Bible Sunday: 2 Timothy 3,14 – 5,4 & John 5, 36-end
Does anyone here like receiving presents? I do. When I was ordained deacon the Church of England gave me a New Testament and Psalms. When I was ordained priest they decided they could trust me with the whole of the Bible. In the bible they gave me for my priesting a card was placed, with my name on it. On the card was written the following words:
‘Receive this Book, as a sign of the authority which God has given you this day, to preach the gospel of Christ and to minister His Holy Sacraments.’
Now, at the risk of being defrocked, struck off, sent to some far flung part of the Anglican Communion, I am slightly tempted to quibble with this invocation, for the Bible isn’t a book but a collection of books. The bible is a biblios which includes different types of book within each of its testaments. In the Old Testament we have the ‘in the beginning book’ of Genesis, the law books, the history books, the wisdom books, and the books of prophecy. In the New Testament we have the four gospels, Paul’s specific epistles, Peter and John’s general epistles, and the apocalyptic and visionary book of Revelation. The bible is a collection of different books, written for different purposes, so we need to be clear when we say things like ‘the Bible clearly says.’
In the reading from today’s epistle we hear one of the most quoted verses in the Bible ‘all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching.’ This verse is often interpreted as ‘the Bible is correct in every way.’ But it can’t mean this for one very simple reason: when Paul wrote these words to Timothy the gospels hadn’t been written, in all probability, and the canon hadn’t been agreed. So we need to treat this verse with some caution. But this doesn’t mean that we can dismiss the Bible. Not does it mean that the bible isn’t truly inspired by God and useful for teaching. What it does mean is that we should treat the bible with dignity, reverence and intelligence, holding it lovingly in our hands as we read it. What we should never do is to reduce the Bible to a form of Christianised Haynes Manuel.
My approach to the Bible is fairly straightforward and, as a Christian, I believe that the central figure in the Bible is Jesus. The Old Testament points us towards the coming of Jesus, the gospels introduce us to the person of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, with the exception of the Book of Revelation, shows us how we might live as communities that believe in Jesus; and the emphasis on the communal is all important. We are after all a communion, so the only real question is whether we aspire to be a Holy Communion.
The approach I have sketched is in many ways highly Lutheran. I believe, like Luther, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation, but without believing that the bible is perfect in every way. Like Channing I believe the Bible to be ‘a human and therefore fallible record of the infallible divine word.’ Like Luther I believe that we should read the Bible with openness and humility allowing our consciences to be ‘captive to the word of God, rather than the Bible.’
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus urges his followers not to mine the Scriptures in the vain attempt to find verses that affirm any prejudice we might hold, but instead to focus on learning more about the very character of Jesus. If we follow this advice the Bible will, I suggest, open up in unexpected ways before us. Luther said: ‘if you want to interpret well set Christ before you, for he is the man to whom it all applied, every bit of it.’
My hunch, my suspicion, is that Luther was, and is right. As a community and as individuals we should treat the Bible with dignity and reverence, we should set ourselves before the endlessly fascinating Christ of the Gospels, so that we are fed, changed and equipped to proclaim his holy name in both word and deed, for this after all is the mandate of the Church; we are the Church of Christ.
But how can we do this? How in this place can we become people of the word; people fed each and every day by Jesus and the words of Scripture? Well, I know of only one way: prayerful reading of Scripture. So let me invite you to do something: as you leave Church today, and every Sunday, take the pew sheet home with you, don’t give it back in, and spend five or ten minutes each day simply reading through the passages and see what strikes you, challenges you or even affirms you. I think if you do this it just might, over time, make all the difference in the world, Amen.
Harvest – 5 callings
Today we celebrate harvest. Harvest is a very special one-off service, a festival that stands on its own and which isn’t given a specific and set date in the church’s annual calendar.
In recent times it has become popular to call harvest creation-tide. There is a significance in this in that it differentiates between creation itself, the created order, and the output of creation; harvest. Harvest itself celebrates the relationship between God and humankind. God is the creator, we are the stewards of creation; God is the creator, we are the created. If this is true, which I believe it to be, then the first of our harvest callings must be towards humility. God is God, the almighty, the endlessly creative one and we are simply his people; the people of his pasture.
The second harvest calling must be towards awe and wonder. The created order should surely inspire a sense of our own smallness and of God’s magnitude? This sense of awe and wonder is something that the psalmist perfectly encapsulates:
‘When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the work of your hands: you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth,’ (Psalm 8).
This sense of awe and wonder should, when we reflect on it, lead to our third calling: gratitude. We are fortunate, blessed, privileged to live surrounded by beautiful countryside. We should enjoy the created order, the natural environment, God’s play ground. But, we should also seek to cherish, treasure and renew it. As a church we will be spending some time doing this next year. Becoming a greener, more environmentally friendly church, is one of our challenges.
