November 17, 2019

2019 Nov17_FrIan

 

Bible Sunday? Proper 28- Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

The Collect for today was the basis for a tradition called “Bible Sunday”. The Collect was originally for the Second Sunday of Advent until the 1979 Prayer Book when it was moved to the second-to-last Sunday After Pentecost. It calls upon us to


…hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture,
that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…

 

The Collect is one of the originals in Anglicanism, written by Thomas Cranmer, himself, for the first Book of Common Prayer. The readings set for today, however, do not reflect the tradition of Bible Sunday, and references to Bible Sunday throughout The Episcopal Church are scarce.


Jesus describing the Apocalypse in today’s Gospel reading is a good opportunity to reflect on the role of the Bible in the life of the Church and in our own daily lives. Why? Because the passage challenges our image of Jesus as a gentle pacifist (He wasn’t!), and it more than suggests that we must remain unwavering in our faith in Him as our Savior and endure incomprehensible hardship. Why would we want to do that, and why would a benevolent God put us through that? <shrug> That’s what it says in the Bible, so that’s what we’ve got!

 

That Church as an institution, and I’m  
sure as individuals, we believe that the Bible  
holds great authority,
whether we’re comfortable with
what we read or not.

 

We believe that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, and that God speaks to us through it. We interpret the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit and through tradition and reason – that 3-legged stool of Anglicanism: Scripture, Tradition and Reason.


This congregation is pretty smart. Many of you have been studying the Bible outside of Sunday worship for many years. You know that there are a wide variety of approaches to reading the Bible as a devotional practice, and a wide variety of approaches exists among you. Part of what makes the content of the Bible sacred is not just that it’s God’s inspired Word, but that we return to it over and over again to find inspiration, meaning, and guidance in our lives and the world around us, and we look to our Scriptures for hope in what we believe in.


For a particular text to be considered sacred, in any faith, it has to be meaningful, relevant, consistent and profound. For thousands of years, people have been turning to our particular scriptures looking for it to be meaningful, relevant, consistent and profound and finding it to be just that. People whose lives couldn’t be any more different than your own, who lived hundreds of years before you or after you, whose way of life you could not begin to comprehend, also found these scriptures to be meaningful, relevant, consistent and profound.


Let’s look at today’s readings:

 

  • Malachi – Destruction of an entire nation of faithless people, God’s own people, whom He loves and simply wants them to be faithful in return.
  • Psalm 98 – A praise to God for His salvation, a call on the people to give their thanks and praise.
  • Thessalonians – A warning against lazy faith.
  • Luke – A warning of the destruction because of faithless people, and an assurance for those who remain steadfast in their faith.

 

The developers of the Lectionary are good at making these thematic connections between the 3 readings and the Psalm each week. The thematic connection is much stronger during the other liturgical seasons, particularly in Advent, which is only 2 weeks away. On each of those 4 Sundays, the reading from Isaiah will foreshadow the reading from Matthew’s Gospel. That makes it pretty easy to see how Jesus is the fulfillment of Law and the Prophets.


How the Lectionary is structured, in my mind, points toward a view of the Bible which a few scholars refer to as “canonical criticism”. It’s a way of reading the Bible as a unified work in order to better understand how it is meaningful, relevant, consistent and profound to a living faith. I first read about the canonical approach in one of the books for my Old Testament studies in seminary. To know that there is a way of approaching scripture that focuses on the relevance for us today regardless of the context in which it was written has been helpful in my own study of the Bible. As a supplement to historical and contextual criticism, it allows the Bible to remain a living document for my faith to live and breathe outside of the specific time, place and people among whom it was written.


Many believe that
the Bible is irrelevant.

 

If Jesus was speaking to a small group of Jewish laborers in a small region of the Middle East 2,000 years ago, what relevance does that have to do with me, even if what was prophesied by Malachi was also prophesied by Jesus? Additionally, if one does not believe that there is a God or have a faith, then the Bible becomes irrelevant. [I find it somewhat puzzling and amusing that someone of no faith can claim that the Bible is irrelevant, and then express how Classical texts such as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Plato’s Republic are sources of inspiration still today.]


