Saturday, 27 October 2007
(This series, intended for sermons, groups, cells & individual study, is entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master” – see separate leaflet with all 10 titles to place this in its sequence.)
28th OCTOBER 2007. READINGS: PSALM 1: 1 – 6 LUKE 4: 1 – 13
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORY: PSALM 119: 105
RECOMMENDED BOOK : THE LIFE YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED (Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People) by John Ortberg (Zondervan Press for Willow Creek)
Today – 28th October – is ‘Bible Sunday’ and so we turn out attention to the Bible, its foundational place in the Christian Faith, and how we may use it best to understand our faith, and apply it daily in our lives. The Key Verse from Psalm 119: 105 states:
‘Your Word is a Lamp to my feet, and a Light to my path’
1. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
It tells us everything we know about God, especially as He has revealed himself in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
It places us in the tradition of revelation, worship and faith that stretches from Genesis to Revelation
It is God’s guide for our lives, helping us make true judgments in everything from moral to practical decisions.
Crucially, Christ shows us himself as we read and pray, so that we experience his presence, his glory and his will for our lives, leading us to place our whole trust in him.
2. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus had absorbed the Scriptures of the Old Testament from childhood, and was able to draw on them for strength and guidance at all critical times of his life. See the Gospel for today. Consider also his use of references to the Old Testament when debating with his opponents, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross.
If Jesus needed a thorough grasp of the Scriptures for leading a life within the will of God, how much more do we?
He would have ‘absorbed the scriptures’ from earliest childhood, learning them in the original language of the Old Testament – Hebrew. Most of us have not had that advantage. The Bible is taught less and less in school, there is little committed to memory, and many now are ignorant of the basic facts and stories of the Gospels, and the meaning of Christian festivals.
This means we need to make a very special effort – not to become experts – but to develop a simple strategy for absorbing key parts of the Bible into our daily rhythm of life and prayer.
This requires the use of notes and guides, which are available in the form of books, daily notes, audio tapes, through the Internet, and resources which have not been available to previous generations. We are very fortunate to have such resources readily available, and have to find out which are most suitable for us personally.
3. THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN OUR OWN DAILY LIVES
The title for today is ‘Absorbing the Scriptures’. The Dictionary tells us that to absorb is to ‘incorporate as part of oneself’. In medical terms, not just sticking on a plaster, but swallowing a healing medicine which will be integrated into our whole system.
Easy to use read only favourite passages, find proof texts, and look for particular verses for guidance. But we need to find a way to absorb the principles, the heart of scripture so that it governs our attitudes, our thoughts, our actions. John Ortberg: “The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures. The goal is to get the Scriptures through us.”
Romans 12:2 : Paul writes: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
John Ortberg suggests 5 points to use when using the Bible on a daily basis:
Ask God to meet you in Scripture
Read the Bible in a repentant spirit
Meditate on a fairly brief passage or narrative
Take one thought or verse with you through the day
Allow this thought to become part of your memory
We are bombarded every day with WORDS. Radio, Television, Advertisements, People. Allow GOD’S WORD to permeate your mind and soul and it will become ‘a lamp to your feet and a light to your path’.
Questions for Meditation/Discussion
1. What picture does Psalm 1 give of the person who has absorbed the Word of God? Do you wish to be like this?
2. What instances can you find in the Gospels where Jesus draws on his knowledge of the Scriptures to guide or strengthen him at critical times?
3. Consider/Discuss how you might evolve a daily pattern for Bible reading and Prayer.
4. What version of the Bible do you find most helpful, and why?
5. If you haven’t started a daily pattern yet, when do you intend to start?
Readings 1 Kings 19:1-18. Mark 6: 45-56 (Key verse Psalm 119:164)
Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Recreation
This week we are looking at the Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Recreation.
At the heart of a rhythm of life is the desire to know and to follow Christ wherever we are, whether we are praying, worshipping, at work or at home with family or friends or relaxing in one way or another. We need to have balance in our everyday living and not just a balanced diet. For all of us at St. Michael’s this morning, this means living and working in a busy town Camberley, with all the many and various challenges that presents.
In this busy town it is easy to see our Christian spirituality as a part of our life, a Sunday affair. However, as St. Michael’s community, living this rhythm of prayer, worship and teaching, it can helps us to see God in every moment of life, and to hear the voice of the Spirit beckoning us to come and follow in the footsteps of where God is already at work, beckoning us to join in. In that sense it is also a call to mission, in bringing the good news to this broken and fragmented world.
But we need to step back out of the box because we need to look at the rhythm in our own lives and find out if it is in tune with God and his desired rhythm for our lives.
For God desires us to have a balanced life, a ‘Rhythm of Life of Prayer, Work and Recreation (Rest) and Christians for many centuries have been inspired by those great Saints that have gone before us: St Benedict and St Francis, whose vision for Christian community are the foundation of the monasticism movement, and the great wanderers Aiden and Cuthbert and Hilda, are reminders to us that a life spent in pilgrimage towards God is also a life spent in pilgrimage with those around, both inside St. Michael’s and out, for we journey together not in isolation.
