During these days of Lent I`ve been inviting us to reflect on what I`ve called the `Christian Treasures`; the things which, we might regard as important to pass on to someone who is new to the way of faith. So far we`ve had a look at the Creed and the Lord`s Prayer and this morning I`d like you to listen to these words from the Coronation Service of Her Majesty the Queen back in 1953.
“Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God”. (Coronation June 1953)
Back in 1953 these were the words used by the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland has he gave a Bible to the Queen and it was a very public example of something we regard as vitally important; presenting someone with the Scriptures. Indeed, in the Baptism service used by the Lutheran Church the parents and Godparents are charged with doing exactly this; placing the Scriptures in the child`s hands as they grow.
We find a particular encouragement to do this when we look at St. Paul`s first letter to Timothy, his young protégé. He made sure that Timothy understood why this should be done. In an often quoted passage he tells him: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3.16-17)
So as these examples illustrate it`s our conviction that the Scriptures are a treasure and they have the power to make a great deal of difference in the life of the Christian. But the first thing to say of course is that we don`t Worship the Book itself. Indeed, it`s actually a library of Books written over several thousand years. No what we do is we revere the part which the Scriptures play in nurturing the Christian`s relationship with God.
In those words to Timothy, St. Paul says the Scriptures are `inspired` by God- the Greek word literally means `God-breathed`. And we`re not talking `dictated`. What we`re saying is that the witness, the experience and testimony of the fallible human beings those who wrote these things are in some way participating in our God revealing himself. The simple, if profound point is that we have a God who speaks; who makes his will and purposes known and the Scriptures are at the heart of this.
Indeed this point is so fundamental that you can begin to see why there is so much angst about translation; interpretation and transmission of these things. I mean, to call this `The Word of God` is pretty heavy weight thing to say isn`t it? And Paul, of course was very aware of the practical consequences of treating the Scriptures like this but frankly, to me he really understates it. I mean, it`s not just that the Scriptures are, as he puts it `useful` for `teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness`. No, reflection on these writings; obedience and conforming to what this God says is life changing.
“We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, says Jesus. And these words can trip off the tongue so easily. “Oh yes that was Jesus in the desert when he was tempted”, we say. “Oh, it must be Lent”. It`s far harder to ask: “In what sense do I find my very life in these words of God?” “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” says one of the Psalms (Psalm 119.105) . But in what sense do I rely on the guidance contained here? These are the very practical expectations Paul and others tell us simply must be there in the life of the Christian.
Last Autumn a number of us gathered to reflect on what we called the `Big Picture`. We spent some time looking at the grand narrative, the whole story of the Bible. And although I think we enjoyed it this wasn`t just for fun! No, what we were doing was engaging with the Christian World View. The things we believe to be true about our origins; what`s gone wrong; what God has done through Christ and IS doing through the Church and the power of His Spirit to usher in a renewed creation.
Now, it`s controversial to hold such an all-embracing and non-negotiable world view in these relativistic days but that`s what`s contained here. It`s these Scriptures that will, as Paul tells us teach us what God is about. And although we might be a little coy about using words like `reproof and correction` the same scriptures will save you from some very strange understandings of yourself and where the world is going. When he wrote to the Church in Ephesus Paul told the people, “Look, we must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming”.(Ephesians 4.14). Firstly, what he`s getting at is that he knew only too well the perils of a faith which feels `all at sea` or lost in ignorance and uncertainty. So we`re asked to think about the pressures we face and putting it bluntly: “Where do we turn so as to get your bearings, if not to the Scriptures?” But Secondly, Paul has much more in mind than a mere defensive strategy. More positively the Scriptures are there for what he calls `Training in righteousness`.
You know, I very rarely read novels but I do like Biographies. Maybe that`s why what attracts me to the Scriptures is the accounts we have of so many people on their journey of faith; and what characters there are! What rogues; what saints; what a catalogue of blessed people. And as we look at their stories we`re given us clues and pointers about God`s way with his people; how he nurtures our faith and what it`s like worshipping, following and serving this God even in our profoundest weakness and frailty. You see again, it`s not the Scriptures themselves but the God behind them that matters, because if they serve any purpose at all the scriptures are ultimately there for devotion; to lead us into a closer engagement with our God.
But this has its tensions. I mean, we can rather easily say at the end of our readings “This is the Word of the Lord- Thanks be to God`. Or `This is the Gospel (the Good News) of the Lord – Praise to you, O Christ”. But let`s get real: what we`re really affirming here is the potential for these words on the page to carry out heart surgery on everyone who hears them. In my own experience it`s not the kind of thing that happens every day- I think I`m pleased to say- but there have been times when I`ve heard the Scriptures read in Church and the simplest word or phrase has absolutely floored me. The simple realisation that “This is the Word of the Lord- to me”; not some nice poetic or literary piece for analysis or appreciation; not some stricture that in my humble opinion Mrs Bloggins two seats back really needs to hear but instead something I need to hear. This is when the Scriptures come into their own. And this is what happens when you look to the Scriptures with anticipation; with longing and reverence. As someone once told me: “Pray that that the Lord will give you a love for His Word” and then like John Wesley who found his heart as he put it `strangely warmed` you`ll find the word on the page becomes the living Word of God.
And that`s it: the writer to the Hebrews said: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12). You see we could go as far as to ask whether we sometimes forget how dangerous this stuff is. So, for instance, we`re all familiar with the incident where Christ `cleansed the Temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers; well I was reminded the other day of an ancient tradition of reflecting on this as a picture of Christ`s desire to cleanse US of all that is not worthy of him. I mean since we are a dwelling or temple for the Holy Spirit this passage from scripture, this Gospel incident asks us: “what would Jesus want to chase out of your heart…..…… if you gave him the chance?”
But we have to be careful. To some extent this is what people expect to hear. Sometimes we`re all too ready to hear the challenging stuff like this and we assume that behind it is a God who is in some way trying to catch us out. But that`s not it. The point is that through the Scriptures we will encounter and engage with our God and inevitably that means recognising what is true. This doesn`t mean he is not `loving`; on the contrary, as Paul again reminds us, “Love delights in the truth”. No, the point is that a lot of our resistance is simply that refusal to accept the truth that we are so tenacious in trying to hold on to the reins of what we call `our` life.
Paul rounds off his words about the importance of the Scriptures by demonstrating what a keen-eyed pastor he was. The outcome of all this reflection on the Scriptures he says is: “so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient (and) equipped for every good work”.
We need to remember, this is not so that we `can belong to God` but so that `the God to whom we belong` can be fully present in blessing others in the things we say and do. We remain, as he put it elsewhere, like `earthen vessels` or clay pots which hold a great treasure. Like her majesty at her Coronation we have been entrusted with a great Treasure: the word of God. Daily reflection on the Scriptures and therefore opening ourselves up to the Father are the means by which we become proficient and resourced for service.
Pray that the Father will give you a love of his Word.