January 23, 2022

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

“Bringing Scripture to Life”

This morning I want to talk about the Bible – about the Scriptures that we love so dearly in our church. We begin our service each Sunday with a procession of the Scriptures, placing the Bible at the centre of our worship space for all to see. We read significant portions of the text each week, following a lectionary cycle of readings so that the minister doesn’t just pick her favourites. And then everything that we say, and sing, and pray, and proclaim to one another in our community of faith is rooted in the themes and truths of Scripture that we intend to let guide our daily lives and decision-making.

Presbyterians love the Bible, and one of the highlights of my week is when a group of us gather on Zoom to discuss one of the upcoming readings for Sunday. It gives me a chance to share some of the things I’ve been learning or thinking about as I prepare to preach, and an opportunity to hear other perspectives, questions, and insights from some of you.

I cancelled our mid-week Bible study this week though, in favour of joining in an ecumenical Bible study that was happening on Zoom for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Each day’s study was led by a different Christian pastor or leader, from a variety of denominations and a various places across Saskatchewan. They were very well done, and we had over a hundred participants each day, enjoying thoughtful reflections from the leaders and using the chat to share responses, ideas, and prayer requests too.

Presbyterians aren’t the only ones who love the Bible. A wide spectrum of Christians love it too, and studying Scripture together is a great way for us to come together, get to know each other, and to grow in our connections with each other as members of the one Body of Christ.

Thinking about people who love the Bible reminds me of a woman I worked with many years ago in running my church’s Kids’ Club. Judy was passionate about her faith, and loved helping me with the program and bringing her grandsons along to participate.

Besides playing games and sharing snacks and having a lot of fun in the church hall on Friday nights, we always did a little Bible study at Kids’ Club. We would put our chairs in a circle in the library, pass out the Bibles in an easy-to-read translation, practice finding passages using the index or our memory of the order of the books, and then reading a short passage together right from the Bible.

When we were finished, we might move on to a time of prayer, or an art project, or a game with some connection to what we had been reading. But if we stayed sitting in our circle of chairs, holding our Bibles, some of the kids could get pretty fidgety. Sometimes, just to be efficient, I would say to the kids, “Okay, everyone put your Bible under your chair so you don’t have to hold on to it while we do this next thing.”

Well, I soon discovered that putting the Bibles on the floor really bothered Judy. She even noticed one kid put the Bible down and then used his foot to slide it under his chair! It seemed disrespectful to a book that she held in such high regard. How could we put God’s Word on the ground and tuck it away under our chairs?

I’ve noticed similar concerns when Bibles become worn out and need to be disposed of, or when we have a whole bunch of Bibles that are written in an old translation that this generation can no longer understand. To some, it would be shocking to recycle those old Bibles. But what else are you going to do with them?

Well, let’s think about what Jesus would do. As a faithful Jew, Jesus didn’t follow the same Bible that we do, but his faith was rooted in the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament) and the Prophetic writings. Like us, Jesus worshipped God in community on a regular basis, and a central part of Jewish worship was the reading and interpreting of Scripture, just like it is for us.

We heard this morning about a significant moment at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to Luke. After Jesus had been baptized and tested in the wilderness, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to do what God was calling him to do with his life. He began by teaching in various synagogues in the region of Galilee where he lived.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.” Jesus read a passage from the Scriptures, and then he interpreted it for the people. But that’s the last time in Luke’s Gospel that you find Jesus in a synagogue preaching and teaching from the Scriptures.

He read: “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.

“And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. [That’s the typical posture of one who is going to teach.] The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him [waiting, perhaps, for Jesus to explain the reading with wisdom and insight].”

And he said, quite simply, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Jesus is reading the words in the Scriptures and applying them to himself. He’s saying that the Spirit of God has come upon him (we just heard about it happening during his baptism), and the Spirit is sending him to announce and to enact God’s love in the world, especially for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

Jesus is not going to stay in the place of worship, reading and reading, discussing and debating the possible meanings of the ancient words, and worshipping the Scriptures themselves instead of God. He’s going to go out and start living according to their teachings. He’s going to go out and fulfill the Scriptures with his life among the people.

I’m not suggesting that we worship the Bible either, but that is a risk if we get too caught up in that one aspect of our faith practice and forget that our Bible study is supposed to inform and guide our lives of faith in the world. We may become overly concerned about the physical book, and lose sight of its ultimate purpose.

Indeed, just like Jesus, we are supposed to actually fulfill the words of Scripture – to not only read “Love one another as God has loved you,” but to go out and practice it with our co-workers, our neighbours, and the difficult people we encounter who are hard to love. We’re not only supposed to discuss how Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, but we are meant to be inspired to join in those activities ourselves.

I like the way that the SALT Lectionary Commentary points out that it’s not only Jesus who can participate in the “fulfillment” of scripture. As members of the Body of Christ, we too are called to embody it in the world. Think about it this way: “Scripture” can also be understood as “script” in the dramatic sense of the term: written words on the page, waiting to be brought to life in what we say and do.

Imagine if you were an actor. Studying the script of the play will be important, of course. Getting to know the characters, understanding the meaning and message of the play, going over your character’s lines again and again until you know them by heart. But if you never actually “do” the play, if you just study it, what’s the point? You’ve got to act it out and embody it on a stage for that play to really come to life.

I’m a pastor, and I do love Bible study. I’ve really enjoyed the ecumenical studies online this week, and the new ideas and insights that I’ve heard and shared with others. But what I really love about coming together in this ecumenical Bible study is the reminder that there are all these faithful Christians and Churches spread across our beautiful province.

And I trust that they’re not just gathering on Sundays (whether in person or online) to worship, and read Scripture, and interpret it. But I believe that they are also going out in their communities and bringing the Scriptures to life in the world through their love, kindness, generosity, patience, and acts of healing, helping, and caring in Jesus’ name.

One of the things we’ve been doing through First Church lately is working with some other downtown churches to initiate a Saturday Bag Lunch program for people in our city who are hungry on the weekends. We tried it out before Christmas, and members of our Mission & Outreach Committee made a couple of hundred sandwiches that were distributed to people in need.

And because we are working on this project ecumenically, with many parts of the Body of Christ sharing their gifts together, we are committed to providing the bag lunches every Saturday at least until the end of March. With more and more churches joining us, we may be able to continue the program for as long as there is a need.

It’s one way that the Body of Christ in Regina is fulfilling the Scriptures today, as Jesus did in Galilee so long ago. We are not just studying the script, but we are acting it out in our community. We are not just reading the Bible, but we are bringing the Scriptures to life for the glory of God and the love of all God’s children.