Worship for Sunday, January 23, 2022

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

All the people [of Israel] 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

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. 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.”

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,

their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun.

It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat. 

The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 

By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can detect one’s own offenses?
Cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be  acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

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. 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.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 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. 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. 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? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 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.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

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. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel of our Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Most of us have a character flaw or 2. Unfortunately – I have more like 2,000! One of my character flaws is “talent envy.”   I have been afflicted with talent envy for as long as I can remember.

Even in pre-school I struggled with talent envy. When I was 4 – my very best-friend in the whole wide world was bi-lingual. I remember wanting to speak Spanish so badly I would babble total gibberish just so I could sound super cool like David.

By the time I was in elementary school my talent envying heart – coveted my friend Kevin’s ability to roller skate backwards while doing ALL of the hand motions to the YMCA song. (It was the 1980’s.) He was REALLY good. I wanted to be just like him gliding around the skating rink with the wind blowing his mullet in the breeze. But all I got for trying to copy Kevin was a bruised ego to match my bruised EVERYTHING else!

My talent envy didn’t stop there. In college – Jason was the Classics Department’s golden boy.   Flawless Latin and Greek would flow forth from Jason filling our professors with joy and pride. When I opened my mouth – our professor tried not to cry! I butchered Greek for 3 solid years.

Now Jason is learning Coptic – “just for fun?!?!?!”” Seriously – I kid you not . . .

Our professor told me more than once that he really admired my willingness “to stick with it.” Which meant – I was a total foreign language IDIOT and he couldn’t believe I kept coming back for more suffering. But one of my talents is STUBBORNESS!

I am still afflicted with talent envy every single time I hear anyone talking about math-y stuff. Because numbers are so totally NOT my thing.

I am not proud of it – but talent envy has been a lifelong affliction for me. And while you may not be as badly afflicted with talent envy as I am – I think many of us have experienced some talent envy at least once or twice.

It is totally fine to admire other folks’ talents. (After all – the world is full of impressively talented people who can do really cool stuff.)

As long as – your admiration doesn’t blind you to the value of your own gifts and talents. Because God gave us unique gifts and talents for a reason. God has an amazing plan and we are all a part of it.

William makes really cool Lego creations with just a pile of Legos and his imagination.

Imagine if we all had the very same gifts and talents as everyone else.   Imagine if we could all sing like the Bee Gees (or angels if you prefer.) If we could all could like cook like Rachel Ray and Jamie Oliver. And if we could all hold onto a football like Jerry Rice and Walter Peyton.

Well – our hymn singing would be totally groovy. We would have amazing chili cook-offs (but we already do).   And we would be incredibly graceful and agile – so we wouldn’t drop stuff. But what if those were our only gifts and talents?

Who would read the scripture? Who would acolyte?   And deacon?

Who would play the organ and the clavinova for worship?

Who would pay the bills – balance the checkbooks – count the offerings and make the offering statements for us?

Jack can climb anything. This is surprisingly handy in a church setting . . .

Who would teach Vacation Bible school and Sunday school?

Who would decorate the sanctuary and change the paraments?

Who would greet our visitors and visit our shut-ins?

Who would trim the bushes – mow the lawn – pull the weeds – shovel the snow and fix things when they broke?

Who would do all of those other things that need to be done at Saint Stephen and in God’s world?

It is so easy to think other’s gifts and talents are more important or better than our own. But – God gave us a variety of gifts and talents for a reason. God did this so we could ALL work together to do God’s work in this world.

No talent is unimportant or unnecessary. Our Christian community and the world need you and your talents.

If you can teach – then help with Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

The VBS snack talent!

If God has given you the gifts of listening and conversation – visit people who are lonely.   pick up the telephone and give someone a call.

So many folks have told me lately how much they miss coming to church and how they wish they could be here. Especially now that this pandemic has made such a mess of our lives for such a long time!

If you like to write – send cards to people who could use a message of love and support.

If you feel comfortable speaking in public – serve as a deacon or a lector.

If you enjoy cooking then volunteer to help cook for the folks at the Ronald McDonald house. That is powerful ministry.

If you feel called to pray – then pray. There can never be too many people praying for us.

Elvis sometimes stops by Saint Stephen for a visit! So do Marcus and Peggy. All 3 of them are pretty cool!

If you can fix things – Rod and Matt would be delighted to hear from you.

Using your gifts and talents is a blessing to our Christian community and makes the world a better place.

Don’t say to yourself someone else will do it or I’ve done my part.   Because God gave you talents for a reason. God gave you gifts so you would use them. Without your gifts and talents our church is missing something important we all need.

You are a part of the foundation of this church. You are needed. God is calling each and every one of you to serve. Truly this is the Good News. AMEN.




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