Harvest and creation-tide is also an opportunity to deepen our trust in God. This is the important message of today’s gospel reading (Matthew 6, 25-33). But we need to be careful with the word trust. Trust, in the harvest sense, doesn’t mean adopting a solely stoical attitude, rendering ourselves passive in the faces of the challenges that face us. Trust is, I think, about stepping out in faith, as God’s partners, in the surety that God is both with us and for us. Trust is very definitely an active thing! Trust is something we do, not just something we feel.
Our fifth harvest calling is to generosity. Harvest reminds us that we must be people who both care and share. Our generosity must be of a truly radical nature. The created order and its produce is all of humanities to enjoy and yet so many both near to home, and further afield, don’t get to share in God’s abundance. This is very definitely not part of God’s plan. As Christians we must always look out for the less fortunate, the poor amongst us, the widows and orphans in their distress (James 1, 27). So I am glad this year that we are donating the food offerings to the Milton Keynes Foodbank and the cash offering to Water Aid; please let’s dig deep and sacrificially. Let’s play our part in alleviating food poverty in our neighbouring city; a city where one in five, disgracefully, live below the poverty line and let’s also play our part in alleviating the distress of our international neighbours.
So there you have it, five harvest callings:
Humility, awe and wonder, gratitude, trust and generosity.
If we can live up to these callings, not just today, but on an ongoing basis we will truly be God’s arms of love around a deeply fractured world, and that is our harvest calling. We will become as the Psalmist puts it ‘like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in due season,’ (Psalm 1).
Trinity 20: Amos 5, 6-7 & 10-15, Hebrews 4, 12-16 & Mark 10, 17-31: Vocation and calling
Has anyone ever said to you something like this:
‘One day when the time is right we will sell up and move to …..’ or ‘I would love to give up my job and do something completely different, oh well, one day, when the time is right.’
I hear these sorts of comments frequently and particularly in relation to what we might think of us calling, or vocation. The problem is that the time is never right for our lives are messy and rarely straightforward. Of course, frequently, the phrase ‘when the time is right,’ is also code for ‘when we have enough money.’ Enough money is an elusive concept. I would like to suggest that if we wait until we have enough, we will never really be able to answer our highest calling.
The gospel stories urge us to get on with things even when we think we don’t have enough. Think of the Parable of the Talents for instance, or today’s reading. The basic message is that God is enough and that in God we find our sufficiency, and that as we step up to the plate and live out our calling we find that bizarrely we always seem to have enough. The miracle of the gospel is that we don’t have to wait for worldly goods to achieve heavenly results. God and God alone is enough and God has this amazing ability to take what we have, bless it and multiply it. God’s arithmetic is markedly better than ours.
The tragedy of the human condition is that we never seem to want to learn this story. The Rich Young Ruler wasn’t prepared to accept that the Jesus to who he had been so attracted that he ‘ran up and knelt before him,’ was enough and that Jesus, not money and status, is the most precious good.
As an aside it was the gospel story that we have heard today that propelled me towards ordination; every time I heard this story I experienced God asking ‘what’s it to be Andrew me or worldly success?’ Maybe that’s the very question God is asking some of you? If this is the case let me say just one thing; please listen to that question and understand one thing: if you wait until the time is mysteriously right you will be waiting forever. If God is calling you to do something or to enter into a new way of life please just say ‘yes.’
As a people, as well as individuals, we are called to be generous and good, we are also called on to seek justice for the poor and the marginalised. Generosity, goodness and the pursuit of justice, at least according to the prophet Amos, are the very stuff of holiness.
Amos says that we are to ‘hate evil and love good and establish justice in the gate,’ he also says that the needy are never to be marginalised or ‘pushed aside.’ The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews reminds us that ‘the word of God is alive and active.’ The prophecy of Amos and the story of the Rich Young Ruler must be for us real, living and contemporary stories; stories that invite us to reflect on the orientation of our own hearts and to follow the path of true holiness, whatever the perceived cost.
Throughout Christian history there have been many stories of men, women and communities that have stepped out in faith, throwing off all false notions of wordily security. The paradox is that these men, women and communities have been the real game changers. I am thinking of Mother Theresa, Chiara Lubich, our very own St. Laurence, and Francis of Assisi for instance. As a church, and as individuals, we need to follow their example; we need to stop worrying and understand that God will be the great provider as we seek to love good and establish justice for the poor, the marginalised and the needy.
Next Sunday, our harvest festival, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to do some real good. The collection is going to Water Aid and the produce to the Milton Keynes Foodbank. Let’s dig deep, deeper than normal, and make sure that, in the words of the Amos, we ‘seek good,’ and ‘establish justice.’ Let’s be game changers.
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