Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 24, 2016
[sermon begins after the Luke reading – two more readings follow the sermon]
Luke 4:12-21 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 favor.” 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.”
There’s this thing called a burpee. It’s a whole body effort that begins by standing. There’s a quick move to bring the body flat to the floor with chest, stomach, knees, and toes all touching the ground. A quick pop back up to the feet to standing and then jumping in the air to finish. The burpee was developed in 1940 by Royal H. Burpee, a physiologist in New York City, to assess physical health in non-active people by asking them to do four in a row and taking their heartrates. The American military picked up the move in 1942 and by 1946 required a one-minute test of max number of burpees. 41 reps was considered excellent and 27 was considered poor.
Burpees came to mind when reading these Bible texts for today. In three of the readings, there’s talk about body parts, whole bodies, movement, and even some weeping which isn’t out of the question when doing max rep burpees.
In story from Nehemiah, “all the people stood up” to hear the reading of the law. “Lifting their hands” they responded to Ezra’s prayers with an “Amen, Amen.” “Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” That is a lot of body movement in unison by a large group. Then the people wept, convicted as Ezra read the law “with interpretation…so that people understood the reading.” The people hear the law, understand that they are caught by it, and they start to cry. However, they are not left to their despair.
Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell the people that this is the Lord’s holy day. The people are instructed to stop crying, to go eat fat and drink wine and “send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared.” Why? Because “the joy of the Lord is their strength.” Conviction by the law of God, by the knowledge that we have not been on the side of our neighbor, is unsettling. Despair is inevitable if conviction by the law is the only word.
The reading from First Corinthians gives us a solid bit of law through the poetry of Paul. Listen to Paul’s words again:
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. . 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”
Paul’s talk about eyes not needing hands or the head not needing feet infers that the church in Corinth is behaving in just such an exclusionary manner. The talk of eyes getting rid of hands or the head getting rid of feet brings to mind the language of dismembering – taking a body apart. Paul’s description using body parts is applicable because one of the Biblical descriptors of the church is the body of Christ. He is especially focused on the discovery that some people are dis-membering certain other people from the church, from the body of Christ, for whatever reason that someone deems as non-need.
Lutheran Christian identity is as old as Christianity itself because it can identify its antecedents well before the 16th century Reformation. However, the way the Reformation came down means that Lutheranism has dis-memberment as part of its ethos. Meaning that the denomination formed on a foundation of disagreement that resulted in broken community. We know what this looks like from the outside and from the inside. It can make us quick to judge others through whether we think we need them or not.
This talk about church and denomination makes me want to broaden this conversation in the direction of politics. It’s a political time and it’s simple to find dismembering kind of talk in public and in private. Talk that makes the leap to who cares about this country and the Constitution and who doesn’t. Talk that makes clear that if you care about this country you’ll believe certain things and act in certain ways. Talk that includes a lot of eye-rolling up, down, and across the aisle.
As I think about the public dialogue that includes eye-rolling, I realize that even my eyes can get away from me. My own eye rolls that communicate disbelief and disrespect in one fell swoop. Eye rolls that disconnect people before their thought is even completed. My sister and I talked a long while back about those eyes rolls and disrespect. Whether it’s the eye roll that happens by a parent to teen or a teen to a parent. Or maybe the eye roll at your spouse’s back. Or even the eye-roll about a public servant, a politician. All of this eye-rolling amounts to a cut direct that dismembers one person from another. There’s a bit of homework for your week. Catch yourself as you roll your eyes. Think about why you’re doing it and the effect on what it means for you to listen and respond differently to someone.
For people of the church, people called into a body of Christ, Paul’s description is convicting and a possible antidote to the eye-roll. Convicted by these words about holding together across differences. We may not have equal passion about same things. We may not believe the same things. We are certainly not gifted for the same things. This congregation is a group of people who are confronted by difference all the time. That’s part of being the body of Christ. We also don’t choose the people who are in the body with us. Paul writes, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
The Middle School youth of this congregation have some recent practice with Paul’s words. Last weekend, at the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Middle School Youth Gathering, they had a chance to figure out what their spiritual gifts might be and how they add to mix in the body of Christ. Some gifts that make the list in First Corinthians are forms of assistance, healing, prophesying, deeds of power, teaching, leadership, and interpretation. Identifying their spiritual gifts give these young people a baptismal understanding of themselves beyond what the wider culture might have to say about them and what they offer the world. This is something the church gives people by way of the Spirit. Another possible antidote in a culture of celebrity, accumulation, and eye-rolling.
In Luke, it’s Jesus’ turn to make a stand – no jump and clap needed for added emphasis. He stands as he reads in the synagogue. Something he’s done all over Galilee before returning to his hometown “filled with the power of the Spirit.”
Luke tells us that, “Jesus unrolled the scroll [of Isaiah] 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 favor.” 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.”
In that synagogue and here today Jesus makes these promises. He’s anointed by the Spirit to proclaim freedom, sight, and good news. Not only to proclaim these things but has fulfilled them in his person. Note Jesus uses the word “today.” Fulfillment in the present tense so long ago. We can make as much sense of his promises as did the people in the Nazorean synagogue. And still, with confidence in those promises, we find that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Thanks be to God.
 Sally Tamarkin, “A Brief History of the Burpee.” Huffpost Healthy Living, May 2, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/02/burpee-history_n_5248575.html
Two more of the Bible readings:
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
1 Corinthians 12:12-30 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.