Sunday, January 24, 2010

Scripture Does Not Speak of Christ

Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian now Roman Catholic, made the relevant point that Scripture does not speak of Christ but speaks Christ. Now this is not argument over terminology or semantics. This is the essential catholic confession -- the Word of God does not speak of something the way, for example, I may speak of something I know or have an opinion about. Scripture is God speaking. When Scripture speaks, we hear the voice of God.

For most of Protestantism Scripture has become a book of rules to be followed, a set of principles to inform how we reshape the world, a set of practical tools to better your life, or a road map to lead you from here to eternity. But that is just plain wrong. Scripture is the voice of God. Scripture is the discourse of God in human words. This Word is powerful and can do what it claims and keep all its promises. This Word has the power to call and gather the Church.

On Sunday morning we often treat the Word of God as if it were nothing more than a book of wise sayings, some of which may be practical enough and pointed enough to make a small difference in the ordinary and mundane of our world. We treat so casually what is essentially the Voice of God who speaks to us and is speaking to us in Scripture.

We act as if the gems of Bible study were the hints or conclusions reached from that study -- like a school child reads the encyclopedia for things he or she can use in a paper that is due tomorrow. Bible study is important because it is time with God, it is the conversation in which God is the speaker to us and we who have ears tuned in faith can hear Him speaking. It is not what we learn from Bible study but what we learn in Bible study as a people gather to hear every word and as a people who know that this every word is important.

Nowhere is that more true than in worship -- the Word of God predominates not because we have found it useful but because it is Christ speaking to us. In this respect liturgy is the first real context for us to hear Scripture -- everything else flows from this assembly and is not in competition with it or can substitute for it -- as it was for those who heard Scripture first from the voice of the apostles.

This is what we need to rediscover - the urgency, the immediacy of God's voice in our midst. In response to that voice, we come, we listen, we hear, and we grow. The distasteful practice of cell phones and watch alarms going off in worship is a sign that we have not understood that Scripture is God's voice speaking to us -- or surely we would shut those things off. The strange practice of people moving in and out of the Sanctuary as the Scriptures are read and preached is a sign that we do not understand that Scripture is God's living voice speaking to us or we would find a way to fit our bathroom needs around this holy and momentous conversation in which God is the speaker and initiates the dialog that brings forth faith in us and bestows upon us all the gifts of the cross and empty tomb.

Instead of burying our faces in bulletins to read, we would raise our heads to listen. I am convinced that the reading of Scripture is heard differently than the reading of Scripture from a service folder page. We don't listen to each other with our heads buried in a booklet. We listen to each other by looking at the point where the voice is coming from and by learning to tune out the distractions so that we might hear what is said. This is the discipline that is so missing on Sunday morning.

All because we think of Scripture as a vehicle that delivers something to us instead of the thing that is delivered -- the voice of God speaking grace and mercy, conviction and condemnation, redemption and restoration, death and life... Wisdom!! Attend!!


ErnestO said...

"Scripture is God Speaking. When Scripture speaks we hear the voice of God."

WOW - I can hear clearly now!

Thank you for this powerful insight/message and blessing, the Holy Spirit is surely working through you.

Anonymous said...

right on

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I am one of those people who hang onto every word of the Liturgy, the Scripture readings, the Sermon and the Hymns. How did I achieve this unbelievable feat? I did not! It was a gift to me during a spiritually very difficult time in my life more than fifty years ago when I began to doubt that I was a child of God. It was given to me through those few people who proclaimed the Gospel to me. Obviously I had heard the Gospel before, but what was left essentially hidden was the part of the Gospel that only begins with the Resurrection of our Lord. I refer to what happens after people are baptized, when the Holy Spirit comes to live in them, and literally makes them new creatures with a nature that is different from what it was before, and after “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, 14in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1: 13-14) This is not sanctification; it is what our gracious Father does for us to keep us in His Kingdom. It is similar to what the Good Samaritan did for the man who was near death: After saving him, He leaves him at the inn and then makes provision for his future wellbeing.

The byproduct of this realization was and continues to be unspeakable joy. This joy is what we need to “rediscover.” The ancients had it, and the Reformers had it. I think we have lost much of it because our people are too frequently assailed with what they must do if they are “real” Christians, rather than learning that there is no compulsion in the Kingdom of God. I was surprised recently to read the following lines in the diary of Fr. Alexander Schmemann: “And for some reason, ‘religious’ people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, ‘Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …’ The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does. The feelings of guilt and morality do not “free” from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of the freedom in which we are called to stand. Where, how, and when did this “tonality” of Christianity become muddy, or more correctly, where, how, and why have Christians become “deaf” to it? How, when and why, instead of freeing the tortured, did the Church begin to sadistically frighten and to terrorize them?”

To this I need to add the words of our Lord, spoken hours before the horrors of Good Friday were visited upon Him: “22And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22)

I think it is impossible to work at having joy. I suspect that thanking and praising our dear Father in our prayers will bring us more joy than asking for things. We can find joy in the many passages in the Scriptures which speak of the certainty of our salvation, but ultimately we have to ask our Lord to enable us to “cast our burdens on Him,” and we will receive joy in return. Then our hearts will leap with joy whenever the pastor turns to the people and says, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” our “Amen” will come from the depth of grateful hearts, and we will hang onto every word that follows.
Peace and Joy,
George A. Marquart
PS.: I did not want to put this into the main posting of my message, but I want to assure everyone who reads this that I do take sin seriously, that I do believe in the Law, and that I do not believe it is impossible to fall from grace.

T.C. Judd said...

This is an absolutely brilliant piece, Pr. Peters!!! I can't wait to share it with others in my family and our congregation.

Thank you!


Rev. Allen Yount said...

One practice to recommend so that people are ready to listen to God speaking through Scripture on Sunday morning is to read through the appointed readings on Saturday evening or earlier on Sunday morning. And having the Sunday lectionaries printed right in the front pages of the Lutheran Study Bible makes it easier to follow that practice, because everything you need is in one book.

Rev. Allen Yount said...

Oops, after posting my comment I realized that the first line was really confusing. It should read "one practice to recommend to people for them to be ready to listen to God."

Anonymous said...

Pr. Peters... This is a direct parallel to Hebrews 1:1-2. The writer addressed Jewish believers who actually would hear the voice of God speaking through the OT Scriptures. "In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He created the world." So also in THESE latter days, God speaks, really speaks in the congregation of believers gathered in this liturgy, the work of God. --Ken Larson, Florida