Thursday, February 14, 2008

Encountering Scriptures - A Lenten Meditation


My Lenten Midweek sermon and reflection questions for February 13, 2008.

Encountering Scriptures

It is my privilege to start off this journey through Lent, following Jesus, with you.

One of the great truths about a journey is that the destination isn’t necessarily fixed, so we can spend our time enjoying the landscape around us.

And though it is true that this lenten journey will bring us to Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter Day and beyond, these memorials too will mean different things for each of us.

So, come along as we take the time to meditate on ways by which we journey with Christ, six ways through which we follow Jesus: through Scriptures, through Prayer, through Worship, and so on.

Tonight I have the responsibility of guiding us through a reflection on the role of the Scriptures on our journey.

There are a million-and-one ways I could start this reflection, but I have chosen what I hope will be the simplest and most tangible for us.

I would invite you to reflect upon what happens between the words, “A Reading from the book of ...” and the words, “This is the Word of the Lord” - an event we most commonly refer to as “the Proclamation of the Word.”

To help us understand this event of proclamation, I chose the two pieces of Scripture we have already heard tonight: two stories about proclamation events.

The first reading, from the prophet Nehemiah, is the recollection of the first reading of the Scriptures at the newly rebuilt temple in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian exile.

The story is a simple one. In the course of rebuilding the temple, scrolls of what we now refer to as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible are discovered and at an appointed time they are read to the people in a kind of re-consecration ceremony.

There are two things happening in this event of proclamation:

First, the people of God, returning from generations in exile, find their identity in the reading of Scriptures.

This is nothing new to us as Newfoundlanders. Every gathering is an opportunity to relive and recount our shared stories and in doing so claim our identity.

In the event of Scripture being proclaimed, we do the same thing. We share our story, we listen to our story and we allow this story to form a part of who we are.

The second thing which happens is that the people engage with the Scripture, or as Nehemiah puts it, they read it with interpretation.

This is of vital importance to the event of Proclamation.

The bible in and of itself is simply words on a page. Black marks on white paper.

The Word of God, on the other hand, is a living event. The word of God happens when the word is spoken, heard, interpreted and applied.

There is no proclamation without interpretation, without seriously engaging the Scriptures and working out its meaning for us here and now.

“A reading from the prophet Nehemiah” only becomes “the Word of the Lord” when we share it together as community and reflect on what it means to us and what it calls out of us.

The second story, Luke’s Road to Emmaus, tells a similar story, but with an even greater challenge to see the event of proclamation as more than simply reading a text.

Luke’s account of the Emmaus road challenges us to see God’s creative and often surprising activities working in proclamation events. God often works OUTSIDE what we consider to be ‘normal’ and ‘proper’ channels.

On the road to Emmaus, we bear witness to an event of sharing stories, but, in this case, the stories outside of the Scriptures.
- Remember, there are no gospels, no letters, no revelation on the road to Emmaus. Though the stories shared on the road are the seeds of our gospel narratives, they aren’t Scripture yet.
- It took a great leap of faith for the early Christians to call the stories of Jesus and letters of the early Church, “Scripture.”
On a symbolic level these stories are also being told outside of Jerusalem.
- Luke’s gospel is filled with suggestions that God’s will and activity will not be contained within one city or one people.
The one truth the disciples are trying to come to terms with, that Jesus is indeed risen had been reported by a group whose witness lay outside of the sources that could be trusted - women!
- “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.”

- Legally, two men could provide witness in a court of law, but a the word of a thousand women was useless. I wonder if the fact that it is women who first bear witness to the resurrection is not the greatest evidence of God’s sense of humour.
Even Jesus’ interpretation of the Hebrew Bible lays outside the normal way of describing the Messiah.
- Remember, even though we as Christians easily read Jesus into the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people today also easily dismiss this interpretation.
- Jesus’ interpretation would have been innovative at the least for a people who expected a Messiah who would overthrow Rome and set up Israel as the greatest nation of the world.

So what does all this mean?

We should never draw permanent lines around what we hold to be true, even when encountering the Scriptures.

God can and does act in surprising and unexpected ways - this is a part of the testimony of our Scriptures.

We need to encounter our Scriptures with a spirit of generosity and a grain of salt, especially when we hear the interpretations of others. This is a vital grace in our modern church.

A closed mind and heart can never encounter the Word of the Lord, but only the words of the bible.

So, as we continue to observe a holy Lent, I invite each of you to open your minds and hearts to the Holy Scriptures:

As the traditional Collect puts it, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”

Talk about the Scriptures with others.

Share your interpretations.

Share your stories.

But most of all, expect the unexpected.

Jesus often surprises us on the journey.

Let us pray...

Eternal God,
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,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reflection Questions: 1. Whose interpretations of Scriptures do you like the most? Whose do you like the least? Why? 2. To what bible-story or passage of Scripture do you find yourself most often drawn? What does this reading reveal about God? What does it reveal about yourself? 3. If you were offered the privilege of adding a personal story to the Bible of your own journey with Jesus, what would it be? What would it reveal about God? What would it reveal about you?

...Every Blessing.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Temptation and Choice


My sermon text for February 10, 2008.


Reference Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Verse 1: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

“Former president Ronald Reagan once had an aunt who took him to a cobbler for a pair of new shoes. The cobbler asked young Reagan, “Do you want square toes or round toes?” Unable to decide, Reagan didn’t answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days.

“Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of toes he wanted on his shoes. Reagan still couldn’t decide, so the shoemaker replied, “Well, come by in a couple of days. Your shoes will be ready.” When the future president did so, he found one square-toed and one round-toed shoe! “This will teach you to never let people make decisions for you,” the cobbler said to his indecisive customer.

“I learned right then and there,” Reagan said later, “if you don’t make your own decisions, someone else will.”

I’d want to add: If you let others make your choices for you, you’ll probably just look like a fool.

During the season of Lent we have the opportunity to choose a discipline to focus on. If you haven’t chosen one yet, have no fear, there is still time....but don’t be a fool and neglect to choose.

In choosing your Lenten discipline, what you will give up or what you will take up, I want you to ask yourself...

Who is your Lent for? (I know, grammatically incorrect)

It is for yourself?
- Will the goal of your Lent be to lose a few pounds or give up a bad habit, even if just for a few months? Seems trivial.

Is your Lent meant to prove your piety and devotion towards God?
- Will God give out a reward to the most pious person or the person who gives up the most? Seems silly

I am of the opinion that Lenten devotions are meant to be for others.

God can use this season of self-denial as a means to teach us to focus more on the needs of others than our own needs.

Matthew’s account of the temptation clearly states that Jesus was lead, by the Spirit, into the wilderness in order to be tempted. God leads Jesus to be tempted.

God, as Spirit, leads Jesus through 40 days of disciplined self-denial in order to face the spirit of temptation - Satan.

This is a very Jewish portrayal of Satan. As in the book of Job, Satan is a servant of God, with only the power to tempt and only able to tempt those God chooses. In many ways, this image of Satan is more like a teacher who tests our faithfulness than then leader of the powers of darkness.

But God doesn’t lead Jesus to encounter Satan immediately after his baptism, but only after 40 days in the wilderness.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness, in fasting and in prayer, is time to learn the vital lesson that the only way to live is to become reliant on God’s grace.

But this is only an internal discipline. A Jesus who knows how to live totally on the grace of God could just remain in the wilderness or retire to the mountaintop. But that’s not the Jesus we know.

This is where Satan enters, not so much to challenge what Jesus will do next, but to question what his motives will be....if he is REALLY the Messiah.

The first temptation is to turn stones into bread. This is the most obvious of temptations. After 40 days in the wilderness, even Matthew feels the need to record that Jesus was famished. So why not? Jesus may profess that one should live by the word of the Lord, but that doesn’t stop him from eating later. There is no sin in making bread. But the heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use power to serve his own needs.

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later Jesus does use his power to create bread, to meet the needs of the multitudes who have gathered around him.

Later Jesus gives bread to his followers as a symbol to remember his sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The second temptation is to clearly reveal that he is the Messiah by having angels catch him as he plummets from the highest tower of the temple in Jerusalem. And why not? That way there will be no confusion as to Jesus’ true identity. The heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use supernatural powers to accomplish his mission, and in doing so prove that he is the Messiah.

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later angels do come to Jesus’ aid, after he faithfully denies the temptations which lay before him.

Later angels to come to release him from the tomb after his sacrifice on the cross.

The third temptation is to take the title Lord of the Nations by using the powers of this world: lies, greed and force. The heart of this temptation is for Jesus to use power to force the kingdom of heaven onto the world. Why die on a cross? Why not crucify people until the rest fall in line?

He says ‘no’ to the temptation...but...

Later Jesus is given the title, “King of the Jews” by Pontius Pilate the highest authority in the land as he hangs on the cross, the only throne on which he will ever sit.

He says ‘no’ three times to the temptation to use power to meet his own needs in order that he might later say ‘yes’ to our needs.

Jesus’ temptations are ultimately to choose between what is easier for him and what is better for us.

As we make our Lenten journey this year I encourage each one of you to ask:

Is my Lenten discipline serving God by making life better for others?

How is my Lenten discipline going to make a difference in the lives of others?

Who is my Lent for?


As I prepared the above text for preaching, I did so without having chosen my own discipline; but now I have: this blog will be my discipline. I will carefully and prayerfully take time each day to work at it through reading, research, reflection and writing (my four R’s!). I pray it will be a blessing to you.

Every Blessing.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Still Here


I guess some of you have been wondering where I’ve gone.

I’m still here. Just a bit spent after two very hectic months (personally and professionally).

My last blog concerning the church’s response to the ‘split’ in the Anglican church of Canada inspired two very interesting responses. I promise I will respond to them in due time. Watch for it! BTW, has anyone else noticed how very un-newsworthy this ‘event’ has become since no exodus of dissatisfied Anglicans has come to pass? Like I said before, this is a splinter.

This past Thursday evening, nine of us started a 10-session course entitled, “Experiencing the Bible Again for the First Time,” based on the Marcus Borg book, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally.” I recommend the book to anyone who struggles with how to apply Scripture to our modern world-view. It’s not like some of the over-simplistic “pablum” that calls itself “biblical studies,” but challenges us to really think...something I fear most people would rather have others do for them.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest...

At its heart the whole course is about building a community who will take some steps (some large and some small) to meet the bible in a fresh way. It is done in an attitude of worship and with the Bible (not Borg) as the central text. As one participant put it, we are in for a fun time ahead!

Every Blessing!