Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 17, 2019
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
We all would probably agree that children’s books contain some of the most unrefined descriptions among all genres. There are those favourite ones. Then there are two in particular, that pertain to our life in the church as we’ve heard them in today’s scripture readings. 1.)
The first one of these books is The Monster at the End of This Book. It comes from the 1980s or even 1970s and contains a character many of us are familiar with, Grover of Sesame Street. Grover, a lovable furry blue muppet reads the title of the book and urges the reader to stop reading. He wants to prevent us from getting to the end of the book. One could describe the book as “meta” in that Grover interacts and responds with what the reader is doing. He “breaks” what is called “the fourth wall” which you find in film, comics and novels. This is when a character speaks directly to the audience. It can be funny, trying to engage us as an audience.
What’s so comical about The Monster at the End of This Book, lies in the fact that the book can’t go on unless the reader keeps reading, which Grover tries so very hard at stopping, plus that Grover ends up being the monster himself!
It’s so fascinating to see our 18-month-old granddaughter being hooked on Sesame Street and that the red muppet, Elmo seems to be her favourite.
There’s another children’s book by the name We Are in a Book! The author and illustrator is the great Mo Willems. Here, Elephant and Piggie discover that they are actually really in a book. They can control the reader and are in turn controlled by the reader. Such sophistication! It’s a mind-bender and manages to lead many children to their first philosophical ideas. “Am I in a book?” “What is Life?”
Perhaps you’re asking yourself what this has to do with this morning’s scripture readings. It has everything to do with them.
Before reading our scriptures this morning, I made use of a prayer that we pray at our weekly Bible study. It goes like this: “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
This prayer clearly and directly refers to the Scriptures themselves. It speaks of how God is the source and cause in writing Scripture. It stays away from inspiration and what that exactly means. It just says that God is the cause of Scripture.
There’s the encouragement to engage and be part of Scripture in many ways:
Hear: the invitation is to simply hear the Scriptures. Hearing is quite a thing as there’s no way one can’t hear more with effort, it’s all about allowing it to happen. Nor can we “unhear” things, is that even possible? Rebecca Wright, a Biblical scholar teaches her students to simply “read the words on the page.” This is good advice for becoming part of Scripture because, so often for many of us, the stories are so familiar that we don’t hear them anymore. If we can hear with new ears, then we will wake up to the strangeness of what God is doing with us.
Read: We are encouraged to read the Scriptures. Do we read Scripture all that often? Sunday mornings we get a lot of Scripture, but what happens Monday through Saturday? The Church has told about the transformative power of daily Bible reading.
Mark: We get encouraged to mark the Scriptures. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we mark up our Bibles literally, though it might mean that. There is nothing that prohibits underlining or writing notes in your Bible. Marking also means pausing and recognizing the weight of a particular passage. Mark the power of it; mark how it makes you wonder.
Learn: The encouragement is to learn the Scriptures. We have no reason to be ashamed of what the Scriptures say. Rather we should know them well enough to live by them. This leads us to the last way of engaging mentioned in the prayer.
Inwardly Digest: To conclude, the encouragement is to inwardly digest the Scriptures. Does it sound strange? Is it so strange? The rabbis have a tradition that they share. A small dab of honey is placed on a scroll of the Jewish Law for children to lick to understand how sweet the word of God is. St. Benedict told his monks to ruminate upon Scripture during the day. We know what ruminant animals are, do we? It’s an animal that digests food in stages. We need to return to Scripture over and over again so that we can digest it properly. Very often, we simply accept what a particular passage says without really examining it critically. Let’s allow a passage to settle into our being. Let it sit there for a while. Allow it to inform what you experience. Go and turn it around and around in your mind. This kind of reading and rumination will keep the Scripture with you almost like a pebble in your pocket.
All these methods of engagement with Scripture can do something. The Church has found that the words of Scripture are not stuck to the simple meaning of the words themselves but they launch us into a relationship with God. If this were not the case, then the Bible would simply be a dead object we worship.
We are invited through this prayer to know that – are you ready for this? We are in a book! We are part of Scripture. Part of a community, the Church, that wrote this book. It is fairly mind-bending to consider that the New Testament was written by people who were gathering just as we do every Sunday. We are in a book!
May each of us take up all these ways of engaging with Scripture to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the text so that we can be changed by it and live it. In this, we might become Holy Scripture for a world so desperate to find hope and love. In the end, it seems that we can, after all, be part of Scripture, engaged and in it. Amen.
1) Source for this message is from “Sermons that Work” at https://episcopalchurch.org
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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