Periodically, the University of Chester would engage in a discussion on whether or not its Mission, Vision and Core Values should be explicitly based on Christian principles. It was founded in 1839 by the Church of England as a teacher training college, and, along with 14 other institutions of higher education, retains its Christian foundation, requiring a full-time Chaplain, that certain staff be regular communicants of the Church of England, including the Vice-Chancellor, and giving a third of the seats on the Board of Governors to Church members, including the Bishop of Chester as ex officio.


At one particular meeting, a long-serving academic attempted to control the narrative at our table by stating that the University was effectively secular in all other aspects of its operations, and Christianity and the Bible were irrelevant. “Oh,” I said, “The 10 Commandments are irrelevant? To not lie, to not kill, to not steal?” In a mansplaining kind of way, he replied, “The essential morals put forth in the Bible, like the 10 Commandments, have been incorporated into the modern legal framework, rendering any reference to the Bible irrelevant.”


His sentiment toward the University’s Christian foundation was shared by many staff across the institution. Yet, the University’s Mission, Vision and Core Values remain explicitly Christian from the very first sentence.

 

Why? Because the Bible
is still relevant.

 

The irrelevancy of the Bible is not a sentiment that was confined to my experience in my last job; I hear it today, in this town, in this State, in the American media. Some acknowledgement of the canonical view of the Bible, or some unaware utilization of the method might be why so many are able to help keep the Bible a living sacred text in an increasingly secularized society. For those who claim that the Bible is irrelevant for the modern age, I often think, and sometimes ask, “Have you read it?”


So, what is that view which Canonical Criticism reveals? What is that overarching story? What are Malachi and Jesus telling us that we can’t get from reading these few sentences just by themselves? For me, the message of the Bible in its entirety is about God’s LOVE, plain and simple. Everything written in it is deeply rooted in a Creator God who so desperately wants to have a relationship with Humanity and Creation, yet Humanity repeatedly fails to keep our end of the bargain, our share in the Covenant. The Love of God surpasses all understanding, and God inspired the Bible’s human authors to share that love as best they could.


The stories in the Bible are from a human perspective and about the human experience of God and God’s actions; that is all they can be. If the Bible were from the Divine perspective and about the Divine experience, it would not be meaningful, relevant, consistent or profound, because, as humans, we would not be able to comprehend the Divine narrative. That is true of the Divine Love, as well, and so we often refer to the love of God that surpasses all understanding. God’s love expressed through the human perspective and experience manifests itself as Creation, a Chosen People, Salvation and Redemption, the brutal war for the Land of Milk and Honey, the punishment of Exile, the Temple, The Law and finally, Jesus Christ, God-as-Man. All of these were ways of God-inspired humans relaying God’s love to the people of their time, place and circumstances. As we inherit them in our own time, place and circumstances, knowing that they are about God’s love helps us understand that these sacred texts are indeed meaningful, relevant, consistent and profound.


So, in this prayer that is around 470 years old, the Collect of the Day charges us to hear, and to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Bible. We believe the Bible to contain all things necessary for salvation. Yet, we hear today’s stories of destruction and annihilation of the unfaithful. But, we are reminded that we are to embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life – in other words “salvation”.


So, study your Bible. Make sure you understand the historical context in which each verse of it was written. Ask questions; struggle; imagine yourself as a character in a story; engage in Lectio Divina. Approaching this sacred text from every angle will keep it alive for you; it has withstood so much more than any one of us could ever challenge it with. And if you get nothing else from it, and you get nothing else from today’s readings, allow the Collect of the Day to remind you of the way in which God has finally spoken to us about that LOVE that is beyond all understanding, and that we are to embrace that LOVE by:


“…ever holding fast to the blessed
hope of everlasting life, which
God has given us in our Savior
Jesus Christ

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