Sermon for Bible Sunday, 25th October 2018, by Revd Ellen Goldsmith

SERMON 28.10.18  BIBLE SUNDAY

 

Isaiah 55. 1 – 11  Psalm 19. 7 – 14   2 Timothy 3. 14 – 4. 5   John 5. 36b – 47

 

WHAT is the most important thing about reading the Bible?

            To teach, and train us, to encourage and inform us.

Important as these things are, the most important thing is this: 

to allow the text to bring us into the presence of the living God.

 

This is what Jesus is criticising the Jewish leaders about:

Yes, they read the right book, but they read it in the wrong way – they read it to argue and score points over each other, and over Jesus.

What a telling verse we have in John 5: 42!  Jesus says to his critics:  I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

 

That’s the thing of first importance when we talk about, read, and study the Bible: we must come to scripture because we love God and want to develop our relationship with him. 

It is deceptively easy to know about God, but not to know him.

 

The Bible is a fascinating book, and it draws great scholars, as well as people like ourselves, to analyse and come to grips with it. But its main fascination and draw is that it is no ordinary book:  it is alive.

Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, tells this helpful true story:  ….

There was once an American professor who went for a year to Oxford as a visiting academic.  When he and his wife arrived, they were looking round the old parts of the college.  Amid what appeared to them like the remains of an ancient, crumbling building, his wife spotted windows with lights, and people going about their business inside. 

‘Honey’ she exclaimed, ‘These ruins are inhabited!’ 

A lived in building is alive .. It breathes.

Opening the Bible can give an experience like this.

 

It can seem like a jumble of old collected writings, strange and irrelevant.  But if we come to it with love for God in our hearts, we sense movement and life; something is stirring; there is life here, even God’s breath, his spirit.  The text is bringing us into the presence of the living God.  And that’s why we often refer to scripture as ‘God’s word’ –  when he speaks, we sit up and take notice, we listen, and love for him brings us in an obedient frame of mind.

 

When we are in God’s presence, His word can point out right and wrong; it can explain the truth and show us how to live, it can give us direction.  But it also does something so significantly more:  it actually helps in the transforming process – because the text is alive; it is inhabited by God.  For those with a loving relationship with God, scripture is one of God’s best tools to change us into his likeness –

from one degree of glory into another (as St Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3: 18).

Sometimes it’s clear from the text itself how we need to change; sometimes God has to prompt and prod us, and wait for our assent when we say, ‘Ok, God, I give in!

I am willing to see things your way; I am willing to change.’  And God’s word does its work to bring that about. 

It achieves its purpose.

 

The non-believing Jews did not have love for God in their hearts, and so they chose not to find Jesus in Scripture. The way to try and understand the Bible is this:  always ask the question, What does this tell us about Jesus God’s Son, and the plan of salvation?

 

Puzzling as the Old Testament often is, when we start to look for Jesus there, we often find him; for example, the whole system of sacrifices prepares us for the final sacrifice of Jesus himself – something we thought about last week, as God’s strategy for the world. Moses, leading the Exodus return from slavery in Egypt, gives us the idea of Jesus freeing us from the slavery of sin; and the great prophecies spoken to God’s people exiled in Babylon, also speak out the promises to God’s people about their final homeland.

 

St Matthew is the master of relating the life of Jesus in his Gospel to Old Testament truths, quoting frequently and widely – something Jesus did himself.

 

So Jesus is the one to read and to study; he is the one to come to, with love in our hearts, to find life – eternal life: quality and quantity.

We may have to believe – love and trust - before we understand, which is something St Anselm of Canterbury is famous for saying in the 11th C

“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand… unless I believe I shall not understand.”

So here’s the challenge this Bible Sunday:  to love the Lord Jesus and to love our Bibles so that we can love him more.

 

 

Can I add a postscript?

When I was preparing I first read the wrong Reading from Timothy – I read from St Paul’s first letter to him, rather than the second.  But there is something there that is related and of great importance.

Paul says that he writes so that people will know how to conduct themselves in God’s household, the church.  And this is the thing:  he describes the church as “the pillar and foundation of the truth”.

I understand that this might open a can of worms!  But it is the church that is the guardian of truth, not any one individual. 

Together we must trust God to help us interpret the scriptures so that we know how to conduct ourselves. 

And this will involve corporate reasoning, our tradition and our experience, as well as searching the scriptures with love in our hearts – not to score points over others.

Any changes that might come in the church’s way of thinking, must be conceived in love, and be true to the voice of God as he speaks to us in this generation by his Son Jesus Christ.  Meanwhile, we take up the Bible Sunday challenge to let the word of God take root and grow within us so that God’s purposes are accomplished for us and for others.

 


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