Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sermon January 29, 2017

Reading the Bible 

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;
But when asked how 'bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die.

That old folk song by the labour organizer Joe Hill could be a warning to all preachers.  It is very easy to put our own interpretation on a bible passage and preach by putting the spin a scripture passage that conforms to our personal bias.  It would be very easy to feed that line to the poor and say be satisfied with your lot because you will get your reward in heaven; you’ll eat pie in the sky when you die.  Indeed some ministers, long haired or otherwise do exactly that.  If you were poor that was the natural order of things.  After all didn’t our Lord and Saviour say that the poor would always be with us?  The song goes on to criticize different branches of Christianity; the Salvation Army which he called the Starvation Army,

the Holy Rollers and Jumper who sold faith healing.  He was an equal opportunity critic.
Jesus tells us at the end of today’s Gospel, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”. 
He also tells us that those persecuted for righteousness will receive the kingdom of heaven.  So it doesn’t look very good for this life: right. 

So how do we preachers try to delve into the Lectionary reading and understand it in a way that is true to the truth revealed in the passage?  That is true not just for preachers but for every one of us who answer the call to follow our baptismal duty to read the bible.    It is inevitable that sermons will be informed by the biases and perspectives and interests of the preacher.  When I first read todays Gospel I could easily have decided to talk about what it means to be blessed.  Or I could have looked at any of the different categories of those who Jesus says are blessed; the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek,

the ones that hunger for righteousness, the merciful, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake.  It’s a treasure trove of possibilities for sermon topics.  
However, it could also be a trap.  It would be very easy to see which one fits your particular hobby horse that you like to preach on.  And don’t kid yourself. Most preachers have favourite topics and passages. 

Initially when I read the Gospel I had the inspiration about the song Pie in the Sky and the poor getting their reward in heaven.  I thought I could base my sermon as a critique of the Prosperity Gospel, which is one of my hobby horses with its misinterpretation that good Christians will receive their reward in this world.  However, as I considered it and reflected and prayed about it what decided that what God was inspiring me to preach about was how to read scripture.  There are many good ways of doing this. 

I decided to talk about Lectio Divina which means Holy Reading.  Lectio Divina is a simple way to read scripture and explore prayerfully the meaning of it for you.  It is a process which can be followed quite easily. 

There are four steps in Holy Reading; Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio.    Don’t be put off by the Latin.  People such as theologians and academics like to use Latin to impress but the process is quite simple.  

The first is to read the passage – the Lectio.  During the reading the intention is to be non-judgemental – just be open to what the passage is speaking to you.  Is there something especially in the passage that catches you attention – a phrase or a word?  Make a mental note of this.  You can use any passage from scripture or an inspirational work that is meaningful for you. 

The second step is meditation – meditatio.  Here we reflect and ponder on what we have read or heard.  Remember that Mary pondered these things in her heart.  Ponder and see how Jesus is speaking to you in the passage of phrase or word that resonates with you.  Ask yourself what does this mean for my life today?  Direct it to God at work in your life. 

The third step is Responding – Oratatio.  This is a prayer – a prayer which is unique and personal to you and comes from the heart.  This may lead to response in your outer life but it is an inner response initially.  It may be surrendering your will to God – not something we do easily but something which is important if we are to follow where Jesus leads us. 

Finally there is Rest – Contemplatio.  This is resting in the presence of God.  It is a knowing that God is with you and that you are in God’s hand.  As it says in the Isaiah passage:
For I, the Lord your God,
   hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
   I will help you.’

Let us go through the four steps using a passage from today’s Gospel.

Step One:  The reading: be open to what it is saying to you.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Step two:  Meditation.  Let us now take a few minutes to ponder the passage.
Step three:  Now let us respond; let us pray is silence and ask God to give us direction.
Step four: Finally let us take a few minutes to rest and contemplate what God is speaking to us about the passage.  


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