Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 25, 2010

I must admit that until earlier this week, I had never heard of Francis P. Church. Francis Pharcellus Church was a publisher and editor who died just over 100 years ago. I’m sure he would have passed into obscurity as a newspaper editor were it not for an editorial he wrote to a young girl on September 21, 1897. Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun the following question to the editor, “Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Not only did Francis Church take time to write little Virginia back, he did so with a depth and compassion that one would wish for and long for today. For those who have never heard this, here is how Mr. Church responded.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Certainly this letter was written to address a terribly important question in the mind of an eight year old little girl. For us though there is the even more crucial question for all mankind to answer: Is Jesus real, and is he who he claims to be? There are too many points of comparison between this letter and how we might answer that question if it were asked of us as His disciples?

However, one in particular stands out right from the beginning that is worth pondering. I believe that Mr. Church hit on something over 100 years ago that is even more rampant than I’m sure he could have ever imagined when he first penned those words. He told little Virginia that those who doubt the existence of Santa Claus, “have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.” I think it quite plausible that Mr. Church comes from the same school as G. K. Chesterton who said:

“…But the new rebel is a Sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.
Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time.
A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything…”

So here we are on Christmas morn to celebrate once again the birth of the Messiah, the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We’re doing so in an even more skeptical world than either Mr. Church or Mr. Chesterton saw in their day over a century ago. And yet, the person of Jesus is the true answer to the skeptics of that age, our age, and the age to come. He has answered every skeptic in every age, and will continue to do so, the issue at hand for the believer is will we prepare a place for Him to rule as our Lord, heal those places marred with sin, and continue to make us holy as He Himself is Holy? That is our story, and what we celebrate again this day.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. However, more important than that Virginia, there is a Saviour born this day who is Christ the Lord. He lives, and He lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, Jesus will continue to make glad the heart of men if we but welcome Him in, and prepare a place for Him in our hears to rule for all eternity.

Merry Christmas, and Thanks be to God!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 24, 2010

There is a wonderful component regarding the season of Christmas that somehow transcends most others. I’m not talking about Santa Claus or the giving and receiving of gifts. It doesn’t really have to do with Christmas trees nor does it pertain to the delectable treats that usually appear during this particular time of year. There’s something magical, something special about the notion of home, or being at home, or going home at Christmas.

We’ve all heard the traditional rendering of the popular song made famous by Bing Crosby, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Perry Como sang the wonderful tune (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays in the 1950’s. For so many people, there’s something about the memories of home and Christmas that seem to go hand-in-hand. For those who are returning to Moultrie this time of year, and grew up here, and in this church, there are perhaps some grand traditions and comforts in returning to the parish of your youth and seeing the church decorated as you remember it for this service. You perhaps look forward to singing Silent Night at the close of tonight’s liturgy, just as it’s always been done. You can probably call to mind the sights and smells of Mom and Dad’s house that I hope conjure up wonderful memories from childhood.

I don’t mean to sound sappy, or sentimental, or maudlin here, but I hope to make a link between our longing for home, and its importance for this night.

We come again to the celebration of the Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We hear again the traditional reading from Luke Chapter 2 that seems to tell the story that we all anticipate hearing. However, let’s look again at what we just heard.

First of all, Joseph and Mary his betrothed, are forced to leave their home by order of the Emperor Augustus. This man is so self-inflated that he wants to know how many people he actually rules over. Literally, he wants to know the population of the entire world, the home he has built for himself. So, Joseph and Mary set off toward Bethlehem, the ancestral home of his forefather David. We have no idea if they know anyone there. Do they have any distant relatives who might welcome them in, give them lodging, and show them some hospitality as they venture into an unknown future?

As we know from our story there is no room for them. No one will take in a stranger from Nazareth and his very pregnant spouse. They are without a home. There are no familiar sights or sounds around them to welcome their firstborn child into this world. It is most likely that Mary gave birth in some cave out behind the city, and we really have no idea if anyone was there other than Joseph and God. And yet, this is what we celebrate this night – the birth of a child, born miles away from home.

It’s easy to think about what Joseph and Mary gave up in order to follow the Angel’s message and continue on this dangerous journey, and the command of the secular authorities to travel to Bethlehem. We can somewhat picture what they laid aside to carry out God’s will. We’ve had to do some of the same things in our own lives. We’ve perhaps left a job and ventured off into unknown territory ourselves. Many have sent children off to college or seen them get married and wondered how things were going to work out. I know for some it’s been a question of how to make ends meet. We may not be able to comprehend the depth and profundity of what they forsook, but there is the human element that we can at least relate to.

