Journey back to scripture

Sunday, January 31, 2016
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Luke 4:21-30

Jesus has been empowered by his baptism, or by the experience of his baptism, and it is really time to start his ministry.

He returns to Galilee and on to Nazareth where he had grown up. There, he goes to the synagogue, the place for worship and religious instruction.  He clearly appears to be a teacher - so on this day, the Sabbath, it is time for worship.  He does not choose the scripture - the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him.  

Forty feet of scroll.  And he goes immediately to one particular passage, and he reads:
    "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
This was the word written by Isaiah.  This was a part of scripture.  And the reading of this scripture became another part of the launching of Jesus’ ministry.  
And this scripture became a statement of Jesus’ mission while on earth.  
This scripture.
This scripture was pivotal.
If scripture - the words written before and preserved by the community of faith - was so important to Jesus,
    one who already, through the Spirit and through his being surely innately and inherently knew so much, understood so much
if scripture was so important to Jesus,
    should it not be even more significant to us,
        who need much more than he to have guidance and insight?
Should we not be referring to scripture
    to launch our days, our lives
    to define our ministries and our living?


Most of us do not spend enough time grappling with scripture.
I’m sure there are some here who read daily.
Others sporadically.
Others not often.

We’re the United Church – and I think we have a tendency to leave the Bible to the right-wing folk.
But that’s not a good thing!
Because when they say to the world “the Bible says this and that”, then that is what the world says.  Perhaps we have some nuances to add.  Perhaps we have a perspective on the words of scripture that really need to be heard.  Because the right-wing folk - the farther right one goes, the more the message seems to be about judgement, about narrowness, about lack of tolerance.
And our emphasis on grace, on love, on welcome, on justice and peace get lost.
We need to reclaim scripture!  
Not give others’ squatters’ rights because we have not been on that territory for 10 years.  
We had a neighbour in the Eastern Townships who owned a piece of lawn that looked like it belonged to our house.  We used it.  We mowed it.  The girls learned how to ride bicycle in part by riding down the gentle slope.  We used it every day.

But once a year our neighbour had a party.  And used that lawn as a parking lot - so that we could not claim squatters’ rights.

We need to use the Scriptures and not just give them away as though they did not matter!
They mattered to Jesus.  They need to matter to us.

===» Years before Jesus rolled open that scroll, the people of Israel had just returned to their homeland after generations in Babylon.

Several months of rebuilding, and then in the fall of the year the word goes out: the scriptures are going to be read on the first of the month.  Come to the Water Gate of the city.

And when people arrived, they saw a wooden platform on the side of the square by the gate.  Ezra went up on the platform so everyone could see and hear the words.  When he opened the scroll, everyone stood up, and then they bowed down in worship to God, with their faces on the ground.

The words were in Hebrew - the people understood Aramaic, so there was interpretation by the Levites, and explanation as well.

And the people were moved by the hearing the words of scripture.  They were moved, and many began to weep.  Was it because the scriptures told them that they had been living wrong?
No, I think it more that they had been missing hearing the scriptures for so many years that their hearts were touched, and the overflow of emotion brought tears to their eyes.

But Ezra and the Levites told them not to weep, and certainly not to mourn:  for this was a wonderful day of joy, the day when the scriptures were again read for all to hear, and interpreted for all to understand: men, women, children.

Now, they started reading first thing in the morning - was it 7:00 a.m. by our time? - and read until noon.  That’s five hours.  Five hours of listening to the scriptures, and listening to translation and explanation.  And the people stood with joy and with appreciation.

Now: If I read the scriptures and explained them for five hours, I expect by the end of the five hours I would be all by myself.  Or myself and two others - both of whom had fallen asleep.  But not this group.

They had gathered because they were hungry for the word.
And they went away, given direction to celebrate and to share celebration, because this was a feast day, a holy day, the day on which the scriptures were again read for all to hear.

Of the two scriptures, this is the first one that brought my attention to the value of scripture.

Now, you keep hearing me refer to scripture, and not so much to the Bible.  In some ways it is the same thing: the Bible is a collection of scripture, of Hebrew scriptures, of Greek scriptures.

But sometimes people respect the Bible without respecting scripture.
How’s that?  
Because the Bible is the printed version.
People might go to great lengths to look after that family Bible - carefully writing in the births and deaths, the baptisms and confirmations, and then placing that leather-bound tome in a safe place until the next family event.

That might be a respectful way to treat the Bible.
But it does not respect the scriptures.
The scriptures are meant to be read.  And not JUST read: They are meant to be interpreted.  Are meant to be explained, discussed, even debated.

James talks about people who read or hear the words of scripture – that some are like those who look in the mirror, see themselves and change nothing.  Matters not if they have dirt all down one side of their face, matters not is this morning’s breakfast still hangs from the beard....
These are those who hear the words out of the Bible but don’t do anything with them, don’t apply them, don’t connect their lives to the words of scripture.
As I run into these words from scripture this week, I realize that we, too, have to do something, and not just hear these words.  Not ideal for some, but I would like again to offer a study – this time a Bible study – through Lent on a weekday afternoon.  Evenings would be great for others, I know: perhaps we can find a way to expand.  

But at least, as a congregation, we can get together again, once a week, on Tuesday or Thursday afternoon to hear the words of scripture, interpret them, explain them to one another, connect to them and let them shape our lives.

Let us know that the scriptures are ours.
If you can’t make the study group - that is fine. Sign up for a daily reading, delivered by e-mail.  Or find a copy of the Bible that you can understand - probably not King James, read a text a day and, before moving on, ask yourself: what verses catch my attention.   Why?  In what way might they matter today – to the world or to myself?

And then, filled with the riches of God’s word we, like the people of Ezra’s time, can celebrate and feast on this holy day, for the Word has been heard and shared.