90 Days to Open God’s Gift to Us *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Acts 8:21-25
Isaiah 53:4-9

90 days. Does that sound like a long time or a short time to you? The older I get the shorter it sounds. We are 92 days away from Valentine’s Day. Now that sounds like a long time away to me. But it will be here before you know it.

90 days. Apparently a lot can be done in 90 days. There is a 90 day workout with a 90 eating plan that promises to get you back in shape and lose weight at the same time. Dr. Diana has a 90 day plan. Have you heard of her? She wrote a book called: Love in 90 days. There is a website too. She has dedicated her life to finding the holy grail of love. She shares what she has learned with the promise that with her help you can find and keep the love of your life in just 90 days. 90 days. Some companies have adopted a 90-day objective way of working. Leaders are to set goals for 90 days … to identify what you want to accomplish. To help you focus on what matters most… to provide you with accountability.

90 days. Well, we’re about the get in on the act. Starting in January we are going to invite each member of the Kirk to accomplish what may sound impossible. Read the whole Bible in 90 days. That will be your spiritual objective in the new year. Hopefully to help you focus on what matters most in life-a relationship with God and growing in faith. And because we are doing it together-inviting SS classes, small groups and special groups to read the Bible in 90 days… we are going to provide you with accountability. For the first 90 days of 2010 we will read the entire Bible. We will preach along with you. And after 90 days, if someone were to ask you, “Have you ever read the whole Bible?” , you’ll be able to say “yes” with confidence for the rest of your life. All in 90 days.

This is your chance to join others who feel Biblically challenged. If you feel Biblically challenged, you are not alone.

“Comedian Jay Leno has gotten lots of mileage out of exposing general ignorance, including Biblical ignorance. He’ll ask passersby a question such as, “On the first day of creation, God said, ‘Let there be ___” and people will respond, “Um, peace!” Or he’ll ask, “Who were Cain and Abel?” and get the answer ‘Friends of Jesus’?

The Bible, is the all time best selling book, nearly 93 percent of Americans owns at least one-yet it seems people know little about it. One survey indicated that people know more about what goes into a Big Mac (two all beef patties…) than they know about the Bible and can name members of the Brady Bunch better than they can name the 10 commandments. 1.

My friend John tells me that when a member of his church comes to him and says that they wish the 10 commandments were posted in the school or the courthouse… he responds by saying, “Name them.” No one yet has been able to name them. What are we to make of that?

The situation that has comic possibilities for Leno, is sort of sad too. We say the Bible is the place where we hear God speak to us… where God is reaching out to us in love… We say, it is the place where we learn more about who we are and who God is… We say, that it is the rule for our faith and practice… We say that it leads us to understand the life and message of our Lord Jesus Christ… yet, practicing Christians know very little of what is in the book.

Why? There is likely no single answer to that question. But let me suggest an obvious one. It is hard and difficult to read for many people. It is a large book… but may I suggest to you that the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings series are not exactly short stories or easy to understand. Still, I know reading the Bible can sound overwhelming. It can also seem hard to understand.

The Ethiopian Eunoch would agree. One day, this state treasurer for the Queen of the Ethiopians was riding home in his chariot. He had just been to the temple in Jerusalem, yet he was not content to have his faith nourished by the priestly interpretation of Scripture alone and thus was studiously reading Scripture for himself, specifically the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah. He found enough clarity in the prophet to strengthen his faith; but then he came across a passage that confused him…, for the prophet spoke of one who in a contradictory way was humiliated beyond all others, and yet exalted above the earth. As he was puzzling over the meaning of this passage, a man appeared and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The eunuch could have dismissed this question and Philip with proud disdain. Afraid of embarrassment – he could have said ‘Of course I understand’ and remained in ignorance. Instead, he responded with modesty and humility, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Philip answered the eunuch’s most pressing question, ‘Of whom does the prophet speak?’ by pointing him to Jesus Christ. The eunuch responded to Philips help in interpreting Scripture with such faith that he asked to be baptized right there, and then returned home with much joy, for he now knew (thanks to his interest in scripture… and the help of someone to guide him through the difficult reading)… he now knew the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom God has sent. 2.

This story has many lessons but don’t lose out on this one. Reading the scripture has and is central to the life of faith. We see examples in Scripture of the role it played in the faith community for thousands of years. In the OT scrolls are opened that reveals the text from Deuteronomy… a lost scripture… but King Josiah discovers it and uses it to renew the life of God’s people. Jesus in a number of places works with Scripture-he reads, interprets, has committed to memory passages of Scripture. He enters into conversation with Jewish leaders and scholars over the meaning of scripture.

These words had authority for God’s people and even for Jesus. They have been our authority for thousands of years. The community has believed that in these scriptures, they have encountered the living God.

So, the Christian community has held that these 66 books we call the Bible … are not just ordinary writings. I like to read all sorts of books of course. I read books that help me learn how to live better… diet better… golf better… lead the church… I read books to entertain… some are inspirational… But the community of the Christian faith for 2000 years and the Hebrew community testifies there to be something else about these writings that is special… that inspire. The community claims these writings are different from other writings. The community witness is that in these writings we have encountered the presence of the living God in a way in which we have in no other writings. Notice I didn’t say this is what all of you believe.. but it is the testimony of the community. 3.

