This sermon was given by Rev Caroline on the 12th Sunday after Trinity.
The last time that you held a bible in your hands what did you feel? How did you handle it? Did you casually flip it open to the suggested page or did you need to use the index? What was in your heart as you held the bible? Reverence? Awe? Anticipation? Expectation of being fed by what you read or daunted wondering if you would fully understand?
The scriptures promise that we will find joy and delight therein. If you have ever undertaken a bible reading plan, real gems can be found that are not as familiar as the passages in the lectionary on Sundays. Gems that can delight and nourish us on the journey.
Jeremiah can teach us a lot about how to treasure God’s words in the bible. Today’s reading tells us:
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)
A number of years ago I was teaching a Business Studies group. I had just handed out a page of homework and was explaining it to the group when I noticed one young man was chewing each time I looked at him. When I walked around the class later on, I noticed that he didn’t have a homework sheet.
“Where is your homework sheet, Jason?” I asked.
“Oh I ate it!”, he replied.
The only response that I could think of for this bizarre behaviour was to say: “Well, that adds a new level of meaning to the phrase “Read and inwardly digest!” And give him another copy.
In Jeremiah’s day, God’s Word was handwritten on leather scrolls lovingly and carefully copied. Sometimes these scrolls were misplaced or even forgotten. When he says “Your words were found”, some commentators believe that he may have been alluding to the incident during King Josiah’s reign when the lost books of Moses were discovered in the neglected temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22). As the lost or forgotten scrolls are unrolled and remembered, Jeremiah “ate” them. Not in the sense of the young Business Studies student who ate and literally digested his homework – but in the sense of devouring the scriptures with his mind and heart, taking in what they say and allowing God to nourish him and direct his paths through them.
In recent weeks, as many if you will know, we have been in the process of packing and unpacking. It can be a mixed blessing going through things to pack and things to discard….but, I’m sure we can all relate to that sense of delight, when having a sort out, of finding some long lost or forgotten precious item….. a photograph, card or gift or some momento. There is that gasp of delight and poring over it, soaking in and re-activating the memory.
Add into that response something that has been really precious to you that you have been missing and re-discovered and we are getting closer to Jeremiah’s response to finding God’s words. There is joy, devouring all that they say, allowing the nourishment offered to build in the heart. Delighting.
I don’t know if any of you have visited the Jewish Museum in Manchester? When I visited, I was struck by the massive scroll that was partially spread out on a vast table that was above the rest of the museum displays. As I approached it and recognised that it was hundreds of years old, I was profoundly moved by this holy scroll that hundreds of people must have pored over as they rolled and unrolled it through the centuries. It was humbling and beautiful.
An open bible is like a meal spread out before us – every page inspired by God and provided for his children to grow and and be spiritually nourished, to speak into their lives and their concerns and to reflect our joys and our sorrows. As we hear God’s word speaking into our heart and soul we are transformed and our response pours out into the world around us.
Last week we examined what Paul recommends as our heart response to the mercy that we have received through our salvation. Today, Paul addresses with the Romans the kind of behaviour that a renewed mind and the knowledge of God’s mercy would reveal in his children – being authentic, speaking out against evil, loving one another, zealous Service of the Lord, depth in prayer….These are the ways of being that transform our lives, families, workplace or school and communities where people observe our witness that Jesus is Lord in our lives.
As Eugene Peterson (Eat this Book) puts it: “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolised into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son”.
Jeremiah also reminds us that:
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
We are witnesses to a Heavenly Father who loves us and transforms us. His word is crucial to that transformation and strengthening us to not turn towards the ways of the world but to be a prophetic presence in the world encouraging others to turn to God.
So how do we encourage our hearts and minds to devour God’s Word and enter into the delight that Jeremiah is describing?
Reading our bibles regularly is the key. Being systematic can be helpful for many people ….working through a book a small section at a time, following the lectionary readings during Daily Prayer – or even following a bible reading plan can be one way forwards. The pace can be as intense or relaxed as you like. From the sprint of a six month plan to a 3 year plan. It takes discipline – especially at first (when it may feel as if you are making a deliberate effort). After some time, though, one gets used to pondering what is speaking into your life and you start to miss it if a day’s readings are skipped. Discipline starts to change into desire for God’s word.
As you continue beyond this stage you start to find the delight that Jeremiah is describing. When you reach this stage, time spent with scripture becomes one of the high points of the day. The effects will seep throughout your life (just as Paul described to the Romans) as the truths that you read run continually in the background of your thoughts.
God yearns for his children to know the joy and delight that he offers to us all. Life in all its fullness. Let us all eat God’s word and allow its blessings to ripple through our lives.