Sunday, 27 February 2011

Epiphany 8 27 February 2011

There is no Word of God without power so that this place – the pulpit – and the book expounded here – this book – are about energising.

Four hundred years ago the translation of the Bible into the language of the people energised the church and I want to use this sermon to encourage us to study God’s Word today and to welcome it afresh.

I am mindful as I speak that we have some copies available of the equivalent of the King James Bible for the 21st century – the New Revised Standard Version – as well as our Lent book, Bishop Tom Wright’s commentary on St Matthew’s Gospel – and also a newly produced children’s Bible that can be ordered - so this sermon can have practical consequences in a resolve to get into the Bible and seek the empowering of the Holy Spirit with one tool or another.

Why is it so important we familiarise ourselves with the Bible?

Because the Bible speaks to those with open ears of God’s people, provision, promises and purpose.

In reading the Bible we find...God’s people

The Bible is the family history of the Christian church. It is our life story. We are to see it as part of our own story since Christians see themselves in the sacred history it provides. When, for example, in the story of Cain and Abel we read God’s words to Cain, ‘where is your brother?’ they are words that remind us that God’s family find God again and again through love of other people. When we read the story of the Exodus we see ourselves going through the Red Sea – the waters of baptism – fed by manna – the heavenly bread of the eucharist – destined for Canaan – a glorious homeland.

When we read and study Matthew’s Gospel as we shall do in Lent, we see a Sermon on a Mount from Jesus presented by Matthew as the new Moses since his Jewish readers knew it was Moses who first brought teaching down from Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments. When we read in the Acts about Pentecost we see a reversal of the Tower of Babel in Genesis so that people heard the same message in their different languages. The Holy Spirit who drives the Church forward from Pentecost is the same Lord working secretly throughout the biblical story of God’s people.

We read the Bible because it tells us who we are – God’s children made so by God’s provision.

This provision, the gift of Jesus, is a second motivator for bible reading so that Saint Jerome could say that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ no less.
The Bible reveals how God who created the world provided his Son, Jesus Christ to redeem it from sin through a new creation.

This is the year of Saint Matthew in the three year cycle of Sunday readings and we have a chance to dig deep into this Gospel during Lent with Bishop Tom Wright’s Lent book.

When we open a Bible Matthew is on its hinge, the hinge between the Old and New Testaments. The word Bible comes from the Greek τὰ βιβλία ta biblia "the books" whose contents and order vary between denominations. The Old Testament has 39 books of Hebrew Scripture, though some denominations including our own give authority to a series of Jewish books called the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books. The New Testament contains 27 books the first four of which form the Canonical gospels, first Matthew’s, recounting the life of Christ and central to our faith.

There is no Word of God without power because scripture points us to Jesus. Saint Tikhon, an 18th century Russian writer, says ‘whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him’.

This is why we read the Bible – to seek and find God’s provision. The Bible is an instrument of divine revelation, the word of God communicated in human words. As such it has unique authority and inspiration and cannot mislead anyone as it presents the salvation truth of God in Christ.

This is what the Bible says about itself through what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.15-17 where he reminds his assistant bishop, and through him, all of us, how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In the Bible we meet God’s people, see God’s provision for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Thirdly we find God’s promises.

The Bible contains what Saint Peter describes in 2 Peter 1.4 as God’s precious and very great promises for us to ‘read, mark and inwardly digest’.

In his book on Matthew Lent for everyone Tom Wright comments on Our Lord’s temptations and how Jesus himself holds fast to God’s promises as he resists them.
Once more, we are not simply spectators in this extraordinary drama. We too, are tempted to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reason. Part of the discipline of Lent is about learning to recognize the flickering impulses, the whispering voices, for what they are, and to have the scripture fuelled courage to resist.

I like that phrase ‘scripture fuelled courage’. When I am tempted by anxiety it is the fuelling of my spiritual life by the biblical promises of God that defend me, such as those in today’s Gospel or these other texts. ‘My peace I give unto you’ (John 14.27) ‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you’ (Isaiah 26.3) ‘The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind’ (Philippians 4.7). The point is that unless I knew these verses, and had memorised them, the Bible would have no power to help me. I would lack what Tom Wright calls ‘scripture fuelled courage’.

There is no word of God without power! The bible itself points to the power of Holy Spirit who inspired it and will inspire its readers. In particular the discipline of Bible study helps us get into ourselves some of the key promises of God by the inspiration they give to heart and mind, an inspiration that evidences itself in our lives.

Fourthly if the Bible brings us the family history of God’s people, God’s provision for us in Jesus and his promises to fuel our courage it brings us hope for the future - God’s purpose.

