Sermon 28th August

Readings for today Luke  14, 1-14  Jeremiah 2 5-13


Someone recently asked me “Why do you read the Bible in church, surely everyone there knows what it says already”

I have to admit, for a second or two I was a little flummoxed, because, in some ways he was right, those of us who have attended church for many years will have heard all the lectionary readings, repeated every three years, and heard them preached upon time and time again. Perhaps it’s why some people switch off in the sermon, they feel they’ve heard it all before. And, of course, we all have our own private reading of the Bible which covers many more passages than occur in the lectionary.

So most of us in church ( or at least those who’ve been around for a while) will have read it, or  heard it all before.

And it made me think, made me wonder. Does it mean that the biblical words we hear or read just go in one ear and out the other, does it alternatively mean we hear the words and treasure them and their poetry like we might a precious family heirloom but actually have no practical use for them, or are we ( as I answered the questioner) seeking through reading a fresh understanding of the character of God and ways to live a life closer to that shown to us by Christ, seeking further understanding each time we read the words. And, of course, if it’s done prayerfully then hopefully that new understanding will be guided by the Holy Spirit.

There is a sense of this in both our readings this morning- that questioning of why we do what we do, and whether we should perhaps be seeking to do it differently, with greater spiritual openness and insight. To understand more of God and live the way he always intended us to live.

At the beginning of our passage from Luke, we see Jesus going to a prominent Pharisee’s house for dinner. And Luke comments, somewhat sharply “he was being carefully watched”. Were the Pharisees watching to see if they could trip him up, or can we be generous and say that maybe were they watching to see what fresh things he would bring to them. So the first thing Jesus does is subvert their political and societal norm, and heals a man on the Sabbath, challenging their traditional, but inhumane and nonsensical law, and exposing it as just that

And then Jesus turns the tables- now he’s watching the Pharisees, as each tris to assume the place of highest honour at the table, and again, he subverts their perceived hierarchy and tradition with a lesson on humbleness followed by a lesson on reversing the societies values in order to serve those who are poor, in need, not so as to receive any reward, but because it is the right thing to do, and God will bless those who live that way.

All the rules, traditions, sense of entitlement and selfish values that the Pharisees lived day in, day out, that they never even thought to question are subverted in a simple compassionate act and an explanation of a better way to live, to behave- one full of love and compassion as opposed to sense of entitlement, wealth, and hierarchy because of their position. Jesus compassion, Jesus exposing of the fault lines of human law reveals the justice of God’s law of love, and Luke, recording it as he does, then effectively asks us to challenge our own human laws, attitudes, traditions and doctrines to see if they would stand up to the all-seeing watchful eye of Jesus as he metaphorically stands and watches the  “invitations to dinner” we extend in our regular conversations.

For Jeremiah, called in turbulent times whilst foreign powers were overrunning the country, where foreign Gods were diluting the faith of Judah, where even the Priests and prophets were ignoring God, Jeremiah, well he had a tough job ahead of him.

But here, he chastises the people who complain that God was letting them down, or was silent, as they themselves forget all that God had done for them, instead turning to false idols and going through the motions of a faith with the God of Israel whist hedging their bets by worshipping Baal or which ever other useless idol happened to be in fashion. Plainly the words of their scriptures and the words of faithful prophets like Jeremiah were going in one ear and out the other, as they decided on the way they would live their lives, rather than the way God had intended them to live. And it had consequences. And not very good ones at that

So both Jesus, and Jeremiah before him, were questioning the behaviour, the way of life, the adopted habits and patterns of daily  life for many people that were not life affirming, were not God affirming, and showing through words or actions that there is a better way. The way God intended, but humankind persistently steps aside from.

“Why do you read the Bible in church” the young man asked “surely everyone knows what it says already.”

And he was right, of course. So many of the passages we read are like old friends, we renew our acquaintance each time we meet them. But every time we meet them we do so, hopefully, with fresh eyes. When Jesus came to earth he came to a world which had been hearing from the prophets for a good while as they spoke into each generation, each situation with the message God sent through them. Yet the world still needed Christ. As Jeremiah said, the world had forgotten the blessing, the richness of life they’d enjoyed in the past for God, the Exodus, even going back to the Garden of Eden. And just like in the garden, the people had continued to reject or ignore God’s ways, and then, even when the Son of God himself came, he too was rejected.

Let’s pray that we, individually, and as a church continue to seek new understanding, new truths about the character of God when we read the Bible, and then also find there the inspiration to live the life God intends for us, instead of the life we sometimes try to wrestle from God’s grasp and live in our own way.

 For in Christ, there is no better way