What did Jesus give up?

Jesus gave up a home that we can only attempt to comprehend and long for. The Creator became a part of the very creation that He spoke into existence, and lived, breathed, and died as one of us. He gave up Heaven so that one day we might experience it for all eternity, in His glorious and wonderful presence.

Yes, it’s most certainly good to be home for the holidays. It’s great to be with family and friends at this time of year. As we gather together this evening, to celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation and Nativity, as some of us have come home for the holidays, let us remember the home that our Lord left in order to redeem mankind, and the home that awaits us. Our Lord said in John’s Gospel, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” This is what our Lord left, in order that we might one day share it again with him.

In talking with one of my seminary classmates about my sermon idea for tonight, Fr. Rhoades, who many of you met at my institution as rector, suggested the following lyrics as possibly being applicable for this theme of Jesus leaving his home out of love for us. The group DOWNHERE wrote a song in 2007 entitled How Many Kings that I believe summarizes the point I’ve feebly attempted to make, and speaks quite clearly about this night. Here are their words:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?
It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

All for me
All for you
All for me
All for you

Only one King, one Lord, one Great, one God gave it all away in order for us to have it all, and to have it abundantly. Jesus Christ, the babe King did it all out of love, and He bids us to repeat His actions in the world. Let us with a glad and joyful heart receive Him once again, so that He might have a home to rule as our King, our Lord, and our God.

Merry Christmas, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and welcome home!
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 18, 2010

In less than a week the purple that we’ve become somewhat accustomed to over these past few weeks will be replaced with the white and gold of Christmas. The purple bows on the wreathes on our doors will be replaced with red ones, and our sanctuary will be adorned with the beautiful reds and greens of the poinsettias, and we will close our Christmas Eve service with the traditional singing of Silent Night in nothing but candlelight to anchor that theme from St. John, “and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

This season of Advent is intended to help us remember that we are to be intentional about our waiting and expectation for what we will celebrate at the end of the week. We are to take the time to be still. We are not to be still and simply fall asleep, but to stay awake, to be ready, to have our lamps lit with a supply of oil in reserve, and wait.

What are we waiting for? What are we longing for? Have we done the very thing that the season has been calling us to do?

If you are anything like me, you’ve most likely gone through some of the motions, making sure that all of the details are in order for entertaining guests, or welcoming home children and grandchildren, or making sure that all of the requisite presents have been purchased, that the intentionality of the season has somehow slipped by. We’ll get to the week following Christmas, look back, and ask ourselves the yearly question, where did the time go?

At this time of year I’ll bet we’re all much more Martha than Mary than we’d like to admit. If I would suggest any shift in the lectionary it would be to hear the Martha and Mary story as a precursor to the Christmas season so that we might hear again those words of our Lord, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We sang the traditional hymn of Advent a few minutes ago, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Emmanuel is the Hebrew word that literally means God with us. I love the fact that this hymn incorporates the words come with Emmanuel. If you think about it, it almost seems like an oxymoron of terms. If God is with us, he doesn’t actually need to come any more. We always talk about hot water heaters, but if you think about it, if the water is already hot, why does it need to be heated? Sorry, previous life digression!

Seriously though, if we are asking for God to come, why use the word that means God is with us?

Perhaps we need to think again about what it means for God to be with us. We know intellectually that God is always with us. He’s with us in the good times and in the bad. He’s always ready to hear our prayers, and like the loving father in the parable of the Two Lost Sons, he’s waiting to run out to greet us while we are still a great distance away. On the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” Emmanuel is with us, but if we are going to bid him come again, we need to know what we are asking for.

In last Sunday’s edition of The Parish Paper, Fr. Dunbar makes a splendid point regarding what are to expect, what we long for, and the necessity to examine the posture of our heart to await the coming of Emmanuel.

It is no doubt comforting to think that God is there any time we might need him – a well-trained God who does not speak unless he is spoken to, and concierge God who stands ready to answer our call. But that is not the comfort that we have in Christ. Christ does not remain at a polite and safe distance from us, somewhere up in heaven, or in the past, or in Galilee. He does not hover politely in the background in case we want him…. He does not wait upon us to invite him in; no, he comes to us, he invades our space and time, and when he comes, he presents himself as Messiah, and with the authority of the Lord he marches into the Temple, takes charge, and starts cleaning house.

