Sermon for St John’s Hills Road, Cambridge
Bible Sunday, 2016
Many years ago as I was planning an All Age service for Bible Sunday I lamented to a colleague that there weren’t many hymns about the Bible. The Colleague rightly pointed out that this was because hymns are songs of worship, and we don’t, in fact, worship the Bible as the written word, but rather the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. There still aren’t many decent hymns about the Bible, for that very reason.
When the gospel is read in some churches, the reader kisses the gospel book – this is something I do, in fact, as you probably noticed – I don’t know if you’re used to he here or not. But what does that mean? Why do it? Am I really kissing a book – an object – print on paper, with a nice binding? What if I’d printed out the reading and ended up kissing just the bit of paper from my printer, as I said, ‘This is the gospel of the Lord’? Or what if I’d been reading off an ipad? Surrounded as we are by beautiful bibles of every kind, and with means to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’ this is an interesting question. When we say ‘this is the gospel of the Lord’, what is, in fact, ‘this’? We’ll come back to this question a little later.
Our gospel reading tells of Jesus reading from Isaiah, and telling the gathered faithful that today those words come true – he’s going to show them what the words look like in real life. What an amazing thing to hear. ‘Today this comes true.’ ‘Today you find out what the word of God looks like in action.’ It’s Jesus’ manifesto in which he connects the words of the scroll with his own identity as the living Word of God.
Let’s look more closely at what’s there. What is is that Jesus promises to bring to life? The Isaiah passage speaks of freedom and wholeness and good news….
And only three chapters later, we hear him again refer to the same passage about his ministry:
This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
We need not stick just to Luke 4 – there are plenty of other places where we are given challenging manifestos – blueprints, in word form, of what the heart of the gospel looks like when it’s lived out, and which we can see in the life of Christ, and then in the life of he saints through the ages. We might think of the beatitudes, the ten commandments, the summary of the law, the parables, even the Lord’s Prayer… so much of scripture consists of words that are to be lived. There might be some words that you have found to be formative on your journey of faith, words that you’ve gone back to again and again as you’ve worked out what being a Christian means not just in church but in daily life.
You’re welcome to make your own suggestions…
You might want to pick just one from all these and focus on how you will live it today, this week, this month… how will it form you, change you?
Now look back at Luke 4, at the very beginning of the quotation from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… It’s the Holy Spirit who brings the words on the page to life in our lives. The breath that gives voice to the word, as at creation. The breath that makes us come alive, and live as people of God.
The ‘this’ that is the gospel of the Lord, isn’t the physical object the page itself – though we do quite rightly treat the bible with reverence and respect – nor is it even the content, the words on the page. It’s more as if the gospel resides in the proclaiming and hearing of it – the way that it’s spoken aloud and heard, in public, so that we become like the crowds who first heard the words of Christ and saw him put them into action, the way that the Spirit inspires the proclamation, moves through and informs the hearing, and empowers the doing of the word. The gospel, ‘this’, is the contemporary living out of the words on the page, as the Spirit gives us power. This is how the word of God is ‘living and active’ – constant, and yet always fresh, always being made incarnate in the lives of God’s people.
So as you look at the bibles on display around the church today, don’t just look on them as objects – think of the fingers that have turned those pages, the eyes that have read them, the voices that have read them aloud… all the people who, through the generations have been been shaped and formed through their encounters with Christ in scripture, who have connected their story with God’s story, and lived the gospel.
This is how we are the body of Christ on earth. As Once the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel ate the scrolls on which the word of God was written, so we, in the words of the collect, ‘inwardly digest’ the Word of God, through our reading, our hearing, our speaking, and indeed through our receiving of the bread and wine, as we ‘become what we eat’ and become the good news that God is sharing with the world.