Thursday, January 15, 2015

sermon from January 11

Out of this sermon many people agreed to read a chapter of Mark a day for sixteen days 
          How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions?  If you are like 45 percent of the population, you made one.    
            Most of us don’t do well at keeping them.  Thirty-six percent of us who make a New Year’s Resolution have already stopped keeping it by the end of January.  And only eight percent achieve a New Year’s Resolution by the end of the year.
            But the large number of people who make a resolution—45 percent of the population is easily over 100 million people—shows this desire among us to keep growing and developing.  This is our journey.  We want to keep growing and developing.  As disciples or followers of Jesus you and I want to keep growing and developing to become who God wants us to be.  We want growth and development that will last.      
            With hopes for growth and development that will last, I’m sharing a three week sermon series called Identity. 
SLIDE            This series is driven by one question, “who am I becoming?” 
            It’s interesting.  All of us are changing.  Often we change in ways we don’t even realize.  Take our bodies for example.    
SLIDE            Do you know how many skin cells a person loses during a day? 
                        According to a link on the BBC and the Boston Globe the human body has 1.6 trillion skin cells. 
            Every hour we shed between 30 and 40 thousand skin cells—about a million skin cells a day.  A small part of our skin is different today than it was yesterday.
                        We’re changing and developing on our journey.  Do we like who we are becoming?  Are we satisfied with the person we look at the mirror in the morning?  Have we found ourselves saying, “I’m becoming so much like my mom and dad and I vowed I would never do that.”  Are we finding ourselves in a place of limbo—seemingly stuck with where we are. 
            What’s our identity?  Who are we becoming?  There is a lot at stake in this sermon series. 
            I’m sharing three spiritual practices that can help with this question.  Last week we looked at the spiritual practice of worship.  When we worship regularly we affirm and re-affirm our allegiance to God.  When we worship well consistently we grow in our love for God and our love for our neighbor and ourselves. 
            Today I’m going to look at the spiritual practice of Bible reading. 
            I’d like to encourage you to get out the bulletin.  On the left hand side of the bulletin is a place for you to take notes.  I’m going to give you a method today of reading the Bible that I believe can help all of us understand the Bible.  I’d like you to write it down and put it in your Bible.
            When a person mentions the Bible a lot of images go through our mind. 
            How do I look at the Bible?
Last week I shared a story about my Grandmother Harris—who is 100 years old.  Let me share a story about my other Grandmother.  Her name was Dorothy Moore.  Our Presbyterian heritage came through her.  She was a Iowa farm wife.  She passed away 20 years ago.  My Grandmother had a big Bible.  It was like this.  We might call it a coffee table Bible.  It’s a Bible that you would put on the coffee table.  Everyone would see it when they came to your house.
            How easy are coffee table Bibles to read?  They aren’t.  They are meant to share a symbol.
            Unfortunately for Christians or disciples of Jesus the Bible often functions as a symbol.  We want to be known by the book even though we don’t read the book
SLIDE                        The Barna group did a survey in 2013 about the Bible. 
88 percent of respondents say they own a Bible
80 percent think the Bible is sacred
The average household has four Bibles
61 percent wish they read the Bible more

SLIDE            A majority (57 percent) of those ages 18-28 read their Bibles less than three times a year, if at all.

Only 26 percent of Americans said they read their Bible on a regular basis (four or more times a week).

