Bible Sunday/ Last Sunday after Trinity

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Sermon: 

I recently walked the Coast to Coast, from St Bees in Cumbria, across the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay on the other side of the country.  Planning the route one day, I saw that the path passed a pub at lunchtime  -  I checked online that the pub was open, it was, so I didn’t need to stock up on provisions at the beginning of the day, and off I went.  When I got to the pub, it was all shut up, it had been for weeks, so I carried on on an empty stomach.  The route passed a ruined farm, so ruined that you could barely see the piles of bricks beneath the trees that had sprung up among them, and as I passed, there was a tree laden with either small plums or large damsons  -  it didn’t matter which, for there was lunch at just the right moment on just the right day in just the right place.  It was heavenly.

The very first psalm of the 150 psalms in the Bible likens people of faith to trees bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, planted by streams of water.  They bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit  -  beautiful ripe plums of love, joy and peace.  The psalmist tells us that the water which feeds these trees, the streams on which they draw for nourishment and strength, is the law of the Lord.  The trees delight in the law of the Lord: the Torah, the scriptures.  Today is Bible Sunday: the scriptures are the river in which we Christians delight; the brook by which we’re planted, into which we sink our roots.  Trees which are far from water end up parched and deformed and withered.  Trees which are close to water are strong and healthy and flourishing.  Winds may blow  -  Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians talks of ‘great opposition’  -  Christians who are rooted in scripture will not be like chaff which the gusts blow away, but they’ll have the wherewithal to survive the storm.  I vividly recall a time in my own life when scripture came alive in new ways: a difficult experience brought different facets of the Bible to life.

That doesn’t mean to say for us trees that the water of scripture always runs clear.  The Bible is a complex document, and teasing out what it might mean for our lives can be far from straightforward.  Even in today’s gospel reading, rather comfortingly we see Jesus and the Pharisees debating different bits of it: the Pharisees ask Jesus which of all the commandments in the Hebrew scriptures is the most important, and Jesus in turn asks them a question, a thorny question, in a culture where ancestors were superior to their descendants: that being the case, how could King David regard himself as inferior to the Messiah, who comes from David’s line?  The scriptures need wrestling with, some bits are oblique, just as the River Severn is often cloudy and unfathomable.  But those who draw on the scriptures regularly, daily, will, says the psalmist, stand upright in the judgment: the wind will not uproot them.

We’re to love the Lord our God with all our mind, says Jesus, answering the Pharisees in our gospel reading.  How are we going to love God with all our mind, unless we’re daily immersed in the scriptures, reading them, marking them, learning them and inwardly digesting them?  How committed are we to learning about God, studies that will deepen our faith and fit us to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?  When was the last time you read a Christian book?  What about always keeping one on the go?  We might read novels; what books of faith engage our energies and powers?  The book of Leviticus from which Jesus quotes, bids us to love our neighbour and to reprove our neighbour, boldly to rebuke vice, yet with compassion and gentleness.  That takes a lifetime of learning.  How willing are we to learn?  How will we learn if we’re not daily rooted in the scriptures?

The most amazing thing about the Bible, the most amazing thing about Church, is that we come, or should come, to it prepared to be challenged.  Nothing else in our culture has quite the same effect.  We sit under scripture, week in, week out, willing for it to speak into our lives and change them.  But it’s not just a weekly thing.  We’re daily to take up the cross, daily to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  Happily, the Church provides us with all sorts of apps and means for engaging daily in prayer and bible reading.  How can we expect to be daily transformed if we’re not coming to scripture prayerfully each day?  The tree beside the river doesn’t take a big slurp of moisture every Sunday: it’s constantly drawing on the richness of the stream beside which it stands; and it’s the wonderful richness of scripture, drawn on daily, that will lead us trees to bear fruit in due season.

Questions:

  • what do you love about the Bible?
  • what do you find challenging or difficult?
  • and what habits will enable you to engage with it each day, what practices will encourage your thirst for learning, so that you may indeed become like a flourishing, fruit-bearing tree, planted by streams of water?


Page last updated: 18th October 2020 5:27 PM
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