Bible Sunday - Reflection

‘[God says] my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire’  Isaiah 55:11

Brothers and sisters, When was the last time you wrote a letter? Letter-writing has fallen out of fashion, with modern technology I guess there are easier and more immediate ways to talk to someone who you won’t be able to see. However, for me—and I think for many people—there is still something quite special about receiving a letter or a card with a hand-written note. It communicates more, somehow, than a text can. Yes, it takes time and effort, but that’s the point, and I think even in our modern culture people still get this for the number of Christmas cards being sent is rising. Words written lovingly on paper are a way of telling people you loved them, and telling people a little about yourself. Done well—whether by letter or by text—words keep the relationship going until we can see that friend or loved one again. This morning we’re thinking about the words—the letters—which God has sent us, which enable us to get to know Him, and helps us in our relationship with Him until we get to see Him in person. Today, on this Bible Sunday, we are thinking about the Scriptures.

Before God became man, before the first Christmas, God was pure spirit and it was impossible to see Him. However, God wants to be known, God wants a relationship with those He has made. God wants to love and to be loved by us and that involves communication. As we’ve learned from our studies in Genesis God spoke to the world He created but the world wasn’t interested, so God started again. God started with just one man Abraham, and God spoke exclusively to Him. From that point on, God always spoke to at least one member of His people. In a world where most people couldn’t write the people of God committed to memory the words of God, memorising everything God had ever done and ever said to His people. That worked until God’s people started to forget about God and do their own thing, and then the person God spoke to was the only person who actually listened. These people who listened were called the prophets, and their job was to remind God’s people that God loved them, they should remember Him. One of those prophets was called Isaiah through whom God said: ‘Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David’ (Isaiah 55:3). However, no one was listening and so the prophets started to write down God’s words for future generations. These are the words we have received in what we call the Old Testament. God’s words to His people about who He is, and what He is like. The Old Testament is really God’s love letters to His people. God goes on to say: ‘my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’ (v11). God says to His people,‘You may not be listening, but that doesn’t mean they won’t achieve what I want. Even if you don’t listen, others will, and they will go to the ends of the world.’ In the Old Testament we still have God’s love letters to the world, telling us that He was on His way. And God promises that as we read them—whoever we are—His love will reach our hearts, and, if we let Him, Through  His love letters He will change our lives.

I have a friend called Patrick, he is a priest like me, and he has a parish in Oxford. I don’t get to see him very often, but I do get occasional texts, and on special occasions I get a letter. These letters, if you like, keep the friendship going, and they remind me that he still cares for me. Those texts, those letters are preparing me for when he does visit. And that’s what is happening with the Old Testament, preparing us for the arrival of God into our world. God comes Himself, born as a tiny baby. God the Son comes to visit as Jesus. That arrival is what we look back to at Christmas. But if God’s people weren’t really paying attention to His letters, would it go any better when He comes Himself? If I stopped reading Patrick’s letters and texts, would I bother to open the door when he arrives in person? And that’s exactly the situation which God finds Himself in when He comes to His world. God’s people weren't really bothered. But, and here is the critical point, even though God’s people aren’t listening, God loves them so much that He keeps on speaking. Jesus keeps on speaking, He keeps on preaching, and then He dies, so that anyone who chooses to listen to Him can be forgiven! Just as with the prophets writings, so God—through His people, the Church—causes the words of Jesus, and the words of the apostles to be written down for the generations who follow. Those writings are what we call the New Testament. And the New Testament and the Old Testament put together make the Bible. But, the same question haunts us. God is speaking through His love letters, the Bible, but is anyone listening?

One of the questions I get as a priest from both those who come to church and those who don't is why is God silent? Why doesn't God speak to me and tell me He loves me, and tell me what to do. And each time someone asks that my heart sinks… why? Because God has spoken, and is speaking, in the Scriptures. People who ask that question are like those holding a pile of letters from a loved one and at the same time asking why their loved one is ignoring them? The Bible is God’s love letter to the world. The Scriptures are God speaking to the world and all we have to do is open and read. Often I have talked about the importance of prayer, of speaking to God, but of equal importance is listening to God which we do as we read the Bible. If you don’t yet make a habit of reading the Bible and praying then start now. This Advent there will be a new Advent devotional which will give you a reading from the Bible and a reflection for each day until Christmas. Make a point of taking a booklet and then each morning setting aside five minutes to read the bible and listen to God, read the reflection and then speak to God in prayer. I promise you, a habit like that will change your life. If there is one thing I would give you for Christmas it is a closer relationship with God, but the truth is, there is only one person who can give that to you, and that is you! You must pick up the Bible and read. This morning, let each one of us resolve to read God’s love letters to us each day, and so make this Bible Sunday the start of something amazing. Amen (from Fr Mike).