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Written For Our Instruction

  • November 19, 2017
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for November 19, 2017 (Proper 28 REV, Year A)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Romans 15:1-9,14-19; Psalm 123; Matthew 25:14-30

Title:               Written For Our Instruction

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

My sisters and brothers: are you familiar with the steadfastness and the encouragement of the Scriptures which Paul describes?

Well, to begin, I have some good news for you! We are almost done with this Letter to the Romans! Phew. Finally, right?

Here at the end of the Letter, the apostle Paul concludes his instructions about caring for one another within the community of disciples and he does a bit of summarizing of his teaching and his ministry throughout the Roman Empire.

But in the middle of this passage, he adds this bit about the scriptures “written for our instruction.” Let’s spend a few minutes right in that spot.

Did you notice the Collect appointed for this day? Anglicans around the world pray this prayer at least once each year to remind ourselves of what we are to do with the Scriptures. It was written by Thomas Cranmer who published the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 when he was Archbishop of Canterbury.

What does this prayer say? It’s printed right there in your bulletin. It says that we are to hear the Scriptures, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.

We hear them read aloud within the Church. After all, the Bible was originally written to be read aloud with a clear voice in the midst of God’s faithful people. Most people in those days were illiterate.

But thankfully, we now have the option also to read them ourselves, to mark them, and to learn them. And we have any number of tools to aid us in this learning process.

But notice, please, that final act which we are to take, according to Cranmer’s ancient prayer. We are to inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures.

To digest them. Think about this. What happens when we literally digest something? It enters into our bloodstream.

You know the saying, we are what we eat. There is great truth in that. When we digest something, it enters our blood and is pumped to every single cell in our bodies – affecting every part of our bodies.

But let me ask you this: do you remember what you ate for dinner on the twelfth of October? No? Me neither!

But it doesn’t really matter if you remember or not. What DOES matter is that you ate that meal! Because we humans might not live by bread alone, but we certainly cannot live without bread! Daily nourishment is required if we are to be useful and functional, and even to survive!

But the reality is that most of the meals we eat are not remembered. A quick calculation tells me that I have eaten somewhere around 49,000 meals in my lifetime.

I remember very few of them. But that doesn’t mean they are unimportant! Each meal builds upon another and all of them together have allowed me to be where I am today.

It’s the same when we talk about digesting the Scriptures.

If you follow Cranmer’s advice – if you read, mark, learn and inwardly digest a portion of the Bible on a daily basis throughout your life, you are not going to remember most of those readings. But that does NOT mean they are unimportant.

Just like eating meals every day, our daily intake of Scripture is soul nourishment. And each meal is important. They build upon one another with daily nourishment and allow us to become who God desires us to be.

In Paul’s vision, this nourishment supplied by the scriptures is like the fuel that flows through a pipeline. Just as the natural gas pipelines recently installed in our area are now supplying us with natural energy from deep within the earth, so the scriptures supply us with divine, heavenly energy!

Do you see how he does this? He says that you and I now have access to hope “by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures”.

And then he immediately links those things with God’s own being, as he offers this prayer: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another”.

The God of steadfastness and encouragement. The very same things that Paul says we find in the Scriptures, these belong to the very essence of who God is!

In fact, history is filled with testimonies of God speaking and connecting with people through the words of scripture, often in surprising and powerful ways.

I recently heard the story of a young woman from China who came to America to further her studies. While at college here, she became involved with a campus Christian fellowship group. And at one group dinner, her American hosts asked her how it came to be that she joined a Christian group at college.

The young woman explained that she grew up in a fairly typical atheist, communist, Chinese family. She had no exposure to God growing up. She went on to a Chinese university to study math and science, and she would often go to the library to seek out something different to read, as a diversion, something more like poetry or philosophy.

Well, one day in that library in China, she turned to the religion section and found a large Bible and decided to give it a try. She began at the beginning, in Genesis, and started reading a chapter every day. A few days later, her life got busy with something and she stopped. But later she felt like she was missing that daily Bible reading after class, so she went back and read Chapter 8 in Genesis, about Noah in the great flood.

And this young woman came to this particular verse: “The dove came back to Noah in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth” (Genesis 8:11).

And right away this idea came to her like a shock: “I want to be a Christian!” No one talked to her about Jesus. No one planted this idea in her mind.

This story of Noah does not even talk about Christ, and yet – somehow – the power and beauty of Scripture touched her heart in that library in China. And she began a quest to find out how she could become a Christian and be part of the Church. (http://holdingtotruth.com/2012/03/16/how-bible-reading-can-change-your-life/ )

I don’t know how you feel about the Bible. It may be as familiar to you as apple pie and Thanksgiving. So familiar that you don’t even think about it much. Like it’s just part of the background.

Or perhaps you are turned off by it, because you’ve heard so many angry people quote Bible verses and use them as weapons against others.

I don’t know what might stand between you and daily soul nourishment of Bible reading, but, friends, please, please consider what an amazing treasure this is.

The Bible is a gift of beauty and goodness and encouragement that has been entrusted to us as a gift of God’s grace. Why would we not treasure this gift and make it our own? Why not read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it until we are wholly saturated with its goodness?

Why not give thanks for the gift of these holy Scriptures? Why not treasure this amazing gift? But not treasure it like it is a delicate item in a museum.

It is not enough only to value these texts, to believe in their value. What good does it do to leave this valuable treasure up on the shelf?

That’s like having a refrigerator full of food, but dying of hunger because you never eat any of it! Or like having natural gas piped to your home, but allowing your pipes to freeze because you won’t use it to heat your house!

Wouldn’t that be so incredibly foolish? And yet, how many of us do not every day open the Bible and nourish our souls with these God-bearing words?

As we enter into this Thanksgiving week, I know that each of you will have some amount of down time on your hands. Take some of that time and open the Bible. Read it. If you are not sure about where to start, take some time to re-read this Letter to the Romans. Or read through the Book of Isaiah.

Or maybe follow the path of that Chinese university student and read Genesis. Or follow the daily lectionary in our Forward Day-by-Day booklets.

Whatever your method, take some time to read and to meditate on these ancient and sacred texts. To inwardly digest them.

These texts have been carefully and lovingly handed down by the Hebrew people and by the Church from generation to generation.

And they have now been given to us – “for our instruction.”

The Bible may look like an ordinary book, but don’t be fooled. It is actually a conduit for God’s own life energy to reach us and change us.

Will you use this gift and appreciate it? Will you hear these holy scriptures, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them on a daily basis to nourish your soul?

May it always be so. Amen.

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