Luke 4:1-13; 2 Timothy 3:10-17; Psalm 119:97-104
So, this week, is the second in our rhythm of life series
and having looked at pray, we are now going to consider read,
before moving on to learn, tell, serve, and give.
A key aspect of Christian life is the Bible, our Holy book,
in which God reveals himself and his purposes for Creation,
culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Christ,
and the formation of the church which results.
This is the story that is told throughout the pages of the Bible,
pages we consider inspired by the Holy Spirit,
and as Paul said in his letter to Timothy,
“useful for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.”
But there are ways that we really shouldn’t use the Bible.
For instance, I remember as a teenager
being in a great quandary about a relationship I was in.
When all else had failed I turned to the Bible,
and began by advising God of my intention to consult him
through a highly irregular method of Bible reading,
which I can only describe as Bible roulette.
The method involves flicking through the Bible at speed
with your eyes closed,
and jamming your finger in at random.
The passage your finger lands on
should contain God’s will for your life.
Of course, if the first one doesn’t look right,
or if it doesn’t give you the answer you want,
just have another go,
until you hit on something that seems to be the right fit.
Now, this is a great example of how not to read the Bible.
And from the result of this experiment itself,
never mind the patently absurd logic and ego-centric interpretation,
I can assure you that a chat with a parent or friend
would have been much more help,
and likely relieved my suffering much sooner.
So, what would I tell my younger self now,
about how to read the Bible,
if I could sit down with him for a real deep and meaningful?
Well, apart from recommending breaking off that relationship as soon as possible,
I’d point out the temptation to use or manipulate the Bible
to provide justification for something we have already decided,
to confirm our prejudices, biases and foregone conclusions.
I would gently try to advise my younger self,
to flip my approach to Bible reading 180 degrees,
and instead of wrestling it around to fit my existing ideas,
to approach it open-handedly, respectfully,
as if it were a person with a story to tell.
I would encourage my teenage self to set to one side
his relationship dilemma,
and indeed, anything else preoccupying him,
and just read the Bible on its own terms.
Listen to it,
and be genuinely curious about what it has to say for itself.
That shift towards reverence and respect,
open-handedness, and listening with curiosity, is crucial
because as Christians we don’t read the Bible primarily for new information,
we read it for transformation.
We don’t, or ought not,
to read it to confirm our pre-existing thoughts and ideas,
we read it for Good News,
and for the astonishment of encountering the living God.
The Bible is a complex library of books
collected by the people of Israel, and the early church
over the course of many, many years of history,
and it is full of inconsistencies,
morally questionable statements,
good role models, bad role models,
good theology and bad theology.
But on every page of it,
God is speaking to us,
weaving through the chaotic hay stack of humanity,
like a golden thread
amidst all the love and hatred,
the mercy and vengeance,
the compassion and ruthlessness.
And the more we read the Bible,
the easier it is to spot that golden thread.
which is revealed most clearly
in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
But not only is God present in the written words
but through his Spirit he uses those words
to speak directly into our lives.
God longs for relationship with us,
and to give us genuinely Good News.
So we must read the Bible expecting to meet Jesus,
to hear something fresh,
something that will change and transform us.
But how practically should we incorporate reading the Bible into our daily lives?
Well, the public reading of the Bible
that we do together in church each week,
really is paramount.
Apart from the fact that much of the Bible was written to be read aloud,
if we neglect to come to church
we lose so much else in the way of Holy Communion,
fellowship, encouragement, teaching and community life.
But hearing the Bible read aloud on a Sunday
isn’t enough to really sustain us through the week.
There are many different habits and disciplines
that Christians have cultivated over the years.
You will have your favourites.
One of mine is called lectio divina
– which is Latin for divine reading.
It is a very respectful, reverential, open-handedly curious way
of reading the Bible
which involves hearing a passage several times,
and listening for what the Holy Spirit may be saying through it.
I’ve left copies of the method for this at the back of church.
Please take one away and have a go.
One of the most ancient ways of reading the Bible the church has
is the daily office.
This is what a few of us gather here in church for in the mornings through the week,
and is otherwise known as morning and evening prayer.
And the office is basically portions of the Bible
arranged in a particular order as prayer.
We would be delighted if you would consider joining us
at 8.30am, Monday, Tues and Wednesday.
It’s a great way to begin your day,
and structure your week.
But there’s an app called Daily Prayer you can download,
if that suits you better.
Another idea to consider is gospel pairs.
This is a really simple arrangement,
involving you and a friend who also wants to read the Bible,
meeting up to read, discuss and pray about the Gospel reading for that week.
You can easily structure your time together
around the lectio divina method I’ve provided at the back.
If you prefer something a bit more straightforward
why not tackle the Gospel of Mark.
It’s the shortest of the Gospel accounts,
and its language is quite direct and plain
and it moves along at a good clip.
You could also try reading the Bible in a year,
or pick up a little daily devotional booklet from a Christian bookshop.
There are so many options.
However we decided to read the bible in daily life
the story of Jesus temptations in the desert
illustrates for us perfectly why it is so fruitful,
so supportive and life giving
to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Bible.
Because of his deep familiarity with Holy scripture
Jesus was able to use it to defend against the Devil’s temptations,
and stay on course for the future God had planned for him.
Living the Christian life is not always easy.
Its full of questions, doubts, fears, and yes, temptations.
To be a Christian is to be in relationship with God through Christ.
If we don’t spend time with God,
opening ourselves us up to the Spirit
through the words of scripture,
that relationship, like any that is neglected, will wither.
The Good News is that when we approach the Bible
with respect, reverence, open-handedness and curiosity,
when we set aside our selfish motivations,
and open our hearts with an expectancy
that Christ, the eternal Word of God
will speak to us,
we can be assured that he will reveal himself to us,
as a golden thread running clearly throughout its pages.
As Jesus found in the desert,
Holy scripture is an immense reservoir
from which the Spirit can draw to sustain and refresh us
when we face the challenges of living out our faith
on a day to day basis.
So, let us all take this opportunity in the life of St Mary’s
to review how and when we read the Bible,
and to consider opening our hearts
to a life changing encounter with living God
that will transform us, sustain us,
and guide us in our Christian pilgrimage.