Bible Sunday - The clock with no hands
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
26 October 2014, 10:30 (Bible Sunday)Once again the clocks have changed to take us back into Greenwich Meantime.
On this Bible Sunday you will see a clock on the cover of your service book, a clock ...but with no hands. And this is deliberate.
The Bible is a challenge and an invitation which requires us to change, to allow ourselves to see what God wants us to be.
The Bible is unique; a collection of books like no other.
And therein lies the problem, we naturally read it and categorise it like all other literature which strips it of its meaning and renders us immune to its transforming power.
In this land, fewer and fewer people know anything of the Bible and many others dismiss it as myth or pointless.
So back to my clock with no hands: we can measure time but have no power over it.
We are mortals and prisoners of this dimension into which we are born and in which we will die.
The Bible tells us more.
There is so much beyond the limits of our faculties and powers and by God’s revelation in history, story, poetry and politics our deliverance from time is made known.
In the Bible, the hands fall off the clock and we enter the dimension of God’s kingdom and rule.
The Bible is a drama into which we are catapulted and which is still being written and played out in the present moment.
Here is no museum piece of wise sayings, fanciful visions, doubtful history and superstitious ignorance outdated by human discovery and scientific innovation.
The Bible calls us into the reality of love, justice, morality and fulfilment; here is the invitation to find the fulfilment that lies beyond self in the eternal family of God.
We are living in a world where the sureties and certainties of our societies can change in a moment.
This past week, with the terrorist attack in Ottawa, Canadians were shocked that what is considered by many to be one of the safest places on earth was assailed by a hail of bullets in its parliament building.
At the same time, the Ebola virus knows no boundaries and Islamist fundamentalists show no mercy or true reverence for the living God who they call Allah.
Throughout the pages of the Bible human life is afflicted by terror, war and disease just as today, and it is in these events that God’s meaning and purposes are revealed.
Compassion and love, truth and faithfulness are the hallmarks and signs of God and are to be built into human life through peace and justice.
Fundamentalism denies the rule and sovereignty of God by presuming and usurping his unique judgement.
The Bible reflects on this: when God’s people prove faithless, then they will sense the distance of God which at times feels like abandonment.
In history and poetry, in law and in vision, in story and in politics, God reveals his presence and the transformative and redemptive power of love.
If we don’t read and submit to the Bible we cannot see nor can we be changed as people and society.
In our reading from Nehemiah, the Jews have returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon in the 6th Century B.C.
and the people gather to hear the book of the law of Moses read aloud with interpretation.
And their response is both tears for their failings and joy for hearing the will of God once again in the Mosaic law.
Five hundred years later, Jesus speaks to his disciples of the dissolution of the material and temporal world yet his words, though easily overlooked or dismissed, will never pass away.
It is in Jesus that human experience is uniquely re-interpreted by the relationship between each hearer and the Christ — as we are caught up in the reality and the mystery of a body that is crucified, raised and glorified.
The judgement of God may lie at the end of time but the power of redemption is in the present moment by the grace of Jesus and by the power of the eternal Spirit.
Here is no theory or page-bound dogma; in human flesh and human relationships eternity transforms all human limitations and the inevitable power of the clock.
So it is not sufficient to teach our children only to tell the time and to make money and security for our own pleasure and wellbeing.
We are the people of the Bible and we must share its transforming truth and allow the clock with no hands to deliver us from our own self-importance and blindness.
This can only be done if we risk and live the authenticity of God’s revelation in scripture, tradition and reason and thereby allow the risen Christ to be the process and the purpose of our lives.
Yes, we have to be faithful to the past, use our minds to the full in the present and allow the Bible to show us the future.
We cannot merely repeat the past; rather we have to live the present and build the future in and through and with God.
Great issues confront humanity in every age and for us today, we not only have to live with irrational intolerance and the global repercussions of greed and inequity but also a failure to understand the critical centrality of faithful living in covenant and relationship with God and neighbour.
One of the key concepts of God’s life is expressed in family – where love and trust redefine blood ties, and relationships and faithfulness underwrite society.
As Christians here in Rochester and Strood we will do well to consider this when we vote in the by-election on 20th November.
These values have also been re-examined in the recent two week Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome about marriage, sexuality and family life.
The Christian Church’s track record on being faithful to God in Christ is tested by the openness of Jesus to those who were outside the boundaries of respectability and orthodoxy and by his challenge to those who were over scrupulous and hide bound by a self-serving righteousness.
The Bible does not condemn people: the Bible is the book of life.
It demands the greatest of all challenges to which Jesus alone was unerringly faithful: to uphold the standards of the God’s Kingdom whilst living out the compassion of the holy Gospel.
Pope Francis in his final address on the 18th October confronted the differences and difficulties that the bishops had expressed.
Personally I would be very worried and saddened if there were not these temptations and these animated discussions; ...dear brothers and sisters now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront.
Yes, the story of the Bible, the story of human salvation is still being written today.
May we live on its stage and in God’s light by reaffirming our adventure as God’s people, the people of the Book.
And so to end, some deep and beautiful lines written by George Herbert, holy and humble priest and poet:
Oh Book ! infinite sweetnesse ! let my heart
Suck ev’ry letter, and a hony gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To cleare the breast, to mollifie all pain.
Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, and parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.
Starres are poore books, and oftentimes do misse
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.
from The Holy Scriptures ~ George Herbert