lass=MsoNormal>May the Words of my mouth and the mediation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and our Redeemer - Amen
Opening up an Umbrella
It is fall, and with that comes some of the most unpredictable weather of the whole year.
This past week we have had glorious sunshine
Days with strong cold winds
Rain… – and just north of us, in Simcoe county, places like Wasaga Beach, on Friday morning they awoke to over 12 cm of snow
One thing for sure, the weather today – Can’t count on it!
Today, we are celebrating Bible Sunday
This is not something that I have ever been familiar with but upon researching it a little further I found that it is day recognized in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, here in Canada, USA, Germany, Netherlands, Costa Rica, and several other countries.
Today we’ll be thinking about the Bible as something we can rely on,
Something we can count on.
We’ll also think about what happens to us when we encounter the Bible and how we can be part of all God says he wants to do.
Perhaps some of us in church today aren’t too sure if we can count on the Bible
Christianity and Bible believing Christians are under attack both in our culture with vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins.
And throughout the world – where other religions have taken aggressive stands against Christianity
The Persecuted Church, an organization that raises awareness and champions the cause of those with little or no voice; has said that more Christians are persecuted in this present age then any other time in history and there are more Christian martyrs then ever before
And so one might wonder and be unsure if they can trust the Bible,
The book on which our faith is revealed.
Perhaps others of us feel confused by the Bible because we don’t know how, or if, everything in it is supposed to speak into our everyday lives today:
Do we take it literally?
Or is it more complicated than that?
Or maybe we feel overwhelmed because parts of it seem so hard to understand?
If we start reading at the beginning, at least with Genesis and Exodus, there are lots of stories to follow, tales of a family and feuds and fallings out that we can all relate to.
But then we hit Leviticus … and if you have ever read Leviticus, it would be understandable that one might ask… can we Count on the Bible?
The questioning of trust in the holy text is not new to us and our generation alone.
Our Old Testament passage that we have for today comes from the Prophet Isaiah,
And the book that we now call Isaiah, speaks over a time when the Israel was first being threaten and weaken from nations all around them before, during and after the exile
These were difficult times and Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly.
Later Isaiah wrote during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile.
The message is filled with trust and hope because God knew that is precisely what his people needed the most, as their faith was severely tested
The audience was disillusioned.
And then the things the prophet said would happen, did happen.
From the opening of this prophecy in Isaiah 40, the people heard that God would liberate them from their current oppression (40.2, 10-11).
They have served their punishment for going their own way.
Now they are to be freed and leave Babylon (48.20-21, 52.11-12, 55.12-13).
God’s chosen instrument to do this (44.28–45.6) on behalf of his people, Israel, is Cyrus, the Persian ruler.
All this the prophet predicted.
So looking back to what happened at the start of the exile: it wasn’t that God was too weak to stop the Babylonians.
In reality, he was in control of things all along.
Not only had he raised up the Babylonians to punish his people (Isaiah 40.1-2)
But now he had raised up the Persians to free them.
They could count on their God.
Why? Because what he said would happen did happen.
The credibility of the Word of God, delivered through the prophet, was established by its accuracy.
The curses of Deuteronomy 28 end with chilling words (verses 64-65) about the people of Israel being scattered into foreign lands.
This had indeed happened
So for us the Bible’s credibility is established by the same things:
Accuracy of prediction, and explanation.
We can think of the prophecies about Jesus that were fulfilled, especially passages such as Isaiah 53 and those highlighted at the start of Matthew and Luke.
But the Bible’s credibility is also seen in its diagnosis of our human situation.
We are created in the image of God, but sin has marred and distorted that
The most graphic example of the depravity of sin has been all over the news this past week with shocking case of Russell Williams
The former Colonel and rising star of the Canadian military – Williams appeared to show no sense of right or wrong and his sin grew and grew until sin’s corruption and distortion completely overshadowed God’s image in him and left a shell of the once promising young man
The Bible’s message over and over again is that we struggle to be everything that we want to be, and yet, only find our true identity when we trust in Christ.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have experienced this, and learned ever greater trust in the reliability of the Bible as a result.
Our prophecy today from Isaiah brings us also in the vivid imagery of our physical world and we are given the metaphor of how God Word is compared to the rain and the snow
This comparison reminds us that God’s Word is intended to be a force of good in the world. Snow and rain are given indiscriminately.
It doesn’t matter if we are good or bad, it still rains on us.
God is extravagant even in the way he gives his Word and gifts to the world and its people.
But we also know that the water that falls onto the plant/tree doesn’t get into the plant; it gets its nourishment from what it absorbs through its roots. You will remember the Children’s focus today
The plant works to draw that water up. It doesn’t just happen.
If God’s Word is going to bring change to us, we have to get the Bible into us.
We will have to work at it as well.
Our God is a great God, and he will achieve what he wants to achieve, with or without our cooperation.
The Israelites in exile were given the opportunity for liberation; the Persians arrived and their leader Cyrus issued an edict allowing them to go back to Jerusalem.
But they had to choose to go back.
God gave them the opportunity but he didn’t give them a ride!
They had to act if they were to experience the results and benefits of God’s Word for themselves.
