Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sermon: November 18

We come together each week to share a sacred meal at this table, at this altar. And every week, before we do that, we sit and hear the story of God’s people in the OT and the NT. The Eucharist is always connected to our hearing the words of Holy Scripture. We don’t have one without the other. The Bible or Holy Scripture is central to our faith.

For Anglicans & Episcopalians, since the later 16th Century, and the works of Richard Hooker, we have held a type of middle way between those who believed in interpreting Scripture through the lens of tradition alone, and those who believed in Scripture alone, a pure interpretation that made everything in the Bible about salvation. Our understanding uses tradition and reason to interpret Holy Scripture, not to dilute the meaning, but to have it meaningful for our lives as we live them today. This is the gift that Hooker gave to the Episcopal Church. Its been called a three legged stool, but I like a tricycle as one author mentioned. The front tire is Scripture which directs us with tradition and reason helping us along.

The purpose of our studying Scripture in Church and at home is to help us enter into the story, to get us to connect with God’s people of time past, to enter into the salvation story, and to hear what God is calling us to do with our lives today. I think of WC Fields who was visited on his deathbed by a friend who caught him reading the Bible. “Why are you reading that Bible, WC?” he asked. Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes, looking for loopholes!” We don’t read the Bible looking for loopholes, we don’t read the bible just at the end of our days or the end of the world, we read the bible now because we believe it has something to say about our lives.

One of my favorite collects of our Church Year is the one appointed for this Sunday, “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” God caused the bible to be written for our learning. For our faith seeks understanding. And to do that we must hear the Scriptures, we must read them, mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them. I love that phrase: “inwardly digest them.” To digest something is to have take root inside of us, so we don’t even have to consciously think about it, we just do it. For when we inwardly digest it, I think of the meanings that will play out in all parts of our lives and Scripture will be inside us to guide us.

In Stewardship, our managing of our own resources as gifts to be shared, is also something that can take root inside us of so we don’t just think about it, we just do it. We have recently buried members of this parish who were very generous in giving of their time, talent and treasure to this parish over many years.

One parishioner paid their pledge first, every month, not because they had to, not because they got a call from the Rector, but because it was so much a part of them, they just did it. On our retreat we heard from Amma Sarah living in the desert of Egypt who said, “It is good to give alms for men's sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.” Reminding us even when we take pleasure in giving our alms, giving away our treasure, it can begin to please God. Or I think of St. Aidan who walked the roadways of England exhorting others to do good works, to live as Christ has called them to live and to give alms, to be generous in giving.

All of this is based on Scripture being inside of us, leading us on. I think of William Stringfellow, an Episcopalian and theologian who wrote, “The ordinary Christian, lay or clergy, does not need to be a scholar to have recourse to the Bible, and indeed, to live within the Word of God in the Bible in this world. What the ordinary Christian is called to do is to open the Bible and listen to the Word.”

If the Bible is to have meaning for us, if the salvation story is to become our story, then we must sit and listen to God’s word.

In another church, a parish meeting was called to discuss building a new sanctuary A wealthy and powerful gentleman from the parish arose in protest and suggested re­pairing the present facility. He sat down rather hard, jarring the pew, which shook the side of the build­ing, which shook the wall, which shook the ceiling, which shook loose a piece of plaster, which fell down and hit him on the head. He quickly rose and exclaimed, "This building is in worse shape than I thought. I pledge $20,000 to­ward a new building." A voice from the back murmured, "Hit him again, Lord, hit him again."

We don’t need to be hit in the head to be generous, we just need to remember what Jesus taught that money can be a threat to our well being because we can let it control our lives, or we can see the responsibility we have of giving it away, of helping others not for the sake of praise or feeling good or salvation, but to do it because that is what is asked of us. Our generosity, our giving away, our stewardship of things is connected with our understanding of the Bible and its meaning for us.

Is the Bible some relic that sits dust covered in our home, or is it something we try to read and study? Is Scripture heard on Sunday mornings only, or do you take the time to sit with the Sundays readings during the week (taking the bulletin home), to listen and hear the word of God?

If we study Scripture, if we live it, digest it, and follow where it leads, we will find ourselves in the place of hope & faith & love. No loopholes. No plaster falling from ceilings or lightning either. Holy Scripture can teach us if we are willing to listen, to open ourselves up to the generosity of our God, to hear the stories of old and make them our own and in turn give away our love, our treasure, our hope, so that we are truly the vessels of God. Amen.

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