We all know that prayer is good but we struggle with it and I suspect that Aiden and Hilda and many other great Christian leaders did too. I know I do. We live in an age which demands a 24/7. 365 day culture, longer working hours which increase output and increases pay but it also destroys family life and other relationships, leads to stress related illnesses and we deny ourselves the proper place of prayer and recreation in our lives. We needs to establish our roles in life and in the work place and where and when necessary learn how to say ‘No’ when unrealistic demands are being placed on us. It is very easy to get out of step with prayer and our relationship with God and others. I know it is hard to be counter-cultural but I firmly believe that we should be standing up for a more healthy balance in work and life just as God ordained in the Book of Genesis six days of work and one day of rest.
In Psalm 119 verse 164 it says ‘seven times a day I praise you’ and I have been reminded of this verse quite often in recent years. When training for ordination we went on two different types of retreats, one a Benedictine retreat and a silent one. Both of these retreats had something in common; we learnt the value of being in communion with God on an individual basis, as a community and more importantly on a regular basis; seven times a day we prayed. On our own, together in groups, and as a whole community. Reading scripture, taking time to ask what God was saying to us for ourselves, and others, praying for ourselves and others and the church world wide. Prayer has sustained me through many difficult times over the last four years and I know that without a regular prayer time things would have been a lot harder.
When we look at Mark chapter 6 Jesus moves from one thing to another, times of business and stresses, hearing the devastating news of John the Baptist’s death, Feeding the five thousand, and of walking on the water, and all are followed by times of rest and prayer.
The disciples spending the night on a storm-tossed sea with their Master on the shore. The boat bouncing on the waves and for nine hours they were rowing for all they were worth. I am sure the disciples were wondering, "Are we going to survive this storm? Where is Jesus? Why do I mention this? Because we are like the disciples in our reading. We face the winds, the waves and the storms of life just as they faced them out on the Sea of Galilee. And like the disciples, we wonder why we have to struggle. We question where Jesus is through all of this. We ask ourselves are we going to survive. Is our balance, Rhythm out of step?
In our reading we are told how to respond to the storms of life. More specifically, we are told what the Lord does. For Jesus knew their predicament. He knew about the wind, the waves, how long they had been out there. He knows everything each of us faces too, our concerns, trials, heart-aches, tears, pains, sorrows.
What was Jesus doing during those hours the disciples were out there? And, what does He do while we endure the storms of life? He was praying. Jesus was not with the disciples because He had gone into the mountains to pray. He took time out to pray because he knew it was necessary and important for him to keep a balance, a rhythm in His life.
Whenever Jesus faced a crisis of some sort in His ministry He spent time in prayer. He did this after the excitement of healing on the Sabbath in Capernaum (Mk 1:35-39). He did this after the miracle of the loaves and fish (Mk 6:45f). He did this after the Last Supper as He awaited His betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:26-42).
What did and what does Jesus pray about? When we study Jesus' prayer as recorded in the Gospel of John (Jn 17) we see that Jesus prayed for Himself – that He would not fall into temptation. For His disciples (family, Friends) – that they would remain faithful during trials and storms. For all believers – that they would be one and see His glory. And, when the disciples were fighting for their very lives Jesus kept right on praying. He heard their cries. He knew the danger they were in. And, He kept on praying. Is this something we do?
One of the things that causes a sense of stress at work is a lack of proper rest and recreation, sleep and let’s do nothing time. We all know that we cannot ‘burn the candle at both ends’, but we all do it. Our spouses or friends tell us we doing too much but we just smile sweetly and nod knowingly but we really don’t take any notice. We need to find out what activities we can engage in that refresh and energises us. Do I need solitude in order to be refreshed or do I need to be with other people? St. Anthony, one of the desert Fathers was conversing with some brothers when a hunter came upon them. He saw Anthony and the brothers enjoying themselves and disapproved. So Anthony said to him ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ The hunter did this. ‘Now another; and another.’ Then the hunter said ‘If I bend my bow all the time it will break’. Abba Anthony replied, ‘It is like that in the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, the brothers will soon collapse. It is therefore right from time to time to relax.’’
A rhythm of life should be exactly that, a rhythm, not a full concerto with every instrument written up, but rather the background beat that keeps everything else in order, that calls things back on track when they deviate, that reminds us of the type of music we are wanting to play, or perhaps more accurately, what type of lifestyles we are wanting to lead.
Simplicity is the key, the rhythms of life that have worked, and continue to work are those that are easily understood and grasped, The simplicity means that it is far easier to work Prayer, work and recreation into everyday life, as they are easy to memorise.
Sunday have always been seen as a day of rest and for most of us Sunday is a day when we have the opportunity to be refreshed spiritually as well as mentally and physically. We lost the battle back in the 80’s to keep Sunday Special but there is much that we can do to regain the ground. And it starts with making changes in our own lives.
A PRAYER A DAY, helps you work, rest and praise.
