If you had read my last sermon in Pulpit Perspectives in the St. Oswald’s Blog you may be surprised to see me here as my Reader’s Licence should have runout last week. However, I am pleased to report that I have spoken to the Warden of Readers’ and she has said that because of COVID all licences are indefinitely extended.
Now today is The Last Sunday after Trinity. It is also known as Bible Sunday, and the theme and readings link up with my last sermon as I was suggesting that we might give more time to reading our Bibles.
And if we had any doubt, then our collect for today makes the point very clearly.
who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Do we read our Bibles and receive the comfort of God’s Holy Word? These days, our lives seem so full of distractions. We tend to turn on the television and leave it on, or reach for our mobile ‘phone or tablet. We all seem desperate to get instant news even though at the present it is rarely good news. We seem incapable of stepping back and reflecting on what our Christian faith has taught us to do in times of trouble.
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. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; 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.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.Nehemiah 8:1-12
Our first reading from Nehemiah tells of a time about a century after the Jewish exiles were allowed to return from Babylonia to Jerusalem after a lengthy exile. Life has not been easy. The people have suffered from hostile neighbours and crop failures. While they succeeded in rebuilding the walls and a new temple it compares poorly with Solomon’s Temple that the Babylonians destroyed when they sacked Jerusalem.
Hardship has led to disillusionment and spiritual weariness. Now Ezra the priest has been told to read the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as an act of worship.
This took several hours and is clearly not a one-man show, but is instead a joint effort by Ezra and the other spiritual leaders to help the people understand the scriptures – to understand the Lord’s will – and to understand their own responsibilities in relationship to the Lord.
This was no time for tears but a time to rejoice. They now have a temple and a city with walls. This is a holy day, a day when the Lord is present with them and a day when they can begin to rebuild their spiritual heritage.
So are we disillusioned and have a spiritual weariness? Did we feel a bit like that when we returned here to worship again after lockdown, only to find that the church is not the same? There is no singing of hymns and we can’t meet together the way we used to. We can’t even use the new kitchen to provide us with refreshments. But praise be, we are back in Church worshipping together again, and that is something for which we should all be thankful.
Let us now consider The Bible; it is a very human book. It is not only one book but a collection of many books, written in many different styles, at different times and in varying contexts. The Bible did not fall out of the sky ready-made and there is evidence that parts of both the Old and the New Testaments have been revised and rewritten over the centuries.
Within the Bible, God’s word is depicted in very dynamic terms – His word is his deed. When God speaks, things happen. We talk about God’s Word and this means His total message to mankind. God has used the Bible, down through the ages to reveal himself to us.
He has spoken through his prophets, whose words and deeds have been recorded in the Bible; he has spoken to His people through their history, by showing how he has acted throughout the ages, giving them support,
succour, and hope, during times of both their obedience & when they rebelled.
When you read the Bible you are aware of the truth that those who wrote the books of the Bible had faith in God; and that their understanding of God changed, as they reworked the Bible texts to cover changing circumstances. For it is from the Bible they learnt about God, and from God they learnt how to discover the truth in the Bible.
However, without the help of the Holy Spirit and our faith to aid our understanding, the Bible is just old religious literature beloved of our fathers but dead to many of this generation. It is God alone who gives the Bible Authority and reveals it to be the Word of God. And Christ, who came to fulfil these prophesies, himself frequently referred to the scriptures.
In today’s epistle St Paul writes to the Colossians:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:12-17
We sometimes question why the world rejects the Bible. But why should the world believe and follow the teaching of the Bible, when some, who call themselves Christians, never open their Bibles at home from one year to the next?
A community of Christians that stops reading the Scriptures, will soon be deaf to God, and will try to fashion things the way they want. This is what must have happened in the early 13th century.
Did you know, that at that time, the Bible was not the main basis for Roman Catholic worship and the synod of Toulouse in 1229 – forbade the laity to possess the Scriptures (Bible), except the Psalter, and such portions as are contained in the breviary, (their equivalent of our prayer book) and especially denounced all translations other than Latin?
One of the reasons for the reformation was the wish of Christians to return to a true Christian religion based on the Bible. This gave the impetus to Wycliffe and Tyndale who translated the scriptures into English some 400 years ago. Today the work continues with many Christian Biblical scholars of all denominations working closely together to produce the text of the Bible which is as accurate as can presently be achieved.
This does not mean that the Bible is any easier to understand! God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.
This is good news; the last thing we want is a God who thinks and acts like us.
Jesus said to his disciples: “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”Matthew 24:30-35
For example in today’s Gospel from Matthew Jesus is trying to tell his disciples about things which are outside their imagining, what Jesus’ ‘royal appearing’ will be like. Jesus takes us back, to images of the prophet Daniel. They will see, he says, ‘the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven’. This could be referring to the time after his ascension, when he returned to heaven, showing that he had been vindicated, and demonstrated that his suffering had not been in vain.
And the passage ends with Jesus saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
God has given mankind intellect and this great reference book, the Bible. The Bible does not contain pat answers to all the questions we have in life, but by careful study, the use of our minds, and guided by the Holy Spirit and our friends in Christ, we too can understand the truth and wisdom of the Bible for our use in our world today.
Don’t let the current limited thinking limit you. Negativity like the coronavirus is contagious; you have to pay attention if you don’t want to catch it! Even if you are the only positive person in your family, be the one with an optimistic outlook in every situation. What we call ‘common knowledge’, often is commonly wrong!
‘The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’
Have people who are telling you it can’t be done factored God into the equation? If not, pay no attention. Instead of listening to people who increase your doubts, listen to the people to whom God has given wisdom, knowledge and understanding.
Oh yes! And don’t forget to read your Bible.