This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him. Matthew 17.5
There is no Word of God without power so that this place – the pulpit – and the book expounded here – this book (show) – are about energising. I want to use this sermon built from the Gospel’s invitation to listen to God to encourage us to read our Bibles in Lent.
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 we see a Sermon on a Mount from Jesus presented as the new Moses since Matthew’s Jewish readers knew it was Moses who first brought teaching down from Mount Sinai in 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 C hrist to redeem it from sin through a new creation. This is the year of Saint Matthew in the three year cycle of Sunday readings. 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. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
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. It outlines to us 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.