Dwelling with the Word…

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A sermon for St Mary’s Whitkirk on the third Sunday in Lent.

‘Is this going how you expected?’

A question asked at Faithbook last September. Now, the thing I learned very quickly about Faithbook was not to expect…just to be ready for anything.

After all, it’s a fairly random group of people trying to get to grips with the idea of Faith…Christian faith, which has at its heart a relationship with God.

One of the things we explore is what we think God is like…and we quickly realise that words never quite work…perhaps because apparently opposite things seem to be true about God.

Particularly, that God is nearer to us than we can imagine…within our lives even when we don’t realise.

Yet at the same time God is completely beyond our understanding.

One God – here and out there…

This tension runs through the whole bible. It’s there in today’s passage from Isaiah. In 9 verses, these words from God go from an intimate invitation, ‘come to me thirsty one’, from a God who is surely close…to ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’…a God beyond our understanding.

So how do we approach this unknowable yet personal God? One way is through scripture; through reading our bibles…something we often try to do more during Lent.

There are many ways to approach scripture. It can be studied…with the help of others who know more…commentaries written by learned people. And it’s good to learn how scriptures fit together, what they may have meant to their original readers.

But I think the bible has lasted because much of it speaks afresh to every new age. I think scripture remains relevant because it’s more than just literature…it’s a place where we can get to know God as well as learn about God.

But like any relationship, we have to invest time…not only time reading what other people think…but time with the words themselves. A practice I find liberating and exciting is what we might call a contemplative reading of the bible…sometimes called Lectio Divina or divine reading.

This is a slow, praying through of a passage of scripture, and I think it helps us grapple with this God who is so intimate and yet so distant.

For those of you not familiar with this way of bible reading – first you read a short passage…slowly and attentively…then allow a space to think whether any part stood out for any reason…leave time to think about this…then you read the passage slowly again, when it may well have more meaning…finally spend some time talking to God about what the passage seems to be saying…and some time listening.

I find this very powerful because it treats the bible as something to be encountered. It assumes that to read the bible is to come into the presence of something living and transformative…that we read it in the presence of God. It approaches a bible passage expecting to be changed by the encounter. It recognises God present and immediate in our lives.

But this kind of reading also remembers that God’s ways are not our ways…God’s thoughts not our thoughts.

As humans we tend to want answers…clear guidance on what to do…or to have our own opinions reinforced…to feel justified. We often want the bible to be a tool to work for us…rather than on us.

But God’s ways are not our ways…and spending time with a bible passage might just give God’s ways a chance to work.

If we stay in its presence long enough…letting the words interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our desires…we might just start to question our ideas…to notice our prejudices…we might be changed by the encounter.

Praying the daily offices gives me 6 daily doses of scripture – including psalms. And I will admit that sometimes I’m left wondering about the point of a particular passage…but so often there is a phrase that stays with me through the day…rubbing up against my assumptions…making me think.

This week it’s been the first verse of Isaiah 55…I thought we might spend a few minutes with it now…

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
I’ve been wondering…what is it that I’m thirsting for?

What does it mean to me to buy with no money?

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Our weekly sheet has the readings printed out. It might be a good Lenten discipline to take them home…pick one reading…dwell with it through the week…give God a chance to speak.




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