Third Sunday After Epiphany: Walking In Fulfillment of Scripture
Nehemiah 8:1-3; 5-6; 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Epiphany is about manifestation. Epiphany is to see the effects of Christmas in our lives. How has Christmas touched our lives? Is Christmas just about receiving gifts? Is it just about eating food? How has Christmas affected us? Christmas, as it is well understood, is the proclamation of God’s tremendous and only blessing upon mankind. Like the time of Joseph and Mary, very few understood that there was no room for them in the inn.
For many, Christmas is just another activity to indulge in to satisfy our desires for the material things, and it will come to pass. But if Christmas is about Jesus and our encounter of Him in the manger, and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He will never pass because Jesus is the blessing of God in our lives which will be there forever.
God’s Kingdom is filled with abundant provisions for His people. God wants to bless us abundantly with His great provisions, and our celebration every Sunday is a way of acknowledging this.
When we come to church every Sunday, there is something unique that happens. There is a supernatural ability, a force that flows from the Altar to the people. It is important for us to recognize the value of every Sunday Mass. Life is more than just daily activities that we go through like going to work, going to school, and doing household chores. Life is more than these activities. Life is a mission. It is a mission that fulfills God’s purposes for mankind – for us to grow into the knowledge and image of Jesus Christ.
We are 27 days now into January 2019. Let us fast forward our scene into December 31, 2019. What will our lives be then? What will we say changed in us? Will we still be the same or will we set a course that this year, we are going to grow in the knowledge of Christ? Will we set a course so that we can experience Christ in a greater way or will we come to December, 2019 being the same old self having the same meaningless routine? I may be 61 years old, but am I in this age or am I one year old repeated 61 times? If we go through each year without a change for the better, something is wrong? This is not the mission of life. We all go through activities, but we don’t have an understanding that we have a mission to be fruitful in the life that God has planted in us.
What does this have to do with coming to Church on Sundays? It has a lot because by our Lord’s work, He has designed life in such a way that Sunday is the spring from which each week, Monday to Saturday, our lives will have meaning and flow out from. Because life is a mission (not just a series and flurry of activities), a mission to accomplish the Lord’s purpose, we have to draw our strength from God. Every meeting here each week, in the designated place that God has set for us, is a meeting to equip us, to arm us, and to empower us so that we can face the challenges of the week.
Earlier this week, I received a text message from an individual. It was a message this person, a young woman, named Cathy, forwarded to me. Cathy is the girlfriend of Chito, a young man who was going through a state of depression and who approached me for help months ago. Earlier that day, Chito called me requesting a meeting. But since I was in Muntinlupa, at the wake of the mother of a member of our church, and Chito was somewhere near Balintawak, I said that I could not make it that night. Then came the message Cathy forwarded to me which read: “Wala na Cathy… I destroyed my own life, my career, and everyone around me.Sana tanggapin na rin nyo ang pagkawala ko…. I’m sorry… I’ll turn off my tracker so you’ll not have to worry.”
For a while, panic filled me for concern for the life of Chito, but then, I was reminded by the Holy Spirit that our help is in the Name of the Lord. I texted her back with a message, in the form of a prayer, “Lord have mercy, protect Chito from the thoughts deceiving him and causing him confusion.” Then, hope began to fill my heart again.
Chito is a budding professional in the corporate world who I was ministering to. This young man confessed to me that he tried to take his life many times, showing the slash marks in his forearms. That night this week, at around 11 PM when the forwarded message came, I immediately got to my knees and prayed. I tried to call Chito but he would not answer. The repeated rings turned into a familiar voice, “…the subscriber could not be reached…”
I thought, “This is the week of “All Life is Sacred” and no man can and should trample upon this life given by God.” So I prayed and I then sent a message to this young man, “Chito, Blessed early dawn. Grace be upon you. I was awakened thinking and praying about you. I tried to call several times earlier, hoping to fulfill your request to meet, but there was no answer. Life might be tough but we have a God who will always stand by us in spite of our failures and shortcomings. Do not give up or lose heart. There is always hope because there is God. He has a wonderful future in store for you After all, our life is not defined by our wrongs and weaknesses, but by God’s love and strength in us. Trust Him. The next time I call, I ask that you answer the phone."
I resisted the urge to call immediately, and I allowed the Holy Spirit to work into Chito’s heart, and that for any reason that he would open his phone, this message would come. I tried to call him the next day, and after several rings, he finally answered. He said, “Father, I am sorry. When I read your message I was unable to move and respond.” When he said this, I knew that he was delivered from that spirit of death/suicide which was encroaching upon him, and the Lord of life has come upon him.
Where did I get that ability to transform Chito’s depression into hope? Where will we get the answers to face the questions of life which people have each day when we confront them? Where will we draw strength and wisdom from to give solutions to the cry of a dying world, a world pleading for hope? A world plagued by false hopes, overwhelmed by depression and pain? Will the answer come from our natural abilities? Will it come from our human wisdom? Will it come from our charisma? Or will it be the power of God that works in any one of us who believes in the power we get every Sunday Mass?
There is a world crying out for deliverance. We do not have to go far. Just in this street alone, we will meet people who are seeking for answers, and the Church, you and me, we have the answer. The answer is Christ. It is The Christ that was proclaimed in the gospel we hear each Sunday. It is The Christ who is present in us and who invited us to make sure that we will be here today. It is The Christ whom we will receive in the Eucharist. It is the Christ in us, the hope of glory. Christ is the answer to the cries of the world.
