Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sermon: November 15

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
This version of the collect from this morning is from the 1892 Book of Common Prayer and would have been the prayer that Martha DuBail would have heard as a child and recited as a teenager. The prayer itself goes back to the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as a reminder of the importance of Scripture in our lives, as it was to the Reformers in the Reformation who wanted the people to be able to read the Bible in their own language.

On Thursday, a day after the burial of Martha DuBail, I sat in a classroom at Masuk High School talking with students in the Great Books class about Scripture. They had studied Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament (if the book doesn’t ring a bell – think of the old hit, Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds (written by Pete Seeger)) and the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. They had many questions, about meaning and interpretation and about faith. I suspect many of them had not seriously tackled scripture before, but they had begun to listen to Scripture. As William Stringfellow once put it,
“What the ordinary Christian is called to do is to open the Bible and listen to the Word [of God].”
To listen to what the Bible has to say to us is important, because we are not going to understand, we cannot listen if we don’t pick it up. Our society is solely becoming more and more biblical illiterate… Some people think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife! Unless we approach the Bible, we cannot fully understand our faith. As Stringfellow would tell us, through the Bible, the Word of God is addressed to us, where we are, just as we are, in this world. Be it teenagers in class or anyone in the pew, we must be ready to “hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”

Sitting here on a Sunday morning, we are surrounded by scripture, in the readings, the hymns, the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer are all linked because they come from scripture. But the challenge for us is to continue this during the week, to pick up our bibles, or to look at Scripture on the internet, and to continue listening to what Scripture has to say. One way we could do this is by taking the bulletin home on Sundays and reading those lessons throughout the week and asking what is this Scripture saying to us.

But we must take care, as Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel…
“Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”
There is much to lead us astray in today’s society. There are those who deny that Scripture has anything to teach us. That it is error filled and too hard to read and written entirely by humans, we are better off ignoring it. Others claim that if you look for it, you can discover the Bible Code that is hidden away and that will make all the difference to our lives. Still others, say there is only one right way to read the Bible, only one right answer and that any other reading or understanding is not faithful to God. And probably most present of all, is that the Bible is important, we ought to read it, but right now life is too busy and we will get to it another day…

Such attitudes are present in our society and we must take care that these do not influence us. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us:
“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together but encouraging one another.”
And it is through the Bible that we find that God is faithful and in this community we will find fellow travelers who can be with us as we explore that faith. Even when we read and listen, there will come a time like those students at Masuk, when we do not understand…

And it is then we rely on one another to help us hear and listen. For we go to the Bible to hear and listen and connect with our God. But not just there, for as we find God in those Scripture passages, we also find God in our lives in this world. The Bible helps us find God active not only recorded in the past but it helps us to reflect on how God is with us today in our lives.

Consider Jesus gathering his disciples for a meal together…

Think of your evening; you and your family gather around the table in your kitchen for supper. The entree might be some epicurean delight from the pages of Bon App├ętit -- but more often than not it’s Chinese takeout or pizza from McGowans. As everyone digs in, the table buzzes with talk of tomorrow’s soccer game, a crabby teacher, the current fix-up project, the latest office crises, and a new knock-knock joke. Here at the kitchen table, parent and child give and receive encouragement, consolation, forgiveness and love. Especially love. If there is one safe harbor on earth, one secure, sheltered place where you are always welcome no matter how badly you mess up, the kitchen table is it. Your kitchen -- the place where Christ rules.

Consider that as Jesus spoke to his disciples, he often talked about his life as a life of service…

Think of a storm that devastates a town; a fire reduces a neighborhood to burnt timber and ashes; an act of terrorism cuts a wide and bloody swath through a community. That’s when they go to work: skilled medical professionals, tireless construction workers, patient and gifted counselors, compassionate volunteers. These dedicated souls work around the clock to care for the hurt and injured, rescue those in danger, help the traumatized cope, and begin the hard work of rebuilding. By their very presence, these good people transform the debris and ashes into the kingdom of Jesus.

Consider that as Jesus traveled, everyone came up to him, the poor and the outcast, the sick and the children, he welcomed all…

Think of a tired old downtown building that has seen better days but no better use. The city’s churches have worked together to turn the brick structure into a community center, a safe place where children can come to play basketball, receive tutoring, or just hang out after school. The well-stocked pantry provides for dozens of hungry families every week; a free clinic offers basic on-site medical care and referral services to the poor and uninsured. Its meeting rooms are always busy: the elderly have a place to go for companionship and immigrants are taught how to master the language of their new homeland, AA meets there. In this austere brick building, Jesus reigns.

When we read the Bible, we see God alive in history and if we listen to it, we can also see God alive in the world around us. Let us open the Bible today and listen to God’s word and hear what God is saying to us and our lives. Amen.

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