The Bible contains God’s plan. It sets human history in the perspective revealed by Christ’s resurrection, his gathering of God’s people, building of the kingdom and promised return. In his commentary on Matthew Chapter 13 Bishop Tom speaks on the importance of the bible in opening up God’s future to us and of the kingdom of God in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is looking for people to sign on, people who are prepared to take his kingdom-movement forward in their own day. In telling us the old, old story the Bible invites us to sign up to having faith for the future. As its last book affirms ‘the kingdom of the world (is to become) the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11:15)

This is what we sign up to at every eucharist since this sacred meal anticipates the heavenly banquet. So too our pondering of the Word of God energises our thinking and acting. It builds our conviction that if this is the day the Lord has made so is tomorrow.

The Bible – a way into being God’s people, knowing his provision, his promises and his purpose for our lives and that of the cosmos. The Lord deepen our hunger for God’s Word as he makes us hungry now for the table of the eucharist.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Epiphany 5 6 February 2011

'Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven' (Matthew 5:16)

I could sit down now really couldn't I?

There's the message to take home this morning - Matthew 5 verse 16!

The historian and satirist Thomas Carlyle used to complain at long sermons. Over Sunday lunch he suggested to his mother that the preacher that morning would have done better to say: 'Good people you know what to do just go and do it'.

But Thomas, his mother replied, gently. 'Wouldn't you tell them how!'

I won't sit down yet.

How do we let our light shine to God's glory?

We have to get lit up and we have to shine in the right place.

First then: How do we get lit up as Christians?

Jesus kindles his light in our hearts by scripture, eucharist and prayer.

'Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light to my path' writes the Psalmist (Psalm 119.105). Tell me - can you get close to Jesus, can his light be lit in your heart, without ever opening a Bible? Oh yes, you need a guide, you need to select, but may it be for us, day by day, what those first disciples said after meeting Jesus on the Emmaus Road: 'Did not our hearts burn as he opened the Scriptures to us?' (Luke 24.32). This will also be the best fruit if this year's 400th anniversary celebration of the first authorised English Bible. If you want to act on this morning's sermon pick up and take away for £5 a modern language bible from the back of church and/or sign up for the Lent Course next month which is on the Bible.

Jesus kindles his light in our hearts by scripture -and the eucharist. Show me a better way of getting more of Jesus into your life than the regular receiving of his body and blood? With scripture comes the eucharist because words are not enough for Jesus. His love is shown sacramentally because his love, like ours, needs practical expression. 'This is my body which is given for blood which is shed for you’.

How do we get lit up as Christians?

The bible, the eucharist - and prayer. Day by day we seek irradiation as we come before the Lord. It’s a discipline that some, like the preacher, neglect at times. You sense when your prayer discipline fails that you're not glowing and warm – and you remember you've not been in front of the fire!

Some of us heard Leslie Whiting speak two weeks ago about her spiritual healing. Her story is a story that moves us from the first to the second half of the question.

How do we let our light shine to God's glory?

A year ago during the - or should I say during a freeze up Leslie was recipient of the helpfulness of John and Caroline Rich who took her for vitally needed chemotherapy. This village scheme is in itself a 'good work that gives glory to God'. In the case of the lift given to Leslie it served a process in which she invited first these helpers, and then Jesus himself to come alongside her.
As she put it the other week, though the cancer was now in her skull she didn’t presume to ask for healing but rather for the Lord to be with her on her forward journey. Leslie received the sacrament of anointing. Afterwards she was led by God to identify a surgeon who was making trials with a cyber knife that could destroy the tumours in her skull without damaging her brain. She had successful treatment and has gone on to bring light to others in need through the campaign she’s spearheading for the cyber knife facility to be made more available. Do sign her petition detailed in this week's news sheet.

'Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.'

To welcome this light we seek Jesus through scripture, eucharist and prayer.

To let our light shine we need discernment as to the dark places Jesus has for us, where he wants us to be placed.

Someone said to me recently, when I tried to console them after an accident, that they were confident that the circumstances they had been placed in would be a receipe for their spiritual benefit. What faith, I thought! Just as I thought when I heard Lesley's testimony, which seemed so unselfish. Not all cancer sufferers are so - there but for the grace of God go I...

How do we best shine? With an openness to Jesus and a readiness to be used by him wherever he wants us day by day. May this Eucharist be our pledge to offer our souls and bodies to be where he wants us this week and nowhere else.

‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, like a little candle buring in the night. In this world of darkness: so we must shine, you in your small corner and I in mine!’

'Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven'

You are invited to sign Leslie's petition at