Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sermon for February 17, 2008

Life in the Word
Luke 24:44-53

We’ve all seen them – Email forwards of funny things kids mistakenly say in Sunday School. Here are some of my favorites:
· Noah’s wife was called Joan of Ark.
· The fifth commandment is humor thy father and mother.
· Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, and a ball of fire at night.
· When Mary heard she was to be the mother of Jesus, she went off and sang the Magna Carta.
· Holy acrimony is another name for marriage.
· The Pope lives in a vacuum.
· The patron saint of travelers is St. Francis of the sea sick.
· A republican is a sinner mentioned in the Bible.
· The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple.
· It is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said in church because the agnostics are so terrible.
· The natives of Macedonia did not believe, so Paul got stoned.

These illustrations are funny, but at the same time, it portrays a painful truth of our culture. Many of us don’t live lives immersed in God’s Word. In fact, only one out of ten Christians is able to correctly identify what the New Testament teaches about the central principle relating to their life. Why is it that even Christian believers remain largely unexposed to Christian learning? Why do bankers, lawyers, teachers, physicians, scientists, salespeople, financial gurus and domestic goddesses -- people who carry out all kinds of complicated tasks in their work and home -- remain in a dreary, elementary school level in their biblical understanding? How is it that high school students can move easily into the complex world of computers, foreign languages, DNA and calculus, and can’t even get off the ground in interpreting a single text of Scripture? How is it possible one can attend Sunday School and Bible Studies for decades and still lack the interpretive skills of someone who has taken three or four weeks in an introductory course in the Bible at a university or seminary? This morning we are going to think about how we can live more in tune with what God’s word has to say to us.

Life in the word is like a three-legged stool. Today’s text gives us an indication of how these three legs can give us stability. Kick one leg out, and we fall to the ground. Place yourself on all three, and there is stability.

Leg #1: The Written Word
Try to picture the scene in today’s gospel account. The frightened disciples sit in the upper room, planning their next move now that Jesus is gone. Two disciples interrupt the gathering. They’ve just seen Jesus on a road outside of Jerusalem. As they breathlessly explain their encounter, Jesus appears in the room out of nowhere. The disciples are frightened out of their wits. Even after they touch his nail-pierced hands, even after they see him eat, they are distrustful. Then Jesus teaches, like he had so many times before. Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. It’s as if Jesus is saying to his disciples: “Look guys, everything I said came true. It was all written down beforehand in the Scriptures. Scripture told you I would come to suffer and die, and rise from the dead. The words unfold before you. Don’t miss out because you are too afraid to believe.”

The first leg of our three-legged stool is the written word–the Bible. The Bible is God’s written message to us. It points us to the truth. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It ‘s God’s way of getting us ready for life. Through Scripture, God prepares us for all the good things God wants us to do.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary football, was a fanatic for fundamentals. After a game where the Green Bay Packers lost to an inferior team, Lombardi called his team together and roared, “OK, we go back to the basics.” Then, holding a football high enough for all to see, he continued to yell, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

You know, the world thinks it’s quoting the Bible when it’s actually quoting Shakespeare. The Bible has become an unknown book. Many give restaurant menus and TV Guide a closer reading. It’s time to hold up the Bible and say, “Ladies and Gentleman, this is the Bible. This is life’s compass. Are you off course? Are your drifting in the dark sea of life? This is how you find life’s bearings.

A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim’s face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. One of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read Braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in Braille. Much to his dismay, however, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the Braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue. At the time this man was discovered, he had “read” through the entire Bible four times.

Taste God’s word. Read God’s word. Read it often. Fall in love with what it has to say, because its words are life. Allow the Spirit to help you understand the Scriptures.

Leg#2 -- The Living Word
This leads us to the second leg of our stool–the living Word. John’s gospel tells us that Christ is the living Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word and he was God” (John 1:1). Jesus is God’s message to us. Jesus communicates God’s love. He clearly demonstrates that God heals, and blesses, and understands. When we look into the face of Jesus, we see God. We see eyes that radiate compassion. We see lips that say, “God loves you.” We see God because Jesus is God.

Scripture, the written word, is supposed to point to Jesus, the Living Word. The point of the Bible is not to get people to believe the Bible, but to believe God. Scripture doesn’t say, “Believe in the Bible and you will be saved,” but “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

The Prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Madrid’s ancient prison. Everyone knew that once you were in, you would never come out alive. The prince was given one book to read the entire time–the Bible. He read it over hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After thirty-three years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls. The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eight chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name of more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.

This man spent 33 years of his life studying God’s written message to us. Yet, he could only glean trivia. For all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia. When knowing facts about the Bible comes over a living relationship with Christ, we lose perspective. The message is that the Messiah must suffer and die, and rise again from the dead on the third day. The message is that from the creation of the world, God’s plan has been revealed and carried through, so that we could have a relationship with the Living Word, made known to us through the written word.

Leg#3 -- The Spoken Word
The final leg of our stool is the spoken word. The disciples were not called to stay in the upper room, but to communicate the gospel to the world. Proclamation of the gospel is the heart of the word-centered life. We use words in order to have a relationship with another person; through words, we connect with each other. So, when we talk about our faith, we speak the written word, that tells about the Living Word, so that hearers can establish a relationship with God. This is what Jesus told his disciples: “With my authority, take this message [take my words] of repentance to all the nations. There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me. You are witnesses to these things.” We, too, are witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ. We use words to tell this good news to everyone–those who can read, those who can’t, and those who don’t.

On January 21, 1930, the name of Harold Vidian became synonymous with heroism. On that day, England’s King George V was scheduled to give the opening address at the London Arms Conference. The king’s message was to be sent by radio all around the world. A few minutes before the king was to speak, a member of the staff of CBS tripped over an electrical wire and broke it, cutting off the entire American audience. With no hesitation, chief control operator Harold Vidian grasped one end of the broken wire in his right hand and the other in his left, and restored the circuit. Electricity surged through his body. Ignoring the pain, Vidian held on until the king had finished his address.

I see in this as the challenge for Christians. The words of the King of kings must go to the whole world. But only as we allow the power of God’s Word to pass through us can the gospel be transmitted. If we are willing to serve as conduits, the good news will be known.

Will you be a channel for the King’s message? It begins by reading Scripture, and letting it lead you to a relationship with the living Word, Jesus Christ. Live your life in the Word, and I promise you will have something to talk about.

Exercises in the Word-Centered Tradition

Here are some ideas to try to put into practice this week:

  • Memorize a verse of Scripture. Here are some suggestions — Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:1’ John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8. Repeat the verse often as you go through your day.
  • Read one of the shorter books of the Bible out loud. Consider one of Paul’s letters, or the gospel of Mark. Imagine how the audience of Christians listening to it for the first time might have reacted.
  • Look for an opportunity to tell someone about your faith. Pray that God will put you in the path of someone who needs to hear about Jesus. Ask God that you will be given the means and words to speak about your faith I a way that does not judge or manipulate the other person.
  • Share your faith in your actions. Pray for insight to see your life as others see it. As you meet people, think about how your life does or does not reflect the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

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