This is the second sermon from the Lenten sermon series "Practice: The Means of Grace." The following blog post is my sermon outline with notes. That is to say that what is printed here is probably not everything I said on Sunday morning and I may not have said everything that is written down. That is the nature of how I preach. I hope that you will be gracious with any errors or places where this may be hard to follow in written form (I also hope for that same grace when you hear me preach). God bless you in your Lenten practice - Pastor Rett
So as it turns out I have about seven sermons on Scripture floating around in my head, and as I started writing this sermon I wrote all of the topics of those sermons down and tried to decide which one of them was this Sermon on Scripture Reading as a means of grace. As it turns out none of them was and in some ways all of them are. As I wrote all of those one line topics down, and then talked them over with Pastor Debra, we realized that all of the topics fell into three basic categories: Why we read Scripture, How we read Scripture, and What Scripture we should read. (I probably should have known to start here anyway, but I’m hard headed)
Why Read Scripture? – To learn the character of God. That is a loaded statement and I want us to take our time talking about it right up front. Learning the Character of God is more than learning about God. If we are praying so that our hearts are enlightened so that we can know God more fully, then we read scripture so that we know God when we see God at work in our lives and in the world. It’s kind of like the difference between doing a Google Search on someone, or Facebook stalking them, and actually sitting down to have a face to face with them. Scripture is a face to face encounter with God. We seek to learn more than what God has done, we also seek to learn who God is and how to know what God is doing and what God will do.
Too often we approach Scripture like a history book, trying to memorize the information contained in the pages, in an effort to obtain Biblical knowledge – or we avoid reading scripture because we think we are supposed to be memorizing the information contained in the pages in order to obtain Biblical Knowledge.
But it turns out Scripture isn’t a history book or a science book or an economics book or a political science book. Scripture is God’s Word and we read it not to master the information recorded in its pages, but so that we know the Truth of the God who gives it to us as a gift of God’s self.
But because of modern debates about the way we read and understand Scripture, even saying that it is the Word of God is loaded in such a way that what many people hear in that statement is that it is a literal, inerrant text that is a history, science, economics, political science, and so much more book all rolled into one. But what I mean when I say that Scripture is the Word of God is that it is God’s breathed Word which engages us and invites us to know God.
The difference is that we don’t read Scripture to find out what to do, we read Scripture to find out who’s we are.
So if we read Scripture to learn the character of God, then how should we practice reading Scripture as a means of grace?
First when reading Scripture as a means of Grace, I think we have to give up the idea of studying Scripture. This sermon is not a recruitment tool for more Bible Study. In Reading Scripture as a means of Grace we are not called to acquiring more information about the Bible, we are called to be in relationship with God and to know the God we serve.
Second we also need to see Scripture Reading as something different than reading a devotion. The devotions that many of us use or might use do include scripture verses or passages, but then the rest of the devotion is someone else’s interpretation or anecdote which highlights a particular feature of the Scripture selection for that day. We need to engage Scripture and be engaged by Scripture on its own.
A quick disclaimer.
Neither Bible Study nor Devotional materials are bad, nor are they to be avoided. They simply are not Scripture Reading as a spiritual practice.
So, How do we practice Scripture Reading – have you guessed yet? - We read Scripture. Don’t worry about the notes at the bottom, the chapters, the verses, just read Scripture and let it engage you. As you read be aware of what troubles you or makes you question or brings you joy or hope and meditate on those parts of scripture. Don’t look for answers. Look for God.
Ways that I find helpful – Lectio Divina – Chew on it, pray over it, digest it so that it becomes a part of you.
Origen’s advice – Pay attention to the parts of Scripture that trip you up. Don’t gloss over them or avoid them, enage them, and look for God in them.
This leads us to What to read?
First – Translations/Paraphrases – Read one that helps you know who God is? If you are going to get to know God through Scripture you have to be able to read the translation you choose. So choose one that you find readable.
Second – Choosing where to begin.
Try out different things – Everyone does well with different approaches – read it straight through, follow a reading plan, Providence (let it fall open)
Things to remember when reading – Chapter and verse are there for your convenience, not to dictate how much you read. Many of the books/letters were meant to be read in one sitting or at least taken as a whole.
Don't be afraid to stop and pray and listen when you think you are seeing God in the text.
We are supposed to be People of One book and that book is the Bible – Wesley’s phrase, but it doesn’t mean that we only read the Bible. It means the Bible is our foundation, the lens through which we see everything else in our life because it shows us the Character/Image of God. If we don’t engage it, we fail to be who we are meant to be as Disciples.