            What does this information tell us?  We value the Bible, but we don’t engage it.  We might think for ourselves.  How often do you read the Bible?  If we were looking for something to read late at night would we pick up the Bible?  Do we have times in our day when we engage the Bible?  Is the Bible helping us as we grow and develop? 
            Or does the Bible function like a beautiful piece of art work—like something we would put on the coffee table.  We might spend more time looking at it, than engaging it. 
SLIDE             There is a lot of confusion about the Bible. 
            In my experience of talking about the Bible with people I’ve found many people that look at the Bible as a book that tells us what we can’t do—it restricts the way we want to live our lives. 
            Some people look at the Bible as confusing and difficult to understand.
            Some people look at the Bible as having been terribly misused by the church.  The Bible has been used to justify war and sexism and homophobia and racism and the slaughter of people.
            I think that many of us look at the Bible like we look at green vegetables.  We know the Bible is good for us, but we don’t really every enjoy them. 
            It’s this sense of engagement that I want to encourage.       
            For me personally the Bible is the most important book in my life.  For me the Bible is a treasure.  I own about eight Bibles.  I read it every morning.  I have the privilege of teaching from the Bible.  I get paid to study the Bible and share sermons that are based on the Bible.  This is one reason I so love my job.  I have the privilege of reading, studying and teaching about the Bible.
            But it’s important for you to know something.  I wasn’t born loving the Bible.  I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb with a gene that predisposed me to want to read the Bible every day.  In fact I didn’t really grow in my love for the Bible until I was in my early 20’s.
            It’s astonishing to me that many of our churches do such a poor job of teaching the Bible.             The congregation I grew up didn’t reach me to love the Bible.  I love this congregation.  Even though I went to church every Sunday they didn’t teach me in a comprehensive way to love the Bible.  Fortunately we had a gospel reading every Sunday in worship.  Hearing stories about Jesus triggered my love for him.  My church didn’t teach me to love the Bible. 
            I hope this never describes Chain of Lakes Church.  I hope that we teach you the storyline of the Bible; I hope that everyone who comes here has opportunities to learn about the Bible; I hope that the Bible is not a confusing book which we can’t understand.  Instead I hope we see the Bible as a treasure that can help us unlock the secrets of life.  We see the Bible as a central resource in helping us become who God wants us to be.  I hope we grow in our love for the Bible 
            If I can do anything in this sermon, I want to stir up a desire in each of us to love the Bible.  To love the Bible we have to read it.    
            My own desire to read the Bible came to me when I was about 20.  I was attending Carleton college—fantastic school, but not known as a bastion of religious thinking.  I was going to church on Sundays, and I was participating in an Intervarsity group on Wednesday nights.  One weekend we went on a retreat.  I was given a free devotional book.  I was either a sophomore or junior in college.  One of the first devotionals I read was Psalm 1.  I don’t think I had ever read Psalm 1 in my life.  The translation that I read was the Revised Standard Version.  This translation does not include Inclusive language for people.  That’s why at Chain of Lakes we encourage the NRSV.  But I learned the RSV translation of Psalm 1. 
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.  Psalm 1:1-6.

            This Psalm just spoke to me.  Verse three grabbed me.    
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.
            I grew up with trees.  I was the beneficiary of the pioneers who planted trees into the southwestern Minnesota prairie.  I understood the harsh conditions in which these trees lived.  And I understood that to live a tree had to have a deep root system.  From living on the prairie I understood that there would be seasons that a tree wouldn’t grow, but there would be seasons where a tree would yield its fruit. 
            This metaphor of a tree with deep roots spoke to me.  I understood at a deep level that the deeper I can place my roots into God the more that I will prosper in my life.  This prosperity has nothing to do with financial prosperity.  It’s a blessing.  This is why I think the RSV translation of blessing is better than the NRSV translation of happy.  This is a blessing, it’s not an emotion.  This prosperity has everything to do with my relationship with God.  Sure I will have a seasons where my own leaf will not develop and in fact will wither.  But if I would stay rooted, then I would prosper. 
            This is just one chapter of six verses.  The Bible has 1189 chapters with 31, 103 verses.   I realized that the Bible was a treasure.  If I could access this treasure, I would be satisfied.  I would prosper. 
            I wanted to learn the Bible.  This started my own love affair with the Bible.
            I want you to have a love affair with the Bible too.  I want you to read it not only for information, but I want you to read it because you can find answers to the question, “who am I becoming?”  I want you to develop your own sense of identity because you’ve unlocked the treasures of the Bible. 
            Jesus loved the Scriptures too.  He saw them like the song Michael Smith penned that we’re going to sing.  Ancient words; ever true; changing me; changing you.  Jesus didn’t have the same Bible that you and I have.  He had portions of the Scriptures that we know of as the Old Testament.  In the reading that Heather shared Jesus was attending a synagogue worship service in his hometown of Nazareth.  He did it often.  He stood up to read the Scripture for the day.  Someone gave him a scroll.  In Jesus’ day the Bible was not a book.  He unrolled the scroll and read what we know of as Isaiah 61
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.

Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it to the attendant.  Then Jesus sat down.  The person who spoke at synagogue would sit down when he spoke.  Everyone’s eyes were on Jesus.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth so it was like everyone in the small town who had watched Jesus grow up were looking at him.  We don’t’ know if this is the first time that Jesus ever spoke at the synagogue, but it’s possible.
            He said something revolutionary.  Do you know what he said.  It’s important what he said.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
            I’d like to paraphrase what Jesus said. 
These ancient words are true.  They are my identity.  They describe me. 
SLIDE             Jesus did the same thing that I’m encouraging us to do.  He answered the question “who am I becoming” based on Scripture.  Jesus was saying I’m the one who Isaiah had predicted about 500 years earlier who would come. 
            This was a profound move that Jesus made based on the Scriptures.  It’s relevant for you and I who live almost 2,000 years later.  What Jesus did in that small synagogue in the village of Nazareth affects us who worship in a suburb called Blaine.  The city of Blaine couldn’t be more different than the village of Nazareth, but the function of Scripture is the same. 
            I realize that you and I might not be able to open up a Bible and have an answer to all of our questions.   But remember—the point of this sermon is to increase our interest in the Bible.  If know at a deep level that there is something “there” in there than we can open up the treasure.   Perhaps we won’t come up with an answer right away to the question, “who am I becoming.”  But if we read the Scriptures every day I can promise—and I don’t make many promises—but I can promise that we at some point will have a revelation from God.  And this revelation will last longer than a New Year’s Resolution.  And this revelation will probably be something we didn’t anticipate.  And this revelation will help you go deeper with God.  And this revelation is so way cool that it’s worth reading the Bible every day in anticipation that you will discover it. 
            Let me get practical.  Let me share a simple method for going deeper into the Bible.  This method is not mine.  I don’t even know where it came from.  There are many good methods for reading the Bible for understanding.  This method works for me.
            The method is this.  When you read a passage from the Bible ask yourself five questions
What does this passage teach me about God?
What does this passage teach me about myself?
What does this passage teach me about humanity?
What does this passage teach me about the church?
How does this passage teach me to love deeper?

            Not every story or group of passages in the Bible will answer all five questions.  But every story or group of passages in the Bible will have an answer to at least one of these questions.  e questions.  But every passage in the Bible will help us with at least one of these questions.
            When you read the Bible ask that the Spirit will guide you.  Take these questions and ask them about the story.
            From today’s reading we learned that Jesus was the one that Isaiah had predicted would come.  We learned that Jesus’ identity had come from the ancient words of the Scriptures. 
            I have a challenge for you. 
SLIDE            I want to encourage all of us to read one chapter of the gospel of Mark for the next 16 days.  Have you ever read through a gospel?  This is our opportunity.  Read a gospel from cover to cover.  I want to encourage you to get out your Communication card.  If you’d like to read a chapter a day, put a big “Yes.”  Tomorrow I’ll E-mail you brief guide that will help you with the gospel of Mark. 
            The gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel; it was the first gospel that was written; it has a tremendous urgency to it.  There was a lot at stake for Mark as he wrote his gospel. 
            The Bible is not meant to be put on our coffee table and gather dust.  It’s not meant to gather dust anywhere.  Reading the Bible can give us such a deeper understanding of ourselves.  Our view of the world is different.  Our view of ourselves is different.  When we come to the conclusion that God loves us deeply we have a fresh perspective on ourselves.  We might not be as quick to criticize ourselves in our own mind; we might be able to accept ourselves at a deeper level; we can be more secure in who we are; we might trust the journey. 
            I want us to go forth loving the Bible.  These ancient words will help us unlock a treasure that will forever impact our lives. 

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