The question therefore is not whether or if he is going to come or not: he is coming. Nor is even the question when he is coming – for he is even now on his way. With every passing moment the hour of his advent draws ineluctably closer: “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” The only question is whether we are ready to receive him, and to hail him as the multitudes did: “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: hosanna in the highest.”

As I mentioned last Sunday morning, one of the themes of our Advent lessons is that they seemingly pass quite simply through Christmas, and don’t stop until they approach eternity. We must remember that the first Advent that we proclaim each year and the final Advent are joined together in a sacred union. Each day that passes brings us one day closer to our perfect reunification with Almighty God. St. John closes the book of Revelation with the pleading for our Lord Jesus to come quickly so that he and we might enjoy the bliss that awaits those who believe and call upon Jesus’ name.

So, are we ready for what we say we are waiting for? Have we called upon the Holy Spirit to help prepare a place for us to receive our Lord Jesus again? Have we done the difficult work of being a Mary, and sat patiently at the feet of Jesus and allow him to speak to us through His Word, or through listening to him in our prayers, or feeding upon him in the Blessed Sacrament, or in seeing him in the very things that we do in his name? Or has this season of Advent been one of Martha type living in which we’ve been so diligent in making sure everything was just right that we lost focus on why we were doing what we are doing in the first place?

If that is the case, do not despair, for we are a people whose very foundation is built upon hope. Take this remaining week of Advent, yes I know this is the busiest week of all, and do the intentional work of waiting and watching. Spend this week in prayer and fasting as we anticipate the glorious celebration of the first coming of our Lord with the longing that awaits his second Advent. And to quote Fr. Dunbar again in closing:

How shall we make ready for so great a guest – a guest who comes to claim his people as their Lord? In its essence, I think our readiness is a matter of desire: wanting him to come, as Christ and Lord, wanting him with everything you have and everything you are, everything you do and everything that happens to you. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. Even so, [quickly] come, Lord Jesus.” Let this prayer be the desire of our hearts [this Advent], and the design of our lives.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 12, 2010

One of the themes of Advent is the notion of longing and expectation and one of the central figures of this season is John the Baptist. However, if you think back to the last two Sunday mornings we heard nothing about John the Baptist. The first Sunday of Advent sounds more like Palm Sunday than it does preparation for Christmas with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple as recorded by St. Matthew. Last Sunday we heard an apocalyptic account from St. Luke regarding signs and wonders, fig trees and the like. So much for longing and expectation – well, not really. If you think carefully about Advent, you’ll remember that Advent isn’t just the first coming of the Messiah. We can’t properly think about the Incarnation if we don’t begin with the end in mind.

God’s plan for the salvation of mankind doesn’t simply stop at Christmas, or Easter, or Ascension, or Pentecost. It continues in a trajectory straight toward the Second Coming of our Lord and the final culmination in the establishment of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

So, our lessons for Advent begin with the end in mind. They are of a more apocalyptic nature, and this morning and next Sunday the focus becomes more narrowed as we start to hear from John the Baptist and the nature of our Lord’s first coming. Even though we are moving our focus toward the manger, the second Advent is always looming in the background. Our collect reinforces that very fact when it holds the first and second comings in tandem with one another.

There is one overarching theme that I wish to focus on this morning as we look at the words of Jesus regarding his cousin John.

Our lesson opens with John at the end of his ministry and quickly approaching the end of his life, and he sends word to Jesus through some of his disciples, inquiring of him whether or not He is the Messiah, or is there someone else coming.
What is John’s motivation for asking such a question?
Is he sitting in prison now questioning his life’s work?
Has everything he’s done up to this point off base?
Is he suffering now because I was chasing after the wrong things?

Those are terribly relevant questions, and I dare say, ones we might ask ourselves.

Am I supposed to face this type of opposition in the proclamation of the Gospel?
Have I been doing or am I still doing God’s will in my life?

John is seeking affirmation and don’t we desire the exact same thing? The last thing any of us would ever want to do is travel down a lonely path only to realize that we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

In turn Jesus doesn’t simply send them away with a yes answer. Instead he tells them to open their eyes, open their ears, and observe what Jesus has been doing up to this point. He tells them that the blind have received their sight; the lame are now able to walk; the lepers are free from their horrible disease; the deaf are able to hear; the dead are now alive again; the poor have the Gospel preached to them.

We come again to a question that reappears throughout the Gospels – why does Jesus do it this way? Why didn’t he just say yes and go about his business?

