Monday, August 24, 2009

Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 16, preached Sunday, August 23, 2009

Often in Bible study people will tell me that they wish they could read the Scriptures the way I read them – the way they think Pastors read them. Usually they are talking about competence in the Biblical languages. Some rather arrogant Pastors have told their people that without knowing Greek and Hebrew nobody can truly read the Scriptures. But these are false barriers. If Scripture is a closed book, it is not because we lack Greek or Hebrew. Scripture is a closed book only because its truth and message have not been unlocked to us. That key is not the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew but the knowledge of Jesus Christ. He is the key to under standing the Bible and He has sent the Holy Spirit so that we can unlock the Word of God and knows its truth and message by reading through the lens which is Jesus Christ.

Today we heard Isaiah record two reasons why a man could not read God’s Word – one man lacked the tools and the other could not unseal the book. In both cases the answer lies with Jesus Christ. He is THE tool that enables us to know what God’s Word says and means. The Spirit whom He has sent is the power that unseals the Word of God so that we read it through the lens of Jesus Christ. As Luther said, Scripture cradles Jesus like the manger did. In order for us to know God’s Word, the Spirit must help us to see it through the lens which is Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ, God’s Word is a confusing book – telling us what we do not want to know and silent about the things we are curious about.

No one says that Scripture is not an easy book. If Scripture is closed or sealed, it is not because it was written thousands of years ago, or because it was written in different languages than we speak today, or because its culture is far removed from our modern day world. Scripture is locked because our minds have been closed by sin and fear. It is open to us only when the Spirit unlocks it and allows us to see it through the lens of Jesus Christ. Scripture will conflicts with our reason and experience until we see Jesus Christ as its truth, its message, and its power. This requires the aid of the Holy Spirit.

God is as far from us as the east is from the west, His ways far above our understanding and our intellect, and He is accessible only where He chooses to reveal Himself. Jesus says that no one can come to Him unless the Father draw Him. In other words, faith is beyond our reach and Scripture beyond our grasp unless God reveals Himself to us and grants us His Holy Spirit to guide us to faith. Seminary educations, knowledge of the Biblical languages, the use of study Bibles, commentaries, Bible dictionaries and the like – they help but only after the key has been put in the lock and the mystery of the Scriptures made clear in Jesus Christ our Lord.

You can read and know God’s Word. With the Spirit as our guide and looking through the lens of Jesus Christ, Scripture is open to us. It speaks to us clearly the glorious message of salvation, and even children can understand its truth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In the Gospel lesson for day we hear Jesus attack the religious leaders of the day. He does so because of their unfaithfulness as stewards of His Word. They placed their words above His and turned His Word into a deep, dark book that did not point to Jesus as the Messiah and left the people unprepared for His coming.

Even a child can discern the Gospel, reading God’s Word through the lens of Jesus Christ and with the aid of the Spirit prompting them to faith. If this were not true, we would not have Sunday school or catechism classes for children and youth. You don’t have to be a Pastor or a Seminary professor or proficient in Greek and Hebrew or even an adult to read God’s Word. The seal has been broken by the Spirit and its Word made clear because read it all through Jesus Christ. He is the lens that makes its words clear to us.

Scripture is not some book of hidden knowledge, a book of secrets to be deciphered. Scripture is undecipherable to us and its wisdom hidden from us only because we do not see Jesus in its every word and on every page. When we treat the Bible as a code book, we do just what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did. It is the same when we try to turn the Bible into an encyclopedia of divine knowledge or a textbook of psychology or marriage or child rearing handbook. Of course the Bible speaks to these things but Scripture was written by God through men into whom He breathed His Spirit to make Jesus Christ to us. This book is an explanation for where we came from, why the world is the way it is, and what God has done about it. It is about the salvation long promised and finally fulfilled through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the message of the Bible and the key to unlocking its wisdom, truth, and doctrine.

If this is true, why are we so casual about Sunday school and Bible study? Why is it okay that there are children in our parish who are not in Sunday school and adults who are not in Bible study? The Word of God is the source and foundation of our spiritual lives yet we starve those spiritual lives by being so distant from God’s Word. Spiritual lives are not made of prayer but of a rich and regular diet of God’s Word. Prayer is the fruit of this life rooted and founded upon the knowledge of God’s Word. What is wrong with us when we care for every other aspect of our lives and the lives of our children and yet do not build up our knowledge of His Word and Truth?

It is time for us as God’s people to live up to what we say and spend time in His Word. It is time for us to make the education of our children in Sunday school and catechism as high a priority as getting them an education in school. It is time for us as adults to model for our children our interest in, our familiarity with, and our learning from God’s Word. We have been given this Word of God, we have been given the tools to read it, and the key to unlock its wisdom, truth and power.

How is it that we are content to hand back the Word of God or place other words above His own? This Word, written in Scripture and visible in the Sacraments, is the means of grace that conveys to us all the trophies Jesus won by His suffering, death, and resurrection. How can we be content to let the Sunday school and Bible study classrooms be empty? How can allow other priorities to come before our time together in God’s Word, from children in Sunday to adults in Bible study?

Sure, we have all complained that some passages are hard. And it does not matter how much Seminary, Greek or Hebrew I have had, I don’t have a clue what some of those passages mean. But the message of Scripture is clear in Jesus Christ even though a few of its passages may not be. This message is not some deep dark secret locked in a foreign language or culture but the story of the cross and empty tomb, where forgiveness, life and salvation were accomplished and though which these gifts are still imparted to us. We have the resources and the key in Jesus Christ. We have the power – the Holy Spirit. All that is left to us is to open up the book of God and read and grow in this faith and in this life, today and to everlasting life. Amen

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