A Sermon from Sherborne
When is Bible Sunday not Bible Sunday?
A sermon for the Holy Communion preached at Castleton Church on Sunday 9 December 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent, by the Rector, Canon Eric Woods
As and when this sermon appears on the Abbey website, it will have the title When is Bible Sunday not Bible Sunday? The answer is, when it is on the Second Sunday of Advent. Yet in the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer, which we use here at Castleton, this Sunday was for many years known as Bible Sunday. As the Collect I offered just now puts it clearly:
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.
But the modernisers have moved Bible Sunday to the end of the Trinity season. So this year at the Abbey it has been and gone. It really doesn’t matter. The Bible is not for one Sunday of the year; it is for every day of the year. And that is because it is such a realistic book – or, rather, collection of books – and utterly true to life. The now-defunct Sunday scandal sheet The News of the World used to have at its masthead ‘All human life is here’. Yes, well, possibly. I’m not sure The News of the World was ever much interested in the good news. But all human life is in the Bible. It is a book of laughter and of tears. It tells of unhappiness and difficulties, wars and destructions, scandal and infamy – but it also tells us about forgiveness and joy, about goodness and courage, about reassurance and love.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ words are sometimes full of urgent warning, and sometimes of blistering anger. We heard that in the Gospel reading just now. People then, like people now, seemed to be sleep-walking to their own destruction in a comfortable daze of selfishness and sin. I am tempted to repeat that in the context of our present position as a nation, that we seem to be sleep-walking to own destruction. But Jesus was not concerned with Brexit. What mattered to him was what would happen to us and our immortal souls. Yet whilst his wake-up call was heeded by some, it was ignored by many. Still it needs to be heard. It is all in the Bible.
But there is in the Gospels a rather different passage, which takes us to the synagogue at Nazareth, and the occasion when Jesus announced the good news. You can still visit the site of that synagogue today, its walls now incorporated in a small and simple vaulted church of the Crusader period. It is a rather scruffy yet very holy place – but the setting pales into insignificance against the character of Him who walked into the service that day and announced good news to the poor, release for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the broken – and who declared ‘Today, in your very hearing, this text has come true.’ [Luke 4:14-30].
This text has come true – it is fulfilled – in Jesus. The Old Testament is full of the yearning of men and women for freedom, for justice, for righteousness, for the forgiveness and acceptance and peace of God. And now all this hope and all this yearning find their fulfilment in Jesus. In his words and works, in his death and rising again, he is not just the bearer of Good News: he is the Good News; he, and no other. That is why, incidentally, Christians are not ‘People of the Book’ in the same way as Jews and Muslims are. For them, the Old Testament and the Qur’an respectively are the good news. For Christians, the Good News is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The Bible for us is not a collection of proof-texts. It is the revelation of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, who leaps from the pages of the text as he leapt from the tomb, first to engage with us and then to change us.
Well, people do not change from one age to another, not in their real needs and their real hopes. Still, today, most people belong as it were to the Old Testament; they still hope the same hopes and dream the same dreams. Our job, yours and mine, is to be bearers of Good News, to show them that in Jesus there is the fulfilment of hopes, the end of longings, comfort in distress and a challenge to new and more vibrant living. For if Christ is God sharing our own life, then he is the fulfilment of every search for truth ever made by man. We do not have to believe that every religion apart from our own is totally wrong, misled and misleading, but rather that all truth is of God – and where truth is seen and followed it leads to Jesus Christ, and through Christ to our heavenly Father, since on Jesus’ own authority we know that no-one comes to the Father except through him. Christians hold this truth in trust for the world.
Into that small and rather scruffy synagogue in Nazareth came Jesus on the Sabbath day, as he regularly did, and he was handed their chief treasure. The scroll of the Scriptures to this day occupies the place of honour in every Jewish assembly. And he took their treasure with reverence and love, and transformed it. ‘Today, in your very hearing’, he said, ‘this text has come true’. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace, and truth.
So Jesus comes into our small and rather scruffy lives, and with great reverence and love accepts the secret longing and yearning and hope of our hearts. And that is our good news, that he is our Good News, and it is news to share – here, and in the wider world of home and family, neighbourhood and work. For we too are anointed: anointed at Baptism and Confirmation; we too are sent to announce good news to the poor: the poor in spirit as well as the poor in this world’s goods; we too are to proclaim release to those held prisoner by their sin and selfishness; we too are to open the eyes of those blinded by ignorance, prejudice or hatred. And today, now, is the time appointed, the time to make it true.
And for that, thanks be to God.