The Bible is alive, it speaks to me
Preacher: Catherine Staziker, Cathedral Reader (2006-2010)
23 October 2005, 10:30 (Bible Sunday)
Nehemiah 8:14a, 812; Colossians 3:1217; Matthew 24:3035
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me,
it has hands, it lays hold on me. So said Martin Luther.
For me this morning, there is a striking similarity between what I have just done,
in my role as deacon,
and what Ezra did in Jerusalem almost 2500 years ago.
“Ezra brought the book of the Law before the assembly, both men and women,
and all who could hear with understanding
and the ears of the people were attentive to the book of the law”.
I have just carried the Gospel Book into your midst
and proclaimed it on our behalf;
linking the text with the life of the world.
I suspect, however, that that’s where the similarity between Ezra and me probably ends!
This connection though, like many others in our liturgy, takes us back beyond the roots of our own Church,
to that of our Jewish ancestors.
What an amazing sense of continuity,
spanning all those generations.
Very little is known about the personal life of the scribe and priest Ezra.
But what is known is that he dedicated his life to the study of Holy Scripture;
ordering them, interpreting them,
and teaching them to the Israelites.
He may indeed have been responsible
for collecting and editing the Old Testament.
He was, however, first and foremost a devoted teacher, steeped in the Law of Moses,
committed to sharing his knowledge, wisdom and personal experience with others.
He spent hours reading to the Israelites.
They, unlike us, did not have the luxury of
their personal copies of the Scriptures.
In any event, they probably couldn’t read!
However, because of this, the oral tradition flourished.
The words of the Law would have been very familiar to them, as would other Old Testament passages;
particularly books such as the Psalms,
which would have been used in regular worship.
They were steeped in the Scriptures, which they had truly assimilated,
and which had become part of their being.
I guess that over the years,
and over the last year in particular,
I have absorbed the Psalms
and their rhythm feels as though it’s part of me,
although, unlike the monks,
I have not yet learnt all 150 by heart!
I feel a strong affinity with “the Psalmist”,
as he shares his problems, just as they are, with God; expressing anger, resentfulness, jealousy, guilt and pain, as well as joy and thankfulness. By using the Psalms, we’re given permission
to shake our fist at God one moment
and to praise him the next.
It can be so liberating to say things just as they are,
rather than dressed up in pious language!
The Psalms are a particularly powerful example of Man’s response to the reality of his humanity,
his place in the world and his response to
and relationship with God.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Why have you forgotten me?
And by contrast
Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God.
I pick on the Psalms only as an example,
because I particularly identify with them.
You may well identify with other characters or books in the Bible.
The Bible obviously plays an integral part in OUR lives on Sundays,
but I wonder what part it plays in our daily lives and how we experience the living word at other times?
Are we committed to the growth and enrichment of
our love of God and of our neighbour,
and those relationships,
through regular reading and study?
I have been a Christian and a churchgoer
from being just a few months old
but only attended my first Bible study
(and not by choice!) just a few years ago,
when staying with a priest friend in Nebraska.
I felt very uncomfortable: terrified of looking stupid,
or being embarrassed by revealing my lack of knowledge, and terrified of being asked to contribute.
But you know what, it was a great turning point for me – it was really exciting, yes exciting and energising.
It was OK! In fact it was a wonderful experience!
Taking the text apart, putting it back together again,
asking questions and listening to suggested answers;
grappling and wrestling with it, and trying to relate it to me, and my relationship with God.
Scholars continue to interpret the same bits of the Bible over and over, and we can all read different things into the words;
the words speak to each of us in a unique way
each time we read them or each time we hear them,
depending on where we’re at in our lives. But that is the point!
It’s part of the richness.
The Bible is a living book
which facilitates a real relationship with God, Jesus Christ,
our neighbour and the world in which we live.
The writer Richard Foster says
When we come to the Bible, we come to be changed, not to amass information.
The Bible is actually full of historical inaccuracies, contradictions, repetitions and collations;
there are human finger prints all over the place.
But the words are nonetheless inspired by God.
It is a fascinating mixture of both the secular and the sacred.
What the Bible is not,
is a collection of stories about perfect men and women who loved and served God.
It is rather an encyclopaedia of human life on earth.
It is real.
It is full of ordinary and not so ordinary people,
with characteristics we love, hate, admire and envy; those we feel empathy with and those we identify with; those who make us feel uncomfortable and uneasy.
It explores their relationship with God
and their response to Him.
It is our history too.
As we hear their stories we clearly recognise ourselves and others trusting Abraham, treacherous Judas, persistent Paul.
The Bible is full of the life of the world, life’s rich tapestry, full of knots!;
it’s messy, imperfect.
What we need to do is to immerse ourselves fully and enter into the drama, so that we experience it first hand and live it.
The lectionary ensures we don’t just get our favourite, comfortable bits of scripture,
the bits which resonate with us,
but that we also read, and hear, the more challenging parts with which we need to wrestle.
Mark Twain said
Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand. But as for me, I always notice that the passages of Scripture which trouble me most, are those that I do understand.
The Bible keeps us rooted in our historical tradition
and provides authority and a pattern for living.
It is God’s living word and age only increases its power. recognise our own lives in its pages,
making a particular story our story,
then we are lifted out of our own time and space
and set free.
We are liberated by the knowledge that our lives
fit into a much larger puzzle.
It gives us a sense of being part of a much larger community, provides us with a history and a future,
and shows us God.
Our lives are an extension of the Bible
as God continues to work through us.
Today, Bible Sunday, “Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” that we might be transformed in love and take the gospel into our daily lives and the world.
God alone can satisfy the urgings of our hearts for wholeness. St Augustine wrote:
You have made us for yourself, O God,
and our hearts will remain restless until they rest in you. Amen