Do you hear what I hear?

 

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One of the unintended consequences of “church on the floor” is the reality that I am now sitting four feet from the first person in the pews.  In our usual arrangement, I’m up half a flight of steps, through the choir, and a good forty or more feet from the pews.  As a result of this new experience, I find myself paying attention to the way in which our people are engaged in worship.  For example, during Deacon Kellie’s sermon yesterday, as her mic cut in and out, people were genuinely engaged in her preaching.  They were paying attention, actively listening, in order to hear the good word that she was offering, the Gospel she was proclaiming.

As much as we’d like to believe that our people are consistently engaged in worship on Sunday morning, the reality is, like it is everywhere else, there are moments in the liturgy when the congregation is somewhere else.  I’m not sure where they are: pondering brunch plans, stressed about money, planning the week ahead, or deep in prayer are all possibilities.  However, I am keenly aware of where our folks are during the reading of the lessons – they are in their bulletin, following along with the text that is set before them, and I’m not 100% convinced that is a good thing.

Our collect for Proper 28 is specifically focused on the role of Scripture in our lives.  (I’ve written a chapter on this collect in “Acts to Action,” which I hope you will read (you can buy at forwardmovement.com (and, full disclosure, for which, I do not receive any compensation))).  It highlights that Scriptures’ primary role in our lives is as a teaching tool, and that the primary way with which we are to engage the Bible is not through our eyes, but through our ears.

There is something unique that happens when we just listen.  Our brains receive the information in a different way than if we are following along, anticipating the next word that is printed before us.  When we listen to the text, we join with the majority of our illiterate siblings in Judeo-Christian history in receiving God’s great love story as it was originally told, out loud, as a tale passed down from one generation to another.  In listening, our imaginations go to work.  We can find ourselves inside the story.  We can hear it in our own unique way.  We may not hear what our neighbors’ hear, but we can hear what God has to say to us in that exact moment.

This Sunday, as we pray the collect for Proper 28, I hope that you’ll join me in putting down your bulletin and just listen.  Listen for the word that God has for you.

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Inwardly Digest

Life is a lot more hectic these days.  I feel like my schedule is not my own.  I try to plan for the unexpected, but it always lives up to its name.  It was about a year ago that I began the process of transitioning from being the First Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s in Foley to the 25th Rector of Christ Church, Bowling Green.  During that period of saying good-bye, pondering hello, and experiencing more change than I can recall in my life, people offered me a lot of advice.  Much of what they told me was wise.  Some of what I heard was ominous.  The most frightening thing someone told me in those two months was “good luck keeping up your blogging schedule.”

A year later, I am keenly aware that I have not kept up this blog with the rigor I once had, though I am proud of what I have accomplished this year.  Rather than four days a week, I’m probably averaging three.  It is a 25% reduction, which I lament, but it is better than a 50% or 100% drop.  Still, while some of you have noticed the infrequency, and especially the occasional week of silence, I assure you, no one feels my change in writing more than me.  For nearly 15 years now, I’ve been writing a blog about the Bible.  More than any other spiritual discipline, I have kept up the practice of reading and journaling the Scriptures.  Each year, on the week of Proper 28, I am reminded of the gift blogging has given me when we pray this collect.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This blog is, for me, an opportunity to inwardly digest the Scriptures.

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Each day, I take time to read the lessons appointed for Sunday.  As a word jumps out at me, I pay attention to or mark it.  I take that word to BibleWorks or Studylight.org or to one of my commentaries and try to learn more about it.  Finally, I turn my attention to how I might take what I’ve learned and inwardly digest it so that I can explain that understanding to someone else.  Honestly, I would write this blog if nobody else read it.  Though, if I’m honest, I do check my stats daily.  But it is in the action of taking what I’ve learned and turning it into words on a screen that I really begin to deepen my understanding of what God is saying through the Scriptures.

Blogging may not be for you.  Perhaps you don’t think people need to hear your thoughts on the Bible, or aren’t so conceited as to think you have some insight to offer.  Journaling privately might be your way into the Scriptures, but then again, maybe that isn’t for you either.  No matter how you do it, I hope this week, as you pray the Collect for Proper 28, you might take some time to consider how you will live it out by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the holy word of God.

The Lenses We Use

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Nick Cage is a National Treasure

I’ve read the lessons for Sunday three times this morning.  I tell you this not so you’ll think I’m Super-Bible-Man, but as a confession that I can’t, for the life of me, find something to write about today.  My sermon came crashing in on me yesterday morning in the last minute frenzy of getting kids off to school.  I came to the office, I wrote it and the blog post that flowed out of it, and now today, I’m left wondering, what else is there to say?

As I  considered what it meant that my well had run dry, I remembered the now eleven years of blogging that I’ve done.  That’s almost four full Lectionary cycles of blog posts on lessons that I read again and again and again.  Sometimes, the thoughts come easily.  Other times, I have to work at it.  There are even a few times when I work at it and the resulting post is nothing but a rambling mess (see also, Tuesday’s post).  What gives me the chance to write on these lessons again and again is that I always manage to see them with a different set of lenses.  Each time I approach the scriptures, I do so as a different person.  Something has changed in my life, even if it is only the date on the calendar, and a story that I’ve read a hundred times is brand new again.  The Bible is, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “living and active” in that way.

I realized this morning that my lens hasn’t changed much this week.  Sometimes, weeks are like that, I suppose.  Sometimes, we need to spend some extra time thinking on things we haven’t considered deeply before.  I’ve been privileged not to have to think much about racism and white-supremacy before, but this week, it is where the Spirit has called me to focus.

The lens will change in time.  It always does.  God does not allow us to stay in one place very long, but instead invites us to open the scriptures in a new and exciting way.  So, like Nick Cage in National Treasure, today I’m using this set of lenses to see what I need to see, and maybe tomorrow, I’ll flip down another.

The word of God is living and active…

Hebrews 4:12 is fun with capitalization.  It reads, as the title of the blogpost indicates, “The word of God is living and active…”  I say “fun with capitalization” because nobody uses a lowercase “w” for “word” in the phrase “word of God” anymore.  In both of my ordination, I solemnly declared that I believe “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation…”  Most Christians, regardless of their position on the infallibility of Scripture, when pressed, would use the same curious case to write “Word of God” that the Book of Common Prayer does.  To me, however, using the capital “W” puts the Bible on par with the other “Word of God” who is the second person of the Trinity, a guy we commonly call, Jesus.

Which leads me to this oft heard statement:

And this question, “what did God say?”  The words in red in the Gospels, those words spoken by the Word, I’m pretty sure God said.  The words spoken by the prophets, the mouthpieces of God, I’m pretty sure God said.  The words of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, I’m pretty sure God said.  But what about the rest of, to use my preferred case from Hebrews, “the living and active word of God,” I’m a little fuzzy.  See if it is living and active, then it can’t be pinned down, and if it can’t be pinned down, then how am I to use it to “settle” anything?  Instead, if it is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, then shouldn’t the “word of God” be at work in my heart?  Should it be changing me to be a better person?  Should it be settle in me, not being used by me to settle on anything?