Third Sunday of Ephiphany


Old Testament

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. 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 worshipped 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.’ 

Nehemiah 8:1–3, 5–6, 8–10


The heavens are telling the glory of God •

   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

  One day pours out its song to another •

   and one night unfolds knowledge to another.

  They have neither speech nor language •

   and their voices are not heard,

  Yet their sound has gone out into all lands •

   and their words to the ends of the world.

  In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, •

   that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber

      and rejoices as a champion to run his course.

  It goes forth from the end of the heavens

      and runs to the very end again, •

   and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

  The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; •

   the testimony of the Lord is sure

      and gives wisdom to the simple.

  The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; •

   the commandment of the Lord is pure

      and gives light to the eyes.

  The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;•

   the judgements of the Lord are true

      and righteous altogether.

  More to be desired are they than gold,

      more than much fine gold, •

   sweeter also than honey,

      dripping from the honeycomb.

  By them also is your servant taught •

   and in keeping them there is great reward.

  Who can tell how often they offend? •

   O cleanse me from my secret faults!

  Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins

      lest they get dominion over me; •

   so shall I be undefiled,

      and innocent of great offence.

  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

      be acceptable in your sight, •

   O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Psalm 19


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 were to 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 were to 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 honourable we clothe with greater honour, 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 honour 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 honoured, 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. And I will show you a still more excellent way. 

1 Corinthians 12:12–31a


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 favour.’

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.’

Luke 3:15–17, 21, 22

Sermon for Third Sunday of Epiphany

Have you ever been caught in the spotlight – where everyone is looking at you, and you feel you need to say or do something as a consequence of that beam of light shining on you there and then? It is a very common episode, isn’t it? Something that happens throughout our lives. Indeed, it is something that has happened throughout history.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the reading from Nehemiah and that of Luke tell us that same story – the story of a person standing in the midst of so many other people who were waiting to hear the extraordinary from the one in the spotlight, so many who wait in some sort of darkness for that ray of enlightenment to shine and dispel the gloom which life seems to be.

From the OT, we heard “the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, in fact, all who could hear with understanding.” That phrase – “All who could hear with understanding” – is rather strange, isn’t it? Surely we use the word “hear” to mean precisely that – “with understanding”. The reading goes on, “The ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law” – the phrase “attentive to the Word of the Lord”, in this case “the Law”, suggests that the pronouncement has gone deeper into consciousness than merely “listening to the radio”. Everyone was “attentive” – they were people who had “ears to hear”. Such an audience, I would say, is rare today, except here in the midst of the great congregation, small as it is.

I think the prophet is making a very important point, that the crowds gathered at the Water Gate were poised for something specific, they even expected a revelation. And it turned out they were not to be disappointed: something great was disclosed, in fact so momentous that “all the people wept when they heard. They heard “the words of the law” which Ezra read out to them.

However, it was not just the people who were waiting for the words to be delivered. Those reading were singled out because “they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” These Readers were gifted with meaningful voices, resonating with sense so that the people were able to understand. They read “with interpretation” giving “the sense” through their utterance of just the words written in the book. – What power!

I am humbled to stand in that long line of Readers from the Word of God, the prophets and disciples from long ago, and I pray that I may give the sense of the word before me as I speak them.

That puts me in the spotlight whenever I stand before you. I should not be frightened because you, like that crowd at the Water Gate, expect sense and sensibility from me. I can only hope that the tradition of teachers of the word of God blasts through me to expose the true interpretation of the words before me.

However, it is not just myself who stands under scrutiny. The crowd itself has to understand that it too plays a part in this scene. The crowd gathered is composed of those who could understand, they were already attentive to hear the word of God.

As when Jesus takes centre stage at the synagogue, we feel, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.” But what happens to us, when we have done something as innocent as reading the lesson? Do we stand tall and assert ourselves? Would we ever be as bold as when “Jesus said to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Could we say that about ourselves when we read that passage aloud?

I would like to assert that Jesus makes the spotlight reflect back on his audience when he makes that statement. No longer is he embarrassed by the words of Isaiah which he read out for them, rather Jesus embarrasses the audience by challenging everyone to ensure that we understand those words. We should be like those gathering around Ezra, “all who could hear with understanding” gathered there so that they, and now we, recognise that it is the Lord’s anointed here in front of us, speaking in God’s name for all humanity,

“‘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 favour.’”

These words of Isaiah are quoted by everyone who feels a vocation. Each one of them feels chosen and set apart to do the work, that work of bringing good news to those who have no hope, so that the future is opened up for all. Consequently, those with a vocation feel as though they have been sent to the dark places of the world to enlighten and liberate, whether they be the prisons of blindness or the bonds of incarceration. They have been sent there and they rejoice to speak with interpretation and make sense to the attentive crowds thronging in that darkness.

We all long to be free, don’t we? Whether it is the freedom from ignorance or the freedom to express one’s true self, we all desire it. We no longer wish to be confined to a limited existence. Jesus has called us to life in all its possibility and we long for that true life – what the bible calls ZOË.

Another phrase that must interest us is how the evangelist speaks about Jesus going to the synagogue on the sabbath – “as was his custom”. Do any of us have this sort of custom today? Do any of us habitually go to Church wherever we find ourselves? At home? – Or on holiday? Do you go to the nearest Church to worship among strangers, perhaps in a foreign language? Would our habits bring us into the spotlight of strangers? It is without fear that Jesus stands in the midst of that world – so the question shouts out – shouldn’t we?

I suppose I have to conclude that the spotlight is to be found in the relation of the crowd and the one who is standing there, the hearing must be attentive and the speaking must be with interpretation. Sense is the conjunction of all in the image of that spotlight ever pointing toward each one of us as we stand at the centre of our worlds as is our custom. In the spotlight we are to find the Word of God in the hearing of sensible interpretation with those attentive ears.


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.