And it is the gift of the God through the community to us. It is a gift that has your name on it from the community of faith. Have you ever thought of the Bible as a gift-not just from a parent-but a gift of God to you? God is giving you a gift… a wonderful gift… that includes a compass to guide you… words to instruct you… to challenge you… to help you discover God’s intention for your life. This gift includes spiritual wisdom for how to ground your life and to find peace in times of crisis. This is God’s gift.

So this January, we are inviting you to a journey to read the Bible… to open the gift God has given us in this community of faith. It may not be easy to read the Bible… I don’t always find it easy to read the Bible. There are some dry passages there. But over time, I’ve discovered that reading the Scripture has brought me in touch with the living God.

So, if you read the Bible in 90 days, let me tell you what you will hear… Sometimes you will hear a word that sounds troubling… prodding us to new action… sometimes you will hear a glorious word that lifts you up into the presence of God… reminding you of the greatness of God… sometimes the Word will whisper to you in God’s small voice… sometimes you will hear the encouragement of a friend… a trusted friend seeking to guide us. A friend who will teach us more about God and more about ourselves than you have ever known. With the help of the Holy Spirit, when you read the Bible, you will find yourself encountering the living God.

It may even change your life. It did for the Ethiopian official. So don’t be surprised if in 90 days, if you read with humility and faith… that something might happen to you. I hope you will share it with your group or with a pastor as we go through the journey together.

I have no doubt that it changed the life of John Calvin and the church of his day. The reading of scripture was the key to renewal. For too long, the Scripture had been held by the bishops and priests and interpreted only by them. Part of reforming the church was to return the scriptures to all Christians so that they could confirm for themselves the teaching that they had heard from others, and interpreters – teachers and preachers– would be available to all Christians to guide them in reading scripture when the going got tough. Calvin sought to put the Bible in the hands of the ordinary Christian no matter how unlearned he or she might be. The scriptures, for Calvin were the textbook for the school of Christ.
They were the spectacles for faith-through the scriptures we gained a clearer insight into God… a greater understanding of ourselves and a greater understanding of God’s world. Calvin wanted to put the scriptures in the hands of ordinary Christians so they could judge on their own whether what they were hearing was true or not.

I’ve become very well aware that Biblically illiterate people are vulnerable prey to spiritual hucksters who can quote and twist the Bible into meaning almost anything. The best defense against hucksters is a Biblically informed faith.

But finally, for Calvin… “the main goal to be sought in reading Scripture is for the person reading it so to experience and feel the grace of God in Christ, that it ravishes us completely in love.” 4.

Think about that. One reason to read scripture is allow us to experience and feel the grace of God in Christ, in a way that we are ravished completely in love.

Which tells me this: What is Scripture? You might say it is a love story. A story of a God so in love with the world God made… that like any lover… we read the story of the joy of a relationship with God… and we read the pain of the lover God who we spurn again and again. It is a story of a love that will not let us go, no matter how unfaithful and ignorant we have been. It is the story of a God who, like that hound of heaven, is pursuing us… so in love with us that God will do anything, I mean anything to heal the broken relationship. Anything. Even if it means the sacrifice of his beloved Son. Greater love, hath no person than he would give up his life for his friends. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son. Where did I get that? It’s all here (hold up the Bible) in the scripture. Good reading.

So, I’d like to invite you to seriously consider reading the Bible in 90 days starting in January. It would be a great new years resolution. Go ahead and make it now.

Read the Bible… and also let the Bible read you. For when you read it, I think you will discover it is really you story, my story and the story of our lives. Today. It is not an ancient book. It is a book that has changed human lives. It has guided people through the most perplexing of times. It has brought hope to people who have felt hopeless. It has brought us in touch with the ancestors… the mothers and fathers of our faith… who will still teach us, if we listen… how they made it through this thing called life. Most of all those who read it in faith will be reminded of the deep love of God who called the earth into being out of nothing… who breathed life into each and every one of us… who only asks that we love God in return … with our lips as we worship God and with our lives as we seek to live lives of justice and mercy.

I’d like you to read this book. Really. It is quite a book. A book given to you as a gift of our God out of the love of God for us.

Several years before his death, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to the United States for a series of lectures. He was one of the most brilliant and complex intellectual Christians of the 20th century. At one of these lectures, a student asked a typically American question. He said, “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought that has ever passed through your mind?”

The aging professor paused for a long time as he thought about his answer. Then he said with great simplicity: “Jesus loves me! This I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

Amen.

1. Illustration from the Christian Century, Nov 3, 2009; Biblically Challenged by Kristin Swenson
2. From Randal Zachman, Calvin as Teacher and Pastor, p55-56
3. Insights from John DeBevoise sermon on the Authority of the Bibles, Palma Ceia Presbyterian, Tampa
4. Ibid p56 and p158

 

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