This past Sunday we were once again blessed to have Canon Kristin White as our celebrant. This is the fifth Sunday she has been at St. Andrew’s to offer communion and the opportunity to talk with her about the Episcopal Church and our personal faith journey. Her sermon this week was filled with important considerations as we prepare to welcome our new rector, Rev. Jennifer, on Palm Sunday. It seemed important to offer her words again. Thank you, Canon Kristin. Sue
Epiphany 3C – January 23, 2022
St. Andrew’s, Greencastle
The beauty of today’s readings is that they give us an image of what it is to be church.
The bible has all kinds of sermons, prophecies, and explanations of what faithful people should do in worship. But there are not many examples in scripture of worship occurring within the passage itself.1
The first reading, from the book of Nehemiah offers us one glimpse. And the lesson you just
heard from Luke’s gospel gives us a second.
The book of Nehemiah occurs in the Old Testament, after the Jews return to Jerusalem from
being exiled in Babylon. The holy city, which they believed to be God’s dwelling on earth, has
been destroyed – the Temple sacked. Nehemiah’s account is about the rebuilding. In today’s
passage, the people have built back the walls that surround the city, to keep it safe from harm.
Having accomplished that work, they gather to praise God and give thanks. How they do that offers us a lesson today.
The faithful people gather – all of them, together – at the Water Gate. That matters, because
it’s a place where everyone can be together. They know that they have entered the presence of God, who is both object and subject of worship. The worship they share centers on holy scripture, as the priest Ezra reads from the five books of Moses to the people who have assembled.
Those elements from thousands of years ago shape us, even now. “When we gather as God’s
people (in ways that are accessible to all of us), when we are conscious of coming into the
presence of the living and holy God, when we center our worship on God’s word, when we
offer all of ourselves to God, we cannot help but be changed”.2
The theologian Rolf Jacobson suggests that the public reading and interpreting of holy scripture
“(creates) the potential for a sacramental moment in which the Spirit of God breaks into the
now and brings with it a little piece of God’s preferred future.”3 I think we witness such a
sacramental moment in today’s gospel lesson, the second glimpse of worship within scripture in
At this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has grown up and been baptized by his cousin John in the
Jordan River. Immediately afterwards, he is tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days. He
has called disciples, and they’ve dropped their lives to follow him. He has begun to teach in the
synagogues throughout Galilee, and the word about Jesus is getting out…today’s lesson says
that he is praised by everyone (…and that’s a cautionary tale, take note of what is to come in
next week’s reading…).
On this sabbath day, Jesus comes – probably for the first time since his baptism, which really
marks the beginning of his ministry – to the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. People
know him here. They knew him as a child. They know his parents. In the synagogue at Nazareth,
on the sabbath, with the faithful people gathered, he stands up to read. They hand him the
scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he reads the words we just heard: words about good news to
the poor, and release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for those who
He gives back the scroll. He sits down. And he begins to say: “today the scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing.”
Those words from Professor Jacobson again: “a sacramental moment in which the Spirit breaks
into the now and brings with it a little piece of God’s preferred future…”4
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, our second reading, would have come chronologically shortly
after the gospel took place. Paul’s letters were some of the earliest accounts of what became
the New Testament. While this passage is not about worship taking place, it is a description to
congregations about how the apostle Paul calls us to be church.
Paul founded the church in Corinth, probably around the year 50 AD, during his second journey
as a missionary after his conversion to the faith. He continued on in his travels from Corinth,
and when he was at Ephesus, founding another church, he got word that the Corinthians were
not living fully into who he believed God was calling them to be. They were confused about
what it meant to be a church. They didn’t comprehend the details about what was lawful and
unlawful, who exactly they had to share with, who could marry whom. They argued among
themselves. They were jealous and spiteful.
So Paul wrote this letter, the first letter to the church at Corinth, to try to clarify how they were
supposed to act. More deeply than that, he wrote it to remind them of who they were meant to
“All the members of the Body, though many, are one Body, and so it is with Christ – Jew or
Greek, slave or free,” Paul writes. And all members of the body are essential to the whole body.
“They eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you…Now you are the body of Christ and
individually members of it.”
Now you, Church, are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.
It has been an honor to spend one Sunday each of these last months with you, as you faithfully
journeyed through a time of searching for your next rector. I am so grateful for you, as the
particular Body of Christ that you are, so glad you have called your next priest, so hopeful for
These three passages carry a particular word for you in this moment. You’ve done such fine
work in discerning the ways that God has gifted you as church, and also the challenges you face.
You have thought and talked and prayed about what you hold dear, and where there has been
hurt, and what dreams you hold for who you will become.
As you move forward into this call to share in ministry with the Rev Dr. Jennifer Oldstone-Moore, carry these lessons of scripture with you: gather together – all of you – as the Body of
Christ that God calls you to be. Know that worship can change your lives as individuals and as a
Body, bringing “with it a little piece of God’s preferred future…”. Trust – with a certain amount
of fear and trembling – that transformation can take place, here and now. Know that you are
each uniquely known and beloved of God. And that the person in the pew across from you is, as
well. And also the person who has been a member of this parish for 50 years, who knows the
words of our worship by heart. And also the person who just walked through the door for the
first time, who might not know yet when we sit or stand or kneel, or which book has the
prayers and which one has the hymns. Each and all of you: known and beloved by God. Each
and all of you: essential to this Body that is the Church.
Strive together toward that still more excellent way that St. Paul promises. Prepare to welcome
your new rector to this body. Celebrate together, all of you, and pray, and give thanks. Prepare
to change and grow.
And know that, as you do, I am watching and praying for you and giving thanks for the church
you are, and the church you are becoming.
1 W. Carter Lester. Feasting on the Word: Nehemiah; Pastoral, 266.
2 Lester, 270.