I grew up always going to church, and even when, as a teenager, parents gave us a choice, I continued to go to church, maybe not every Sunday as my parents would have liked but I still went
However, my commitment was mostly limited to church on Sunday and rarely would I study God’s Word privately
When Kelly and I moved to the country and started going to church there, my commitment remained the same
Until we decided to attend an Alpha course, and over time – I felt challenged by what was presented and I realized that my approach had only been half-hearted
I made a commitment to daily engage in personal devotions which included reading the bible
And when I did it revealed to me that how acclimatized to the world I had become – How far from the whole truth my rationalized life was
I was faced with the decision: Do I trust God and God’s word, and if so I needed to do so wholly and not compromised by worldly rationalizations
With that came transformation into freedom – this new discipline was far from a burden but a freedom from all the half-truths and lies that so easily filled my life
One problem to consider: we really shouldn’t be too surprised that the Bible does not speak into the contemporary world without considerable work.
The Old Testament comes from a world of between two and half and four thousand years ago.
The problems often come when we try to map “one to one” from the Bible into our 21st century situation without thinking about the way we’re doing that.
A curious example comes in 1st Corinthians when Paul’s instructs that since the idols represent something that doesn’t really exist, there’s
no problem eating food sacrificed to them, as long as it doesn’t cause a “weaker fellow Christian” to stumble.
Discerning what should be adhered to literally and what interpreted through symbols is something to do as a community, along with the scholars.
Food sacrificed to false idols is not an issue for us in the modern world, But even this passage still readily applies to us in the requirement to be sensitive to others in their convictions or diets to do with food, meat or alcohol.
Perhaps the most important thing to get from the Bible is an understanding of its overall message.
It starts in a garden, with a pair of human beings revealing their weakness and sinfulness. And it ends in a restored creation, sin forgiven through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Following that story, and the way God relates to his people, will give us a much clearer understanding of how God’s Word waters and nourishes us, and does not return to him empty-handed.
If we want the Bible to do its work in us, then the starting point is that we have to get the Bible into us.
Once it is there, it can start to challenge our values and opinions, to set off the process Paul declares in Romans 12:2
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
That is the crop Isaiah had in mind as well when he talks about God’s Word “not returning to him empty”
So what can we do to get the Bible inside us?
Perhaps we need to recognise what has been stopping us in the past.
One area might be that we might find it hard to understand?
Then get help with understanding the Bible through:
· Our Tuesday study groups are one way – there is always room for more – whether that be as a listener or one that has something to share
· Deeper understanding can be found via various books, both in our wonderful library or can be borrowed from me or I can suggest resources that you may want to buy for yourself
· We have Daily devotional material available in the narthex now, and there is vast amounts of free information that can be found on the internet or can be sent to you daily via email, which I would be very happy to show you
· There are a variety of courses that are available at local Bible Colleges or seminaries. And the learning can be done in many cases via distant ed opportunities
o Not only will these boost your understanding of the Bible. Many will also develop your understanding of how to apply the Bible in today’s world, help you to reflect on it more deeply, and “hear” God speaking to you about how to respond.
Perhaps the challenge is that you have just lost the habit?
Like the Nike motto proclaims – “Just do it”
1. Dedicate a time.
It doesn’t need to be first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
It could be part of your lunchtime routine, a way of getting away from the desk.
2. Choose a translation in modern English, such as the Good News or Today’s New International Version, or a paraphrase like The Message; then the language won’t be a barrier.
3. And don’t beat yourself up about it if you miss a few days.
4. If reading the Bible is difficult, why not buy a CD or MP3 recording and listen to that?
Maybe your challenge is that you are feeling waterlogged with too much Bible?
Perhaps we need to practice giving it out more than we do.
Share what you find in it with others.
If the Bible matters to you, then help others to encounter it too. You might choose to become involved with the Canadian Bible Society, helping to get the Scriptures into the hands, ears and hearts of refugees and migrants and many other communities and groups in need of God’s Word.
Farringdon has for years, as part of our mission focus, given generously to the Canadian Bible Society
Maybe you might feel called to be involved personally
Those who are coming to know God through Christ need to know the Bible’s guidance, wisdom and comfort every bit as much as the Israelites trapped in exile two thousand five hundred years ago.
Finally – remember this umbrella (open the umbrella again)
It is a wonderful device for keeping the rain off – keeping us sheltered
But consider this question: “Do we also shelter ourselves from God’s Word?”
Maybe it’s time to saturate ourselves in the rain of God’s love.
The first stage of letting God’s Word do its stuff is that we need to be immersed in it.
Be like children enjoying the summer rain, running around with their mouths open to catch the rain.
Or the same with snowflakes, try and catch them on our tongues.
Do we try and catch God’s Word and take it into ourselves?
Come out from under the umbrella, open the book, and get it inside you.
Remember in 2nd Timothy we hear it declared that: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the one of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Let us pray…
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may wisely hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP – collect for the 2nd Sunday in Advent)
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen( A Prayer of Saint Chrysostom
 This sermon follows the outline and much of the content provided for this year’s “Bible Sunday” by the Canadian Bible Society