Godís Word Ė A Light Unto My Feet
Today is Bible Sunday, and itís interesting how churches all over the country remember this day. We set this day aside so we, as people of faith, will remember to give the Bible a central place in our lives. Itís always interesting when you have to make a day up to acknowledge something that probably 100 years ago was such a given, particularly in Protestant churches, that having the Bible central in the peopleís lives would have gone without question. As you look at the development of the Christian faith and at the development of the history of our country, what you will find as you search out those valleys, mountains, and distant places are homes with Bibles. If there was only one book in a settlerís home, it was guaranteed to be a Bible. We find that the Bible played such a central roll in peopleís lives that they read it over and over again. And it wasnít simply a book that sat somewhere in a sacred placeóits stories had been told over and over and repeated so much that the stories were a part of peopleís souls and a part of their lives. They defined their sense of who they were and what they did in life by Bible stories. The Bible was the peopleís strength in that past. In many cases the Bibleís place in our lives has become, for most of us, a sacred relic. Maybe we are, at times, intimated by it because we donít always quite understand it. At times it seems like such an ancient text that we will not open it and let it be a part of our daily lives because we fear that somehow we might not know enough to understand what it is that we read. There may be confusion about the text because there are some parts of it that seem strange to us. Because we havenít spent time reading it, we donít understand how to put one piece of it in the context of its broader whole so that we might have a balanced view of it. And so we come here on Bible Sunday, aware that some of our failings to identify who we are as a church, very often come because we have somehow lost touch with the very text that defines us. It is the Bible that profoundly defines who we are.
Now Iím going to back off my preaching just a bit, because I want to give you a different view regarding what the Bible may be. This may be familiar, because it is what youíve seen, perhaps, in the past. If we look at the Bible in the way I mentioned to the childrenóas a book full of the stories of our familyósomehow we will come to some understanding of its place. The Bible is a thing of beauty, and it draws us to it in a way that we cannot help but make it more important in our lives. We look back at our own family stories, and we know how we cherish those stories. Right now youíre probably thinking of a family story or two in your own life. And youíre understanding that what touches your heart in your stories is the people and the relationships that you have that are significant to you. And though you may be 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or 80, or believe it or not 90, the joy of what you did with your brother or sister at age four is still emblazoned in your heart. If somehow we can understand that the Bible is our familyís story, then those stories become a part of our lives as we read those texts. We understand that the beauty of the Bible is Godís relationship with our family in the past. The beauty of those stories becomes intimate to us, and we read them over and over again, and they begin to shape how it is we live our lives. Lukeís text, which Carol read to you today, is one of my favorite passages. Here is Jesus beginning to preach his first sermon. I remember my first sermon. I was 17. I was working fervently to make sure that that sermon said what God wanted for Godís people to hear that day. By the way, I was convinced that I had a hold on Godís heel and such a direct connection with Him that they had better listen closely. God always has gifts for us, and I think that through my first sermon, God gave me the gift of humility. I remember Charles Godfried, one of the patriarchs of that church, was sitting in the back row, and he fell asleep two minutes into my sermon. What was I to think? Possibly what I had to say might be important to me, but in the grand scheme of things, my message was not as important as are some of the bigger stories of faith. It was a good lesson for me as I began my role as preacher.
We find Jesus in his first public place preaching. And there was power in the words that he spoke. His words were not made up in his head. They were words that came from the sacred text. And I hear him now as he reads those words that he says to us, ďWe have come to the place where the oppressed will be set free and when the blind shall see.Ē ďThis,Ē Jesus said, ďis the acceptable year of the Lord.Ē Scripture has been fulfilled in your very presence. You see, what Jesus understood, and what we in our modern, Protestant way often fail to understand, is that the Bible is not some distant, ancient text that we sit on our communion table or that we put on a shelf at home. Do we think that we will feel good when osmosis makes it a part of our lives? I donít know. The Bible is indeed a living text, and its life is in our community as we come to understand that this is the acceptable year of the Lord. What Jesus said to those folks back then, he says to us today. If we live with those texts in our lives, then Godís Word becomes as alive in our lives as it did when Jesus was preaching the Gospel. Our lives will be transformed, and our worldóthat Kingdom of Godóis not only immanent but also present.
As we look at our Biblical family in all those family stories, we see the wonderful stories like the stories we remember out of our own family. When Israel was in Egypt, God called forth a mighty power, and the people crossed the Red Sea and wandered through the wilderness. Forty years later Israel arrived in the promise land. We learn about the story of an old man named Abraham and an old woman named Sarah. They waited all their lives for a child. Only someone who has known the anguish of wanting and desiring a child may relate to that. Sarah and Abraham found that in their old age, God finally gifted them. To show you that these stories have a touch of humor in them, the text tells us that Sarah laughed because she thought God had to be kidding. These stories are not only wonderful, but they remind us through the warm feelings of our Biblical family of the past. These stories also confront us in some powerful ways as they define who we are as Godís people. The Biblical texts donít veer away from the worst sides of our heroes either. We read stories about David, the greatest king Israel had ever had, in our family book. There is more about David than the story about when he was a young shepherd boy who took on Goliath. We also read the story, our family story, about David the powerful king who commits adultery because of the power that he has. Even worse than that, David is as bad any politician today who covers up his adultery by murdering someone. We see in its fullness that God does indeed reconcile with David, but there is pain and sorrow as that child that came from the adultery dies. We hear that anguish and grief in David, not only because of his sins, but because David is a father who loses a child.
We see what Jesus saw in the scriptures: the living Word. We see in the stories not only our family from the past, but also our lives in the present. We come to know that the Bible stories do hold a central place in our lives. We listen to the words, and we seek to know who God has called us to be. God has called us to be His people through that Word, and we are to know that the Bible is a lamp. The lamp shows us the way that we might need to go in times that are confusing. That lamp will lead us forth, not only as individuals, but also as the church to do Godís will in Godís world. We have found that the text does indeed make clear what Godís will is. Today may we re-dedicate ourselves to placing Godís Word in our lives. We must not just use our lips, but we must do what it takes every day to put Godís Word into our lives. May we learn what Jesus learnedóthat the Word is powerful and it is alive.
Iíve got one word of warning to you as you read a few more verses down. What you will find is that Jesusí sermon didnít bore people as my first sermon did. It made them angry, because Jesus said that Godís presence in the world will transform not only the world but also you and me. They ran him out of town. I havenít preached a sermon that powerful yet, but I hope I do someday. What I want to say to you is, I hope you too can be scared enough of reading Godís word. Let us welcome the challenge that Godís Word may change us in ways that we may not believe.
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