Sunday, December 06, 2015

Substance in Scripture

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the second Sunday of Advent 2015

How many books of the Bible can you name? Better still, can you put them all in chronological order?

That's actually a hard task, but is it actually relevant? For the Christian, precisely when the books of the Bible were written isn't the point. However, we do run up to a little bit of a sticking point.

St Paul says in his letter to the Romans, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." In his second letter to St Timothy, he writes, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."

At the time St Paul is writing these words, most of the New Testament hadn't been written yet! If St Paul is referring to Scripture, then he can't be referring to the New Testament. Does this mean that the New Testament is not given by the inspiration of God, or that it isn't written for our learning? Have we actually got the Bible completely wrong?


Holy Scripture is the fundamental source of our understanding of God, and Christians cannot ignore it or dismiss it. It is not a scientific textbook, nor is it written to give modern man clues to predict the future. It is the infallible record of a conversation between God and His people, the Church. In that revelation, we hear that God has created us and we hear how we constantly fail God horribly. There are passages in the Bible that horrify us, and should horrify us. Some passages seem to make God out to be some kind of celestial psychopath. Yet, we understand the true goodness of God by continuing that conversation with Him as He reveals Himself to us in Our Lord Jesus Christ. We see that this "psychopathic" God allows us to consider life beyond the confines of what we now experience and challenges our perception of what is truly valuable.

It is the Church that puts the Bible together as we now have it. It does so through what it has already received and it is through what it has received that God reveals Himself to us in the New Testament.

Bible reading is something that Christians must take seriously. All too easily do we think that we have everything figured out, that we know how to behave, that we know best. Time and again we return to the Bible and find out that we're not only wrong, we're so far from right that it's embarrassing and painful.


St Benedict encourages his monks to practise Lectio Divina as a way of reading the Bible more carefully and prayerfully. He recommends that we don't read great big passages, but rather choose something short to read. We are then to read it, read it again, and read it again taking care to pray and listen to what the text is really saying to us. In so doing, we allow the Holy Ghost to inspire us, to make us question the text, to make us reflect on what the text is saying for our lives.

The Bible is a timeless record for us human beings to interact with God. Our Mass is full of direct quotations from the Bible, from the psalms, from St Paul himself and, at the heart we hear of Our Lord's words at the Last Supper which bring us the grace of His presence with us now. Truly, Our Lord reminds us that "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."
As we prepare for Christmas, let us take up our Bibles and read the stories of the birth of Christ anew and hear how His birth will bring us to everlasting life. With Him, it is possible for us not to pass away either, because we will be full of His word!

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