A sermon preached at the Eucharist on Bible Sunday 27 October: The texts were: Isaiah 45:22-end, Romans 15: 1-6, Luke 4:16-24
Each March, school children up and down the country dress up as their favourite fictional for world book day: parental creativity and resourcefulness means that Facebook and classrooms are full of recognisable Harry Potters and Matildas; Snow Whites and Peter Pans.
The delight of stories never really leaves us: whether it’s the latest John le Carré or the high
drama of Eastenders; the comfort of a familiar classic or the long awaited film.
We read to be entertained and challenged; to explore emotions and understand relationships. We inhabit other worlds; navigating the lives of others, from youth to older age.
Beyond the realm of fiction, there books which we delight in or inspire us with determination; there are books which speak to our distress and others which help us follow our desires.
Numerically speaking, the Bible is the world’s number one best seller. Like many of our own favourites, it’s full of dramatic stories and vivid characters. In its pages we find beautiful poetry, inspiring visions and profound wisdom.
It’s been translated and learnt by heart over hundreds of generations, by men and women trying to make sense of life and of God. It’s been studied and interpreted in contexts very different from our own, by radicals and conservatives seeking after what is true.
This epic narrative begins in a garden and ends with a city. Our lives are enfolded by its words.
On Bible Sunday, we are invited to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest those words. For it is not merely another piece of literature. It’s an invitation into the presence of the one who is life and love; it expresses the language of the heart.
They continue to address us - with a cry, a whisper, a song, a breath:
They declare that ‘God loves us’.
They inspire us to ‘love one another’.
Prophets, poets, historians, letter writers, psalmists, evangelists: all of them address our questions and struggles. They name our deepest longings and our misdirected desires.
There is familiarity and strangeness in these texts: hundreds of stories about human beings trying to make sense of the world as we reach out to each other and to God; stories of our hurts and failures, desires and relationships.
There is familiarity and strangeness in these texts: hundreds of stories of God reaching out to us when we dare to dream, when we cry in distress; stories revealing something of Godself to us in healing and justice, truth and beauty.
In the books of the Bible, God breathes 100s and 1000s of times:
In our first reading, we hear this assurance.
This love is God. This God is love.
Faithful: waiting for us to return to our first love.
Faithful: reaching to the ends of the earth.
Faithful: teaching us to walk in ways of justice, humility and mercy.
There is no other source of life and strength.
You are loved.
Love one another.
In our second reading, we hear a snippet of a letter written to those seeking to walk this way of love in community; a letter written by one whose life had been transformed by love which dazzled with challenge and forgiveness and calling and faithfulness.
Paul writes to the Romans naming the distress being caused by the strong dismissing or taking advantage of the weak.There is sorrow and anguish and fragmentation when we please ourselves. It neither honours God nor our neighbour.
Paul writes to the Romans naming the delight that comes from knowing Jesus as God with us; the one who came not to be served but to serve; who reveals the depth of love divine in human flesh.
Paul writes to the Romans naming the desire to know and keep God’s commandments: seeking to build up our neighbours and to live in harmony with one another; glorifying God with one voice in worship and glorifying God in our deals with weak and strong.
Paul writes to the Romans naming the determination to love - not by human strength alone, but through the power of the Spirit at work in us and in the encouragement we find in scripture. The steadfast rhyme of love shapes our hope.
Delight in God.
Name your distress.
Desire God’s ways.
Such love isn’t an abstract concept. It is something we grow into and make our own. Love is to be our appearance; and what we see in others.
Such love isn’t an abstract concept; it’s not a matter of words, but of the Word made flesh.
The one who was conceived by the Spirit has baptised with the Spirit. Now that same Spirit leads him in the wilderness. The Spirit fills Jesus and the Spirit guides him.
Before Jesus began his public ministry or arrived in his home down, he had spent time the desert, committing himself to loving the world. Tempted as we are, yet without that fracturing of relationship, or selfish desire, we call sin. In the weakness of our flesh, God loves in a way that it so real it hurts; so real it saves.
Here in the human frailty of hunger and fatigue, Jesus faces the relentless psychological nagging of ‘if’.
If you are the Son of God do x or y.
Yet through the lens of those ‘ifs’ we see the power of love.
The love of God with us.
Satisfy your hunger: no, says Jesus, for we are sustained not by bread alone. I won’t love the world simply by gratifying physical desires but by going to heart of our needs and hopes.
Accept earthly power: no, says Jesus, seizing glory and authority in that way is not God's way of loving. Love that coerces and dominates a response isn't real. Attention to God in worship is the beginning of love; serving others by attending to their needs, that's real love.
Perform a stunt: no, says Jesus, I won't take a short cut. I won't put God to the test in that way. Such love is superficial and fleeting: it doesn't forgive or heal; it doesn't challenge or embrace.
Three times, Jesus chose to serve God. He reveals a love that is our ultimate reality. A love that overcomes pain, sorrow and death itself.
When Jesus went to his home town, he went to synagogue as we might expect. He stood up to read. He began to teach; to speak of the fulfilment of scripture in and through him.
What had the gathered community expected? An endorsement of their way of life or their values; a shared interpretation of the law? Might he have something to say about the threat posed by the occupying Roman forces? May be they wanted to bask in the fame of a local lad ‘made good’. When Scripture is read, do they - do we - expect a light to shine in the dark corners of our minds?
Jesus announces his ministry: proclaiming justice, advocating for commission, declaring liberty. Familiar words are heard afresh; salvation and hope are made real.
Words of scripture are fulfilled by God’s Word in our midst.
In this Eucharist we read, mark and learn the words of Scripture which unfold the story of God’s love for us. Here we practice love in community. We received forgiveness and share peace. We inwardly digest God’s Word in bread and wine, receiving what we are; becoming Christ’s body in and for the world.
Here we name the cries of our heart - cries of distress and desire. Here we delight in God faithful love and here pray that our determination to seek God’s Kingdom be renewed.
In the power of the Spirit we are sent out in peace to love and serve; bringing hope as we witness to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
© Julie Gittoes 2019