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