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Sermon for Bible Sunday
Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Title: The word is very near you
Readings: Isaiah 45:22-end, Romans 15:1-6, Luke 4:16-24
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On this Bible Sunday it might be worth noting that the Bible is right there at the centre of what is left of our parliamentary democracy! ‘Except the Lord build the House, they labour in vain that build it. ‘ Words from Psalm 127 are inscribed in the stone floor of the Central Lobby, at the very heart of Britain’s Parliament. In addition, rather than actually swearing at each other, Members of Parliament generally swear on the bible after a general election, I’ll just leave that there.
The words of the bible can be found running like gold threads through our language, our culture and our traditions. Quotes from the bible are peppered through the work of William Shakespeare and a scriptwriter for EastEnders has said that many of the storylines are inspired by the drama of biblical narratives.
The Bible was written over a period of around fifteen hundred years and started around 4000 years ago. It is in fact a library of 66 individual books of history, poetry, parable, myth and of course eye witness narrative accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, the scriptures are inspired by God and through them the Holy Spirit brings us closer to Jesus so that we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life. It’s much more than just a book for us.
For us, it’s a source of prayer, it’s the book that we gather around as we prepare to share in bread and wine- word and sacrament forever bound. The bible is shown reverence in our worship: The Gospel book is carried in by the Deacon, “This is the word of the Lord”, we say, and we mark the words of the gospel in our liturgies with light and incense and in procession, they are read in the midst of the people to remind us that the word is very near to us. The community of faith is drawn together through the story of salvation by a God who longs to communicate to the world through the lives of his chosen people.
What do we learn about God’s word in our readings today?
In the Book of the prophet Isaiah we hear of the word of God that shall not return –it is simply given. Isaiah later describes the word of God like the rain that waters the earth making it bud and sprout, providing seed to sow and food to eat.
So is my word that proceeds from my mouth, God says, it will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I purpose, and prosper where I send it. Here is an image of the word bringing life.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is clear that what has been written is there for building up, and for encouragement, so that through the word we might have hope and live in harmony with one another. In the Gospel we hear of Jesus standing up in the temple to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah of the vision which he is now going to embody in word and in deed.
His mission from God is to bring the words of the prophet Isaiah to life; to inhabit them- to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. In Jesus, the scripture is fulfilled and the word is made flesh. God is with us. And that is perhaps the focus of our reflections. The word of God has a purpose, to liberate, to set free, to raise up, to comfort, to challenge, to encourage, to bring new life, like the rain that waters the earth, it is seed for sowing, food to eat.
500 years ago, things were rather different. The bible could only be heard in church, and then only in Latin. Those in power in church and state, denied the people access to the Bible because it would diminish their authority. But there was a certain William Tyndale, a priest, who, in an argument with a clerical colleague said “If God spares my life, in years to come, I promise that a boy that drives the plough shall know more of the Scripture than you do!”
Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the scriptures into English and let the word of God dwell in the hearts of each and everyone so it could do its’ work, so they could meet Jesus for themselves. Tyndale was burnt at the stake for this ambition.
Tyndale’s earliest translations of the bible were shipped over from Germany, where he was in hiding, and smuggled into England in beer barrels and bags of flour. Small groups of Christians would get hold of copies and read them in secret. The bible was contraband. Illegal.
But the floodgates had been opened. God’s word had got out, it was accomplishing that which was purposed, falling like rain upon the earth. Ordinary people were hearing the word and living out the word and sharing the word with others, all of sudden they had a Gospel to proclaim and for the poor, and the powerless and the weak and the oppressed, the words of Jesus Christ spoken in the bible were very good news indeed. The first time the English bible was read in public, people queued to get into the churches to hear it. The word of God was like food for the hungry who had longed to taste its sweetness.
When the bible is read with eyes to see, and ears to hear it can be life giving and liberating, it can change the world. It contains words of hope and comfort and yes- challenge too. But the trajectory of the scripture always move towards one conclusion: the love of God, made real in Jesus Christ bringing love for the whole of creation, like the rain that waters the earth it is liberating, it builds-up, it encourages. Rather than trying to impose our world view on the scriptures or use them to proof-text our own prejudices, if we let the scriptures speak to us in community and learn from them, they can be completely transformative and we can find within them the God of Love.
The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it, says St Paul. Listen to God in Christ speaking to us through each and every one of the holy and hard won words of scripture, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, and may these words live within us and among us – and may we continue to proclaim them to a world which is longing for love and still hungry for good news.
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