Sermons from St Faith's   

The Call to Read

Paula O'Shaughnessy

Sunday 17th March, 2019

As part of our Lenten devotions, we are invited to follow Bishop Paul's call to Christian mission and vocation in the diocesan rule of life.  Last week, Father John called us to the first of the tasks – called to pray.

Our second week in Lent, we think of the second task, the call to read.  That is to read holy scripture.  This helps us to get to know God better and to draw closer to him.  With prayer, we have conversation with God, but to have a better understanding of God, it is vital to also read the bible.  The mind can play tricks, where we think we know the bible, the stories often seem familiar, but we can be mistaken.  There are faults in our memory, shaped and distorted sometimes by other things – such as our daily experiences, or other writings, be they books newspapers or magazines.  In the current world, with access to internet and social media, it is sometimes hard to remember where we read something.  Which is why we need to keep going back to our bibles.  Keeping our minds open to the word of God, re-reading the familiar passages and reading the unfamiliar passages, perhaps for the first time.

 We may think that we remember the words of the Gospel writers, but it is important to go back and re-read them again, to check our memory.

 In today's gospel reading from Luke, we hear that here is a group of pharisees, that are well-disposed towards Jesus.  They warn him that King Herod wants to kill him.  Herod is King of Judea, but he is also a vassal of the Roman empire, a servant to the regime, a puppet king.

 Our perception, our usual understanding of the Pharisees is that they are enemies of Jesus.  But here, they are trying to help and protect him.  The world is not necessarily black and white, with the pharisees always being bad.

 And what of King Herod? He is not fully a sovereign king.  He is not authentic, not true to himself or to God, though he is a Jew. The submission he gives to the Roman empire is the loss of integrity – the corruption.  He collects the taxes from the people of Judea and gives them to Rome.

 Jesus is the true king of the Jews, who will not be corrupted, who is above earthly desires and the enticement of worldly power and wealth.  There is a sense that the Pharisees recognise this and want to protect Jesus from Herod and the corrupted, false power that he represents.

Of course, the Pharisees are more often described in the gospels as themselves part of the corrupted and the corrupting power in Judea.  They too, later on, see the threat to their power, coming from Jesus.  For they too are part of the imperfect, worldly power structures.  They have their status and vested interests to protect and preserve.

 Jesus, in today's gospel, wants to protect the people of Jerusalem.  He wants to gather the children of Jerusalem together ' as a hen gathers her brood under her wing'.

 This – to protect them from the worldliness of the place where throughout the centuries, the prophets have been rejected and stoned, for their efforts, for speaking truth to power.

 The metaphor of Jesus, as the hen, gathering and protecting the children, is the enveloping lover of God.  Here, as the hope and promise of God's love.  In reading this passage from scripture, the reading is a prayer – as we draw closer to Jesus, meeting him in the gospel.

 The bible draws us in, close to God, as we read, as we discover his presence, his call to us, as his people.

 At times, at those dark times, especially, we reach for our bibles.  Recently, I was away, staying in a hotel for a week in Birmingham.  It was a difficult week – daily learning in the classroom, as part of my job, with evening revisions.  Then at the end of the week, an exam.  The task seemed insurmountable – the tiredness overwhelming.  I was tired from the week before, from doing the day job.

 At that moment, one night in the hotel, overwhelmed, I reached for the Gideon's Bible. I can't remember all that I read.  I did read some psalms and use the Gideon's themed index.  What I read, somehow, just calmed me.  Like plunging into cool water, submerging the senses, forgetting the racing thoughts and panic, worry and sense of losing my grip, through tiredness.

 With the word of God, with the absorbing of the words of scripture, we have a new narrative.  One that can be heard above the constant worldly, earthly noise.  The worldly narrative - the commentary of newspapers, television entertainment and opinions of everyone – which can be too often the background noise, drowning out everything else, including God.

 In the quiet moment, reading the bible, God's voice is reasserted.  But we need to give him space.  There needs to be time set aside – when we wait on him, to be informed by God, comforted by him and inspired by him.

 The world and our understanding of it will be transformed, with the kingdom of God being established and made ever stronger.

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