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For one Sunday of the year, we have a beautiful opportunity to reflect on something which is at the very very heart of who we are as a community of faith. Bible Sunday. 773,000 words, 1189 chapter, 66 books, 2 testaments. Tucked in Isaiah 40, we read, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.”
It is a text full of poetry, history, mystery, love, anger, sorrow, joy and miracles.
The Scripture has some particular themes which we come to know well, as we wander its pages. Three of them are particularly apposite for this specific Sunday, as we begin the process of parish consultation around the long, long-term need to strengthen this building. They are :
We can't read many pages without noticing that God is active in the World. Doing stuff in and through people and the whole of creation. His work is continuing to unfold, here, today, on the 19th July 2015. God hasn't nodded off to sleep, or started this universe going with a huge bang, and then let it to its own devices for things to run their course. The Scripture is a catalogue of his action, and there's nothing in there that says he stopped all that back in the first Century BC, as if the novelty kind of wore off.
Given that, we are invited into a journey of developing trust, in which we gradually learn to submit everything; even our most massively huge concerns, to Jesus.
In doing one and two, we are called to be less fussed about what we are busy doing, and more open to what the Spirit is doing.
Active creator, knowing Jesus, Spirit-focussed. (x2)
It all sounds so good! But how does it really sit with us? How about when something happens -- a war breaks out, a child is diagnosed with cancer; a elder is abused in their home, a cathedral is assessed as earthquake-prone and may need to close; a kuia is stricken with Alzheimer’s, a trusted leader crosses a boundary, or a significant employer sheds over 500 jobs. And it seems that God is not to gonna speak up, let alone step up.
Active God? Where is he? And leaving everything up to God seems naive, if not ridiculous. So we can end up with two languages – church-talk and real-life talk. Church-talk reserved for a parsonical voice and not the realities of your average Thursday. Well, this Sunday is God's gift to ease scepticism and to replenish truth and hope and mashup the church-talk with real-life. It's a followup to Friday's concert in this very place, where a community gathered and musicians gave their time and skill, to ease the pain of a family's cancer journey. Replenishing truth and hope.
Did you notice how beautifully the Gospel was read to us this morning; how we turned to face it; reverence, honour. Let's go back over what it said. It was a chunk of John's Gospel. Context? A chapter which began with a beautiful miracle in Jerusalem, Jesus' healing of a very very sick man at Bethesda. A guy who was unable to immerse himself into the curative waters of the pool. The religious conservatives of the day furiously confronted Jesus later wanting to know why He had broken the Sabbath. Jesus responded (verse 17) that as God works, He also works. All in all, this came across as pretty shocking blasphemy.
So, the conversation continues; Jesus points out that, despite their love of God, they are failing to recognise His Son. He reminds them that Scripture is full of references to His coming to Earth for us. If they truly believe the Scriptures, why do they reject Him? Learn to engage with the Scriptures the right way! Wield them carefully, he's teaching them. Wield them carefully. We'll come back to that incredibly important point in a bit.
For now, let's go back to our three premises : God is active in the World. We are invited into a journey of developing trust. As a result of one and two, we are called to be less fussed about the tasks we are busy doing, and more open to what the Spirit is doing.
What do we do when have we known God not to speak up, let alone to step up? What do we do when leaving everything up to God seems naive, if not ridiculous? What do we do when we have had enough of pious talk because we have seen too much evil for it to be true? Jesus doesn't call us to abandon our knowledge and tradition as if they still cannot teach, help and guide us. BUT his teaching is that our knowledge will not give us absolute answers or a foolproof plan to make things right. In fact, truth be told, God's answer is rarely to reassure us that our knowledge and understanding are on the button! If anything, God uses our knowledge to give a purpose, a journey, and a direction -- namely, to trust and follow Jesus. Whatever the details of this journey are for us, its purpose is to draw us into life as part of God's coming kingdom of love and justice, which human-constructed circumstances and conditions cannot undermine or negate. The risk of setting out on the journey, which is trusting and following Jesus, is that, even when we think we have a map or a plan, we do not really know where we are going or where we will end up.
Here's a related analogy. [Showing a clip from A Country Parish – where one of the Wiltshire (UK) parish churches had just been damaged by an earthquake].
Interesting precursor to this situation! That particular cracked church has stood for well over a thousand years, and looking at the new cracks in it, I was drawn back to this Scriptural truth :
The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever. (Is 40:8)
We have seen plenty to remind us of this, over the course of this week, too. The images trickling back over 5 billion kilometers from Pluto's surface have revealed ranges of mountains thought to be around the size of Mount Cook. There in the frozen wilderness of -230degrees C. The touch of the creator, who fashioned those ice mountains in the midst of Nitrogen snow, and has today called these two children to be brought to the water of baptism. Active Creator. Their families; trusting, walking with Jesus; bringing them to this place.
Knowing Jesus. And on this Bible Sunday, we are brought back to the Scripture to remind us that all our smart knowledge pales into insignificance compared with the tiniest reaching out in faith – like one of these toddlers reaching up with arms wide open. Like their parents and godparents making their promises to God.
We are indeed called to be less caught up in what we are doing, and more open to what the Spirit is doing.
Active creator, knowing Jesus, Spirit-focussed. And reading the Bible is a great way to get there.
However, as Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one person is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)... There are just those who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
This inspired Scripture of ours has been used to bring peace; and to justify war. To broker liberation for nations; to preach slavery for millions; to convict the human soul of wrong, or be read aloud to accompany abuse, and probably just about every joy and evil you can name. It is like the surgeon's knife. Think about it – that knife can bring healing or can literally kill. It can restore beauty or can permanently maim. It can bring hope to life, and life to hope. Or it can blind the sighted. And in each case, the knife is unaltered by the action, and in each case it is the identical knife. The only difference is how it is wielded. So; wield this wisely. Discerningly. As you do so, many just truths will emerge into the light.... that God is active in this universe and in you; that therefore handing over to God is better than handing over to any human agency.
The inevitable outcome is... becoming less caught up in what we are doing, and more open to what the Spirit is doing. Active creator, knowing Jesus, Spirit-focussed.