We pray that God would unlock our hearts from within as we respond to his words without
Earlier this year I went to see a production of The Tempest. It was part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s cycle of all Shakespeare plays. I was especially taken by a character in the play called Miranda. She was the magician, Prospero’s daughter, and had lived all her life with her father on a remote island after the family had been put to sea to die by her uncle Antonio.
In the play Miranda was portrayed as a young girl – her movements were awkward and stiff (a bit like a puppet on a string, or a wooden doll) ; she chopped wood ; obeyed instructions given by Prospero in the same way as a dog would do – sit, stand, get up ; and in an almost childlike way had no idea what to do when faced with other men.
In many ways she was portrayed as a human, but without any idea of relating to others.
The actress who played Miranda gave a short after the show talk, in which she said that the character was based on some interviews that she had had with a child psychologist.
Through talking to the psychologist she was made aware that children brought up in this context, without ever having seen another human ; totally separate from civilisation ; living on an island ; would not know how to react to people, how to be in relationship with them, or have the social skills necessary to survive in a civilised world.
- The portrayal of Miranda had taken our modern trend towards individualism to its extremes.
So often today people see themselves as objects of interest not because they have accomplished something or witnessed great things, but simply because as individuals they are of consequence.
- They write confessions that aim not to testify to faith, but rather reveal an inner self ;
- if they are artists they paint self portraits ;
- they live in private rooms, and sit on chairs rather than on benches.
For many people in Christianity too there is an emphasis on the salvation of the individual – where the focus is on the individual being precious in God’s sight
Loved by him and accountable to him.
This is important, and right -
And yet in our journey of faith – our own pilgrimage – we cannot afford to let ourselves be turned into a Miranda.
As we walk the road, we must at some point interact with others on our journeys. Living in relationship to others is not a choice we make, but is an essential part of being human. From the beginning we were created to love our neighbour, and to live in community.
When Jesus called the disciples he must have had this in mind. Not only did the disciples need to learn from him ;
but he also needed the disciples in order to
- support him in his ministry. When his disciples were not around (for instance in the Garden of Gethsemane), we see Jesus being deeply disappointed to find them asleep.
- There is a sense in which the disciples were needed for companionship – think of all those snatched conversations that we have in the gospels between Jesus and his disciples, parables that needed to be explained, answers to questions on prayer etc.
- The disciples were a source of encouragement for Jesus. Imagine how excited Jesus must have been when Peter declared ‘You are the Christ’. Here was someone to whom God had clearly revealed an overwhelming truth.
- The disciples were around for warning and danger (think of the many times when the disciples warned Jesus not to go to Jerusalem for fear that he would be killed)
- They gave help for the weary – remember when the disciples urged Jesus to come away from the crowds – to take some time out
Perhaps too, the disciples saw in Jesus not just a teacher, but someone who could mirror their humanity.
As Karl Barth said ‘Man is the creature made visible in the mirror of Jesus Christ’.
As a side note to this – I think we need to give some thought to the idea of a shared story that is essential in any discussion on community living.
None of us exist in isolation. I think a growing question for society in general is ‘where do I fit’ – in other words, what story do I belong to. I suspect that this is as a result of our fragmented lifestyle today, in which there is
a masculine version,
a British version,
a human version,
a Christian version,
a university professor version,
a feminine version,
a Black version,
a Third World version,
a Jewish version,
a blue collar version ...
This leads us on to deeper questions about shared narratives, and identity, that I think would be worth discussing another time – but are probably beyond the scope of this talk.
Perhaps it’s enough to say that there is a constant theme emerging, both in scripture, and in the world around us, of a shared community travelling a journey of faith.
How then do we put this into practice today?
A quick cup of coffee after the service on Sunday is barely enough to build up community and relationships. There needs to be other opportunities in a busy secular world where we can interact with others on the pilgrim road.
One of the ways that we have started investigating is the Group or Cell meeting regularly – and I know that some have expressed an interest in some small group work within the church.
Another way is to start thinking about a soul friend or a spiritual accompanier – someone who will travel with you along your spiritual pilgrimage – someone who is able to listen, discern, notice patterns, help us to find the finger of God in what can be a complex journey.
More radical ideas have been tried by other churches. I can think of one church that has a text messaging service based on the monastic hours. So for instance at 10am there would be a text message with a short bible verse, and an encouragement to sit and pray for a few moments. Another one would follow at 1pm, and then another at 3pm etc.
Perhaps over the coming weeks you can find space to think about how you would be able to engage in community whilst travelling on your pilgrimage or journey of faith. It’s not a new challenge – it is one that has occupied man for hundreds and thousands of years. As long ago as St Augustine who lived between 354 and 430, we find the comment that
‘Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering’. (Augustine, Confessions, X.8).
And yet the challenge for us today is perhaps more immediate. If we continue to be pre-occupied with self, and individualism, we are very much in danger of being modern day Mirandas, cut off from other people, and unable to relate, or to find mirrors of ourselves in others. The urgency then for us is to find a way of living a community based life that reflects the biblical principles of our gospel passage that we heard today.
May God be with us as we endeavour to seek his way today. Amen
Melanie Groundsell 14 October 2007