I believe it’s because he wanted them to know it, accept it, and believe it for themselves. He wanted them to search their hearts, and what they’ve heard all their life in the Scriptures that Jesus is the fulfillment of the explicit prophesies of Isaiah, but implicitly throughout the Old Testament.

Isaiah 26:19 says, “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.”
Isaiah 29:18-19 says, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”

Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.”

Isaiah 61:1-2 says, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn;”

In essence, Jesus is telling the disciples of John to receive the same gift of sight that He’s given to the literally blind; to receive the same gift of hearing that He’s given to the literally deaf.

After the disciples of John depart Jesus turns and asks the multitudes three times in succession, what did you go out to John to see? If you went out to hear and see John, what were you doing out there? What were you expecting, what did you want to hear, what did you long to see?

Jesus then answers his own question with two stunning statements: a reed shaken by the wind; a man clothed in soft raiment.

What’s Jesus getting at here?

Think about that first image, a reed shaken by the wind. It’s a lovely sight to behold, but it provides no real support. It almost collapses under the weight of a small bird, and can do nothing more than respond to the winds of change that constantly toss it to and fro. Jesus is asking them if John’s message falls into that same category. Did what he say simply sound like one thing today and another tomorrow? Did it vacillate depending upon which outside force might be acting upon it at the time?

The answer to that question was an unequivocal NO! John preached a very consistent message that those who were coming to him needed to change their way of life, to repent of their sins, and seek a new and amended life. His message was firm and was on solid ground.

Second, John’s message wasn’t like a courtier in a king’s palace who simply said the prudent and politically correct things to say. John wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but wanted to impress upon those who would listen that the Kingdom of God was breaking in amongst them, and that they needed rousing from their slumber. The people needed to know that there was someone else coming, the thong of whose sandal John would not even be able to stoop down and untie. God was coming, and they were going to be able to see Him, speak to Him, and ultimately follow Him.

I mentioned at the beginning that there was an overarching theme to John’s message and it is this – John always pointed beyond himself. It was never about John; it was always about Jesus. He never sought his own glory, honor, or fame. As a matter of fact, he set all of that aside for the job he was called to do from his very conception. If you remember, John’s father was a priest and was offering the appointed sacrifices when the angel appeared to him proclaiming the birth of his son. John was part of the priestly line, and yet, he laid all of the benefits that came from the lineage to do God’s work.

We too are called to that exact same work. Our life as Jesus’ disciples is not to point to ourselves, the good works that we do, how well we think we live our lives, but to the goodness and glory of the Lord we serve and proclaim as Messiah. As I say many times at the offertory, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” As John told his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” John always knew that his entire purpose in God’s plan of salvation was to serve as the forerunner for the Messiah. He was the one, as we will hear next week, who would be, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”

Jesus then says that John was in fact a prophet, and goes one step further. He declares that he was more than a prophet. He was the one that had to come to prepare the way for God’s salvation to come into the world.

John’s words then should ring true today, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I am the voice crying out in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord.”

However, we save the most wonderful of all of John’s recorded words for later in our service when are invited to our Lord’s table, as the bread and wine are elevated before us to adore, and is proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.”

Let us with joy prepare our hearts to receive Him again, the one who takes away the sin of the world.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sermon for Advent II
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 5, 2010

We come this morning to one of the more familiar collects in the Prayer Book. It has been affectionately called the “Bible Collect” as it is a parallel to our Epistle lesson that we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I would like to take a closer look at this masterpiece of a prayer, and see how it fits into our appointed lessons in this Season of Advent.

At the outset we notice that there is an affirmation that God is the very source of the writings that we know as Holy Scripture. For we declare that God has caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. There are some schools of thought regarding the Divine Inspiration of Scripture that say that the human component to the books we call the Bible is negligible and should be totally discounted. When they speak of inspiration it was almost as if Moses, or David, or Luke, or Paul were in some sort of trance and served merely as scribes for what was being dictated by God Himself. It was almost as if he was whispering in their ears and they mindlessly wrote down what they heard. In some cases there might have been a component of that. It is plausible and perhaps likely that many of the Biblical writers did hear God in some audible form, and transcribed as best as they were able what He said to them. I don’t subscribe to this form of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the Bible is Divinely Inspired because it absolutely is. In the same way that we declare as dogma that Jesus, the Word of God, is 100% human and 100% divine, so too do I believe that the Words of God, the Bible is 100% human and 100% divine.

