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.