As we move forward with the Diocesan Year of the Bible it’s with the reminder of how God’s word has the power to transform our lives, communities and nation. Unless we’re being strengthened, challenged and encouraged by scripture we can’t be salt and light in our culture. When we fail to let the bible speak into our everyday life we miss out on tremendous blessings.
Christian faith is personal knowledge of God gained directly by revelation and mediated by the community of faith which is the Church. Theology is the interpreting of faith one to another in the church as in this activity of preaching and listening. Belief is an expression of faith and a work of theology and the Bible is the most authoritative expression of faith because it is directly inspired by God. What the Church teaches, her dogmas and creeds and the writings of the Church’s Fathers and Mothers has authority second to Scripture.
Yes we need guidance in reading the Bible. Yes there are passages that are obscure and unpleasant. Yes reading the Bible requires discipline. But – well I hope what I share from my own take on today’s readings makes it that bit more clear - failing to let the Bible speak into your life is failing to fuel your faith and a very great missing out.
We find in the Bible good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how we do that.
There are a few pew Bibles out if you want to put today’s readings in context. Or you may have Scripture on your phone. Let’s start in the middle with that second reading from the Acts of the Apostles which you can find as the fifth book of the New Testament straight after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
If you find your way to Acts 10:36-41 we can follow through one of the earliest proclamations of Christian faith from the lips of St Peter, also, of course in the eucharist booklet on p2. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
In the New Testament we read repeatedly of the impact of Jesus, God’s Child sent to make us God’s children. How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good. He had to do this because, and it’s true to this day, so many are oppressed. God saw that oppression and came to lift it. How did he do it? We read on in v39 They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Here in a sentence of the Bible we have the whole of Christianity, the kindling of faith. When Jesus Christ suffered and died God was in him. There was divine judo at play. Death flew at God and ended up upside down and out at the count.
Today’s second reading concludes in v43 with the consequent good news. Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. When we read the Bible we’re reminded of its good news that all can start again through God’s loving forgiveness. There’s a new start available to all without any partiality, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done, if they will but repent, that is turn from self-interest and bow down before the living and true God manifest in Jesus Christ.
This good news is dynamite, blowing out any exclusivity or pride in religion, affirming God as God of everyone who’ll admit their need of him.
I take out of this second bible passage today what I take out of so many bible passages the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ I need reminding of day by day so my faith gets the regular tonic it needs in the counter-faith and post-truth world I live in.
We find then, in the Bible, good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and, secondly, a portrait to live up to and guidance on how to do that.
Let’s look at today’s other two readings for that portrait. The readings are linked to today’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism at the end of Christmastide and refer to the historical base of Christian faith. The Gospel from Matthew 3 – look it up right at the start of the New Testament in your Bible - tells of the event of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and how the Spirit came upon him. This was in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah Chapter 42, our first reading, situated well into the Old Testament among the prophetic writings, that starts with a sentence that illuminates the event of Christ’s baptism. Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
In the Matthew passage we read how Christ was baptised reluctantly from his own point of view – he had the Spirit from his conception in the womb of Our Lady - but readily as an example to all he calls to put personal faith in him within the community of faith. The portrait in Matthew 3v17 is of you and I as much as of Jesus. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
When we read the Bible with faith, that is, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that goes beyond reason, we see how God sees us and we gain grace or help to accommodate our lives to him.
To faith those words of the Bible prophesied in Isaiah 42 and spoken of Jesus in Matthew 3 are liberating truth about ourselves. You may feel done down by life, overcome by temptation, weakness and inadequacy but God loves you nevertheless.
Pick up your bible and read all over it words like these that are for you. This is my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. The Spirit is waiting to confirm to us the same words that were spoken to Our Lord at his baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. That’s one way the Bible can work – as a love letter from God! There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and it confers the Holy Spirit. God’s Child Jesus was given to anoint us with his Spirit and make us God’s children. A gift though is given that needs to be received. For Christians to seek the renewing power of the Spirit – as we do receiving Holy Communion every Sunday - is a matter of seeking to be more fully what we are in Christ and nothing more or less than that!
We want to be a people that live knowing their need of grace! Christians share in the anointing of the Anointed One – Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One so he can share his anointing with us and speak into our hearts those words of adoption: You are my son, my daughter; with you I am well pleased.
The good news of Christmas and Christianity is the Son of God became the Son of Man so children of men could become children of God. This Diocesan Year of the Bible is a fresh invitation to ponder that good news, what it means for God to give us his Son and what it means for us to enter more fully what we’re meant to be as God’s beloved daughters and sons. I wish you every blessing as you discover afresh your heritage and enter into it afresh through Scripture and the Eucharist.