this power of the Spirit that leads and allows him to do and say what he does. The creative transforming power of God in life has consequences, which is summarized in the commandment to treat the other person with respect as you expect to be treated. Good news to the poor means release of captives, recovery of sight to the blind, relief to the oppressed.

The statement that is left ringing in the listener's ears is: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." This provokes the question, then what does he mean that this scripture is fulfilled? How? When? Where?

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Here is a story which is similar to the Luke text in that the scripture is read, expecting a response. Much can be made about the act of hearing being the mechanism of the effectiveness of the Word of God. Who will hear if no one preaches? The act of reading and hearing the text becomes a defining moment for the people of Israel here, and for Jesus and his listeners in the Luke text. And it's not just any text, but a text that is well chosen to be defining.The listeners are reminded in verse 10 that this is good news.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
The main point of the text is to remind the reader that there is one spirit, one body, one God. The point made another way is that there is only one power that creatively transforms. It is that power that is relevant, effective and trustworthy, and gives life to the whole.

There is no mechanistic view of life here, but all things are related organically. Organism is an important Process idea which expresses the belief that all things are related internally as well as externally. "If one suffers, all suffer together."

Preaching the texts
There are several approaches to these texts from a Process perspective. One is to focus on the Luke text and the connection between the transforming power of God and its pragmatic consequences in the world. When the creative transforming power of God is named, worshipped and trusted, such commitment leads to respecting neighbor with a focus on justice and mercy. Such a sermon could derive its energy from the question which is provoked by verse 21 in Luke: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." How? Where? When?

Another sermon idea would be to lift up the act of listening and hearing the Word of God. There is a powerful relationship between the preacher and the congregation, the word and the listener. It is transactional, relational. Something can happen when a congregation hears together a challenging text. It can be a defining moment. Such an approach might lead to the Holy Spirit as the name of the kind of power that is unleased by such a hearing.

Another sermon idea would be to focus on the 1 Corinthian text and the model of organic interconnectedness between all things. The image used is the body, which is the most powerful image because it is what we know closest and best. Such a sermon could explore the idea that the Spirit is what animates the body. God is related to the world in a similar, metaphorical way as our soul is related to our body. Such a metaphor makes sense because we experience the relationship between mind/spirit/soul and body.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for more than 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.