Contemporary Reading: “The Impossible Possibility”, Letty Russell
Ecclesiasticus 38:1-4, 6-10, 12-14
II Timothy 4:5-13
Saint Luke 4:14-21
The custom of honoring the saints dates back to the earliest days of the church. Following the reformation, however, the honoring of post-biblical saints was sharply curtailed. The Book of Common Prayer (1549), honored the holy days from the Sarum Missal. The 1662 version of the BCP, the version used in the American colonies, listed seventy-two saints, but provided no liturgical materials for their commemoration. The first American book (1789) listed no minor holy days in it calendar, as was the case in 1892 and in 1928. In 1964, however, the church saw the addition of a calendar of more than a hundred commemorations along with appropriate propers. In 2010, with the publication of Holy Women, Holy Men, an additional one hundred commemorations were added, which honored not only Anglican names, but worthies from the Lutheran, and other Continental traditions.
First Reading: Ecclesiasticus 38:1-4, 6-10, 12-14
Honor physicians for their services,
for the Lord created them;
for their gift of healing comes from the Most High,
and they are rewarded by the king.
The skill of physicians makes them distinguished,
and in the presence of the great they are admired.
The Lord created medicines out of the earth,
and the sensible will not despise them.
And he gave skill to human beings
that he might be glorified in his marvelous works.
By them the physician heals and takes away pain;
the pharmacist makes a mixture from them.
God's works will never be finished;
and from him health spreads over all the earth.
My child, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you.
Give up your faults and direct your hands rightly,
and cleanse your heart from all sin.
Then give the physician his place, for the Lord created him;
do not let him leave you, for you need him.
There may come a time when recovery lies in the hands of physicians,
for they too pray to the Lord
that he grant them success in diagnosis
and in healing, for the sake of preserving life.
|Manuscript of Ecclesiasticus|
The book of Ecclesiasticus, (otherwise known as Sirach) was probably written in Hebrew ca. the early 2nd Century BCE. It was not accepted into the Hebrew canon, although it is occasionally quoted in the Talmud. It was included in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) and is accepted as a canonical book by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Orthodox churches. Anglicans and Lutherans have commended its use for devotional reading, while protestant churches have generally ignored it. As a piece of wisdom literature, it is composed of a collection of ethical works, very much like those that appear in the Book of Proverbs. This particular section from today’s reading is a series of observations on Sickness and Death, particularly the vocation of doctors. That Luke was considered to be a physician is the primary reason for the choice of this reading.
Breaking open Ecclesiasticus:
1. How are the vocations of an evangelist and a physician similar?
2. What role does healing really play in the Christian Gospels?
3. In Ecclesiasticus, who is the mentor for physicians?
Psalm 147:1-7 Laudate Dominum
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; *
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power; *
there is no limit to his wisdom.
The LORD lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; *
make music to our God upon the harp.
This praise psalm was most likely written after the resettlement of Palestine by the Exiles from Egypt. In the second verse, the author speaks about the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which give us a big clue as to the time of its writing. What follows is a verse that justifies its inclusion in the propers for this day, “He heals the broken-hearted…” While this certainly would include the wounded who had returned to this devastated land from the riches of Babylon, the psalm entertains no such limits. It pictures God as one endless possibility and knowing, “He counts the numbers of the stars”, and names them as well. In a verse similar to the Song of Hannah and its cousin, the Magnificat, God is pictured as “lift(ing) up the lowly. The thanksgiving that follows flows from the beneficent works of a God who makes new.
Breaking open Psalm 147:
1. What has God rebuilt or healed in your life?
2. In what ways have you been lifted up?
3. What brokenness still is evident in your life? How will you ask God to help? What are you willing to do?
II Timothy 4:5-13
As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
Serendipitously, we actually continue on with our reading from II Timothy, even though our march through the lectionary is interrupted by this holy day. The reason for its choice is obvious, when we read of how Paul is alone, with only Luke at his side. Luke was Paul’s amanuensis, remembering and recording the missionary journeys made by him throughout Asia Minor and Greece. In no small way is Luke’s telling of the Jesus story influenced by the theology and language of Paul. Luke it is, however, who remembers the ordinary people, both men and women, slave and free, Jew and Greek, who have been touched by Paul’s faith.
Breaking open II Timothy:
- What analogies does Paul use to describe his work in ministry?
- What attitudes does Paul commend to his protégé?
- How were these attitudes real in Paul’s life?
Saint Luke 4:14-21
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 ultimate reaction to this reading of Isaiah by Jesus, and his subsequent commentary, is left out of this selection. Instead we are left with a Lucan impression of the ideal: Jesus returns to Galilee “filled with the Spirit”, and the people rush to hear him, and they praise him for his message. The Synagogue service (the remnants of which serve as our own Liturgy of the Word) expected that a visiting Rabbi, would not only read the lection for the day, but comment on it as well. The reading from Isaiah outlines not only Jesus’ signs of the Kingdom of God (bringing good news to the poor, etc.) but also Luke’s program of awareness of the poor, as well. It is best to leave it at this point, and to honor Luke’s faithfulness to Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What immediately precedes this story – see if you can find it in your Bible?
- How is Isaiah’s vision relevant or real in our world today?
- What do you think the congregation’s reaction to this reading was? Look it up in your Bible. What are your thoughts?
Contemporary Reading: “The Impossible Possibility”, Letty Russell
This seemingly impossible role of service is possible for us all because it is not just a command. It is a gift of God. Service is God’s gift because it is God who serves us. Think of it. God is the one who chooses to serve, not just to be worshiped or adored. The humanity of God is seen in that God chooses to be related to human beings through service. In Jesus Christ we have the representation of a new humanity – the beginning of a new type of human being whose life is lived for others. Here we see what it means to be truly and newly human. This is the image of God – freedom to serve others. The whole story of the New Testament revolves around this one theme: diaknoia, service.
Letty Russell was one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church and served the East Harlem Protestant Parish in New York City from 1952-68, including 10 years as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension. She joined the faculty of Yale Divinity School in 1974 as an assistant professor of theology, rose to the rank of professor in 1985 and retired in 2001. In retirement, she continued to teach some courses at Yale Divinity School as a visiting professor.
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.