We are actually handling God’s words, and thus they demand our utmost care, attention, and respect. Not to the extent that we fell unable to engage with them, and wrestle with what they are saying to us. That is the very thing that we are all called to do. Part of the preacher’s job is the handle the texts, and then exposit them. That work is most certainly done with care, attention and respect.

Our first calling is to hear God’s Word. This certainly happens in many ways – when we hear large portions of Scripture read in the context of our Sunday worship, through additional portions being read each day in the recitation of the Daily Office, in our personal or group Bible Study, or silently reciting those passages we memorized as children. We have numerous opportunities to hear the Bible, and we must take advantage of those as often as we are able.

We don’t simply stop at hearing though, this is just the beginning. After hearing we are to mark Scripture. If in hearing that word mark your initial inclination went straight to highlighters, colored pens, or Post-It notes, you’re on the right track even though none of those things had been invented yet. Think about how we use the word mark. We speak of “marking a ballot” or a “marked man” or if we were ever in trouble with our parents “mark my words.” We are calling attention to something for future comparison and see how it measures up.

Our next task is to learn Scripture. This isn’t simply memorization, while that is great, and it’s not just rote knowledge of the stories contained within. I’m sure we all can remember back to our school days when we simply knew something for a test and as soon as we turned our paper or test in to the teacher much of what we studied left us. We didn’t actually learn what we had been called to learn. We simply knew enough to get by, and when that need was gone, so was the knowledge. Learning is so much more because as I’ve heard it said, “learning is forever.” I’ll bet if I were to take a poll there are certain things that you learned in school that have never left you, and you remember them as vividly today as the day you learned them. They entered into you at a depth makes them a part of you, a piece of your very existence. We didn’t simply memorize the alphabet, we learned a language; we didn’t simply memorize multiplication tables, we learned some of the fundamental truths of mathematics; we didn’t simply commit to memory bits and pieces of our Nation’s history, we learned what it was like to be a citizen of a country. I hope you see the difference, and Holy Scripture must be considered in the exact same vein. Memorizing and being able to ace Bible drills isn’t the end of the story.

Learning and the final task of inwardly digesting give us the tools to begin to be able to apply what we have first read and marked. When we inwardly digest something it becomes to fuel for living. When we digest our food our bodies convert it to something that we can then use to perform the everyday activities we must each do. Think about the times you’ve ever had the flu, or been sick and unable to eat and receive nourishment. You become lethargic, incapable to doing much more than lie in bed and simply exist. We were not born to simply lie in bed and exist, we were created to be the outpouring of God’s love to this world. The only way that we can do that is by feeding and being nourished by the accounts of God doing that very thing Himself. How does the old saying go, “You are what you eat.” Jesus said:
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst….I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:35, 48-51)

One preacher on this collect made the following statement:
When I eat food and digest it, it becomes a part of me. It provides nourishment and sustains life itself. To "digest" the Bible is to use it as a sustaining "spiritual food" for the soul and the body. Cranmer wrote that "The Bible is a book that is not for mere reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Otherwise, it is like swallowing food down without chewing and then spitting it back out again.

So why do we do all of this? Why commit to this type of engagement to a book?

The answer comes at the concluding phrase of the collect when two concepts are used in conjunction with one another – blessed hope and everlasting life.

Ours is a world longing, yearning, and not to be trite here “hoping for hope.” We are in the midst of a society that is looking for meaning, reality, truth, hope. The Christian faith is all of that and more. Our lives have meaning because we were created in the image and likeness of God. No other component of creation can claim that. Only man was created in the image and likeness of the Creator Himself. Our lives have meaning because live the opposite poles of a magnet, the positive pole of God and negative pole of man are constantly being attracted to one another. God’s position is fixed and it is only when we reorient ourselves in the wrong direction to we actually repel the attraction that has been there from the very beginning. We have to be oriented correctly in order to receive the fruit of being drawn closer and closer to God.

God is the ultimate reality because everything in creation was a part of His handiwork. That which we see and experience here is just a shade or glimpse at what ultimate reality looks like. All that is good here can only be imagined in its purest and most glorious form.

The very God who created all things became a creature when He came to live as one of us, and as we prepare to celebrate once again in a few weeks. The Incarnate Lord that we await again said to us in the clearest of statements, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life.” Truth came to us in the lowliest of forms, and He bids us to come and follow Him.

Finally, we have received hope beyond all hope because we receive the assurance that our lives do not end when we draw our final breath here on earth. Through our Lord Jesus death has been defeated forever, and our death in this life only marks the beginning of our eternal life with our Heavenly Father – that was bought and paid for and then given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.