Sermon for Bible Sunday from Mark Simms (LLM)
Readings: Psalm 119.9–16; Nehemiah 8.1–4a, 8–12; Colossians 3.12–17; Matthew 24.30–35
“How shall young people cleanse their way?”
It is a question that parents have asked throughout history. How do we teach the next generation what is right? How do we encourage young people to do what is good? How do we bring up our children to walk in the right ways?
The author of psalm 119 had some advice: read your bible. The psalm, all 176 verses of it, encourage the reader, not only to read the bible, but to study it, meditate on it and learn it. But the psalmist is looking for more than knowledge or understanding. The aim of this study is not to work out some rule of life that will make everything okay. The psalmist read the bible to get to know God better.
The most striking thing in the psalm, other than some very clever features of Hebrew poetry that are completely lost in the English translation, is the enthusiasm and joy that the psalmists gets from his reading of the bible. “I have taken greater delight in the way of your testimonies than in all manner of riches,” says the psalmist. “My delight shall be in your statutes.” It if the desire to know God and the way that that desire is fulfilled in reading the bible and meditating on what it says that brings this joy.
It is this same desire to know God that drove the people in our Old Testament reading to come to Jerusalem. They had been living in exile in Babylon among people with different religions and different beliefs. This was their first opportunity in a long time to hear about God and it moved them to tears. Ezra reminded the people that the opportunity to learn more about God is a reason to celebrate, not cry. It is the time to feast not to mourn. Whatever had happened in exile, whatever had happened before the exile, the bible told the people that God wanted the people to come back to him and was now giving them the opportunity. That was worth celebrating.
Just like the psalmist and the Israelites returning from exile, the starting point for us to get to know God is the bible. This collection of stories, songs, prayers, letters, sayings and laws tells the story of God’s dealings with people. It was written by many people in different periods of history, with different problems and different ways of looking at the world. But all those people, in their different times and places, were writing about their experiences of God. It is the breadth of those experiences that make the bible such a rich treasure of knowledge about God.
The high point of those experiences comes in the Gospels. It is in Christ that God most clearly shows us what he is like and it is in the stories of the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we can see God most clearly. But it is only through reading those stories that we can let “Christ's message in all its richness…live in our hearts” as Paul put it to the Christians in Colossae in our New Testament reading.
But if we are to let Christ’s message live in our hearts, and not just our heads, it will take a little more than just reading the stories of the bible. Today’s collect calls us to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them”. Reading the bible, seeing how it reflects what we experience in our lives, praying about what it tells us about how God wants us to be will draw us closer to him and help us see the world through his eyes.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” It is in knowing, understanding and applying those words that we come to know God, and see his path for us. But it is only through reading the bible that we can start on that journey.
Let us pray.
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.