Sabbath Day Thoughts
My church has a tradition of sharing testimonies on Reformation Sunday. It’s always a memorable and inspiring service. I don’t have a sermon to share with you today, but it seems only fitting on this day to ponder the privilege of reading scripture and invite us to a new way of engaging the Word.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
– Psalm 119:105
Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
– Matthew 4:4
“Taste (V & VI)”
– Christopher Smart, 1770
“O take the book from off the shelf,
And con it meekly on thy knees;
Best panegyric on itself,
And self-avouch’d to teach and please.
Respect, adore it heart and mind,
How greatly sweet, how sweetly grand,
Who reads the most, is most refin’d,
And polish’d by the Master’s hand.”
When was the last time you read your Bible? As Presbyterians, we believe the Bible is an important part of knowing God, but few of us have a regular practice of scripture reading.
We probably have some reasons for that. We may remember the antiquated language of the old King James translation, so we have a hard time finding meaning in all the Thees and Thous. We may feel that we don’t have time. Bible reading is on our “To Do” list, but it seems to always get bumped to the next day. For many of us, the cultural world of the Ancient Near East, as depicted in scripture, seems alien and confusing. We feel we need a Bible scholar to unravel the meaning for us. A few of us just want a Bible buddy, a fellow reader to keep us motivated. Does any of this ring true for you?
A great irony of our reluctance to engage scripture is that it is vital to our faith tradition. Churches born in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century fought for the ability to translate the Bible into the common language of the people. Armies waged war to read and interpret scripture in worship. People gave their lives so that we might even have home Bibles for family reading. Some of you, who were raised in Reformed or Presbyterian homes, may have childhood memories of family Bible reading on the Sabbath day. Many of us have inherited family Bibles that are well worn because they were well read. So how, in the words of the Hank Williams, Sr. country music standard, do we “get the dust off the Bible”?
I’d like to get us started by introducing a simple, reflective approach to Bible reading that taps into our natural gifts for imagination. Begin with a Psalm or Bible story. You could use one of the weekly lections that we print in the bulletin. A good starter reading could be the parable of the “Lost Sheep,” Luke 15:3-7:
“3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Allow about twenty minutes for your reflection. Take a moment to quiet your mind and set aside distractions.
Begin by reading the scripture slowly to yourself. Notice the cast of characters (the shepherd, the sheep, the flock, and the neighbors). Which character calls for your attention?
Read the passage again slowly. Now, imagine yourself as that character; put yourself in the story. What do you see (smell, taste, hear, touch)? How do you feel? How do you relate to the other characters? Allow the story to unfold in your imagination.
Next, slowly read the passage a third time. Consider, “How does this reading speak to me? What does it tell me about myself and about God?” You may want to capture your new awareness by keeping a journal to record your thoughts. You could even get creative and draw a picture or write a poem.
To complete your Bible reading, take a moment to thank God in prayer for your new awareness.
Like most things, developing a habit of scripture reading takes commitment, practice, and support. Make a daily date with your Bible and put it on your calendar. Try setting a goal of reading each day for a month. You’ll soon find that you are looking forward to those quiet moments with the “Holy Word.” And just in case you need some moral support, reach out to your resident Bible scholar – that’s me!
“Dust on the Bible”
— Written by Johnny and Walter Bailes
I went into a home one day just to see some friends of mine
Of all their books and magazines, not a Bible could I find
I asked them for the Bible when they brought it, what a shame
For the dust was covered o’er it, not a fingerprint was plain
Dust on the Bible, dust on the Holy Word
The words of all the prophets and the sayings of our Lord
Of all the other books you’ll find, there’s none salvation holds
Get the dust off the Bible and redeem your poor soul
Oh, you can read your magazines of love and tragic things
But not one word of Bible verse, not a scripture do you know
When it is the very truth and it’s contents good for you
But it’s dust is covered o’er it
And it’s sure to doom your poor soul
Oh, if you have a friend you’d like to help along life’s way
Just tell him that the Good Book shows a mortal how to pray
The best advice to give him that will make his burdens light
Is to dust the family bible, trade the wrong way for the right