September 15, 2019
Psalm 19:7-11 from the 3rd Graders’ Hands-On Bible
The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
The laws of the Lord are true;
each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
even honey dripping from the comb.
They are a warning to your servant,
a great reward for those who obey them.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
* * * * *
I was having a hard time the other day – something had happened that made me really sad – and I found myself reciting the words of Psalm 131 to myself.
I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child in its mother’s lap,
like the little child that is within me.
It comforted me. I felt held. Those words held me. That happens a lot for me – remembering bits of scripture at moments like that. I suppose it’s like a song popping into your mind, or lines from a movie or a show you watch. They just come to you.
But somehow these words have a different kind of weight, to me at least. They’re not just familiar words, they’re the words of somebody who loves me. It’s like having a best friend, only my best friend’s name is God. And the words of scripture are like God’s voice, coming to me when I most need it. Reminding me of what I need to hear.
When I’m nervous about something I know I need to do, and I know I need to pull up my big girl pants and just do the hard thing I don’t want to do, I think of the beginning of the book of Joshua, when the people are about to enter the promised land, and God says, “Be strong and courageous! As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Only be strong, and very courageous!” It’s like God saying, “You go, girl!”
And when I’m having a hard time feeling compassionate towards someone – like if I’m angry or hurt – the words from 1 John 4 seem to come floating up: “We love because God first loved us.” And I remember that I don’t have to create love all by myself, or dig it out of me. It’s already there. It’s already there. It’s like a deep well of love, and I just need to draw from it.
And when I’m perseverating about something, and getting myself anxious and all worked up, the words from Philippians often pop up: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just – if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Think about these things. Focus your mind.
And sometimes, when I need to think strategically about something and I’m in full-on problem-solving mode, I think of something Jesus told his disciples: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” And I think, ‘OK, Jesus, got it!’
Now, I’d love to be able to tell you that if you read the Bible you’ll feel that way, too. Like God is whispering in your ear the words you need to hear or cheering you on from the sideline. But I know better than that. I know it doesn’t always work that way. And I know that because that’s not always how I feel when I read the Bible, either. Sometimes it’s tedious, and boring. Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes it seems to contradict itself. Sometimes it just makes me angry.
But relationships are like that, too, right? Even with your best friend? I mean people can be tedious and boring, or not make any sense. People can contradict themselves, or even make you mad. I mean, right? So I cut scripture a little slack. My relationship with God is worth it.
The thing is, scripture is one of the main ways we have of knowing God. It’s one of the main ways God has for forming faith in us. So when we talk about intentional faith formation – our theme for this month – we have to talk about the Bible, about reading and hearing the Word of God.
The question I think we need to ask ourselves is, is the Word of God growing in you? What fruit is it producing? And is its growth sustainable?
Now, I’ve got to say, it’s perfectly possible to be a Christian without ever reading a single word of scripture. I mean, that was true of Christians for centuries, when the vast majority of people were illiterate. They didn’t know the Bible at all. Even if they could read, the Bible was written in Latin, which even a lot of the priests didn’t know. All they had was the Latin mass, and nobody understood that, either. Which isn’t to say they didn’t have faith – the rituals and worship and identity were still powerful.
The problem was that the people were at the mercy of the priests and the powers above them to tell them what God thought, felt, ordered, and expected. Because nobody could read scripture for themselves.
Which is why, when the Protestant Reformers started their movement in the 1500s, one of the most important things they did was translate the Bible into the languages of the people – and then teach the people how to read. It was incredibly egalitarian, and empowering. The idea was that each and every person could have a direct relationship with God without intermediaries, and the seeds of that relationship were the words of scripture.
Which is not to say it was a magical answer to forming faith.
Jesus’ parable makes it pretty clear that the Word sometimes falls on deaf ears. Just hearing it won’t magically make grace grow in your heart any more than seed falling on rocky soil will grow. Sometimes you read it and say, “I got nothing out of that.”
And sometimes people can get all excited about new-found faith and read the Bible voraciously – but they burn out and move on to something else. And sometimes people have all the good intentions in the world, but the best-laid plans get buried under the million other things you have to do. I mean, there’s a big difference between having good ‘intentions’ and actually being ‘intentional’, right? Every relationship needs tending for it to thrive.
But here’s the good news. There’s not just one planting season. You don’t just get one shot at this. And a golden time to start again is – now.
Here’s a suggestion of a place to start: it’s just to be curious. It’s how you start any relationship, right? Like if you have a new neighbor move in, or you’re speed-dating – ok, never mind about that – let’s say you meet somebody new at church. You start out wanting to get to know something about them. You just start by being interested and curious.
So let’s start there today, too. Take out your Bible, and turn to Matthew 13. Read the first paragraph of the translation I gave you. Now read that section in your version. And just look for 3 things that are different in the way they say it. That’s it…. And if you happen to have the same translation, notice something that stands out to you.
Just notice. Just be curious. Just go, ‘huh’!? I wonder why he said it that way?
* * * * *
Maybe you won’t read the Bible every day – but maybe you will. Maybe you can pick up Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” and read it – it’s really accessible. I know one of our long-time church members did that, and it was a game-changer for him. Or the guy I mentioned last week who listens to the Bible during his commute. Or maybe you pick up a devotional like “Jesus Calling” that has lots of quotes from scripture as its daily message. Or check out a new version - downstairs in Heritage Hall we put out a bunch of new and different Bibles you might check out, too. And of course there are a bunch in the library (once we put them back after today.)
But here’s my hope. That you’ll get to know God in these pages. That you’ll hear God’s voice, and you’ll hear God speaking to you.
That in the words of scripture, you will hear God loving you.
And the Word of God will grow in your heart.