This is why Sunday in Church is so important for each person. Sunday is where we are engaged in every portion of the service, in every action and gesture, in every Word read from Scriptures, in every prayer uttered, and in the most Holy Eucharist.
In our first reading in Nehemiah 8, we see the peopel of God gathered. It was such an awesome gathering, and from this, there are three things that I would like to emphasize about the attitude of the people and I pray that these would challenge us. Firstly, the people were attentive. Verse 3 says, “Ezra read from the book of the Law from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and ALL the people were attentive to the book of the Law.” When God says “ALL” it means not a few, not some, not just the priests or the deacons, but ALL. This encourages us that we are ALL included.
The people not only were attentive, but the second attitude that they had was they were reverent, which is the second attitude that the people had. Verse 5-6 says, “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. Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands, and they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
The third attitude that the people had was that they were repentant. Verse 9 says, “Then Nehemiah said, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law.”
These three attitudes of being attentive, reverent and repentant resulted in joy and strength as it is written in verse 10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Our strength comes from giving God joy and pleasure and making Him happy. God is very happy to see us today, and we have the strength because God is happy, and every Sunday, we hear Mass to get strength.
The gathering we have every Sunday is not a funeral service. There is no death that happens. What dies are our fears, our hurts, and our hopelessness. We have life! Why is this a celebration? It is because God has blessed us! Every Sunday, we are renewing what God has done, through Christ, as man, in the covenant that He made so that we will have strength in everything that we do.
Every Sunday, we are brought to a higher place where God sees life when the celebrant says, “Lift up your hearts!“ This is so that we can have the perspective of God in the point of view of God because we are placed in a setting that God has already blessed. Even before we came here, God was already here. He is waiting for each one of us. Every Sunday is a divine appointment and the invitation to come to the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ initiative and God is ready to celebrate with us. We have a celebration so that we can be filled and every need will be met by the members and by the parts that are designed to meet every need of humanity.
1 Corinthians 12:12 – 31a talks about the Body of Christ which has a lot of members. The Lord has placed all of us together in a setting that is blessed and filled with members and parts that is designed to meet every need of people. The Body of Christ is all about coming together, coming to Sunday which the Lord designates. Even the needs of those seemingly weak members of the Body, God can miraculously use to meet our needs. We have all sufficiency in everything, and the blessings that we have are God’s provision for God’s purposes.
In the gospel today in Luke 4, Jesus is in Galilee and He goes to His hometown in Nazareth. It says in verse 16, “And Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue and stood up to read.” If Jesus, the Son of God, goes to Church every Sabbath, who are we to just ignore it? Jesus is showing us the pattern for life. Let us set to go to Church every Sunday. Jesus did not just grow up to be “Super Jesus.” He was one hundred percent God, but He was also one hundred percent man. Every temptation that you and I faced, He faced. Every Sabbath, He would get up although He is tempted not to go to the synagogue because He is man. Whatever trials we have undergone, He also underwent. Jesus had to go to the synagogue because the world has a need and He gets the strength from doing this so that He can impart what He has to those who are in need.
God is calling us! God uses people who go to Church to bring hope to other people. God uses us to preach the gospel to the poor(the marginalized, unfortunate, irritants). He uses us to proclaim release to the captives (those held in bondage by demonic forces with drugs, alcohol, etc,, those who are in the brink of death, those who cannot find an answer to life). God uses people to bring recovery of sight to the blind. Some people are blind even though they have 20/20 vision. We may be blind to our own sins that stifle our spiritual growth. We may be blind to the needs of others around us. We may be blind to the opportunities God regularly presents by which we can grow spiritually and be a minister to others. Jesus opens our eyes to the opportunities to share good news to those who may never have experienced the Gospel in their own life.
In opening our eyes to those around us, we fulfill that part of Isaiah’s prophecy that gives aid to the downtrodden making the present time the acceptable day of salvation. God uses people to set free those who are down trodden. There are people who are oppressed by society, and their only hope is you and I. I know we are all busy, but if God leads us to minister to someone, do so because it may be Christ who is talking to us. We go to Church every Sunday so that we can have something to give to these people.
We are receiving from this Altar every Sunday and we are receiving the Word every Sunday. As such, we are receiving the life we need to face people or situations in our daily lives. God has filled us with this because He wants us to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord. When is the favourable year of the Lord? It is NOW! When tomorrow comes, it is still the now because God is the Eternal Now. When Moses said, “What name will I call You when I go to Israel?” God said, “Tell them, ‘I AM’.” Not “I was” or “I will be” but “I AM.” When we wake up tomorrow, it is now. Next Sunday, it will again be now. In 2020, it will be now. This is the favourable year of the Lord. Today is the day of salvation. Let us not miss the opportunity because God wants to bless us. God is ready and He has opened the windows of heaven for the angels to pour out the blessings.
We have reasons why we may not go to Church, and I am not here to condemn because this is between you and God. My role is to bring you to the green pastures and still waters, but it is up to you on how you who will eat and drink from it. I cannot eat or drink for you. This is the heart of a pastor, and our Bishop, our Priests and Deacons are so delighted when we gather together every Sunday because we know the power that we can derive from doing so.
St. Paul says to the Ephesian Church in Acts 20:24, “But life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love. Life is a mission, not just activities! Life is helping men who are need and who are turned from death to life. Life is about doing the work which Christ is doing and what He wants us to do!