Where do you go these days to hear a word of hope?
Early in my ministry, a seasoned priest offered this advice. He said: “Jay, in Sunday worship, you only have to do two things. First, keep worship to an hour. Second, leave people more hopeful than when they came.”
About ten days ago, I had the privilege of attending the Ordination and Consecration of Sam Rodman, new Bishop of North Carolina. I’ve known Sam for years. The diocese will be blessed by his strong, gentle, faithful leadership. The service was great. It did not succeed, however, in the one-hour rule. Wasn’t even close, perhaps the exception that proves the rule. But it did leave me hopeful about the church, with bishops to lead like Sam.
I was struck in the service with one sign of hope in particular: The strong commitment to engagement in scripture. Like all our liturgies, there was ample opportunity to hear what the spirit is saying through words from the Bible. Let’s not take that miracle for granted. It’s amazing grace that we draw meaning and purpose from words written centuries ago. But there’s more.
Sam was asked to solemnly declare his conviction that the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and that they contain all things necessary for salvation.” All things necessary for wholeness. All things necessary for healing. All things necessary to keep hope alive.
Sam was asked if he would be faithful in the study of Scripture, in order that he as bishop might have the mind of Christ. I ran across a study not long ago that said many clergy only read scripture in order to prepare for a sermon. Relatively few clergy actually read scripture to feed their souls or deepen their spiritual lives or discover a lantern for the path. This liturgy asked Sam to read scripture to have the mind of Christ.
Sam was asked to boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of the people. Scripture has that power.
And once Sam had been ordained, the Presiding Bishop gave him a gift. You guessed it, a Bible.
Since Sam’s service, I’ve been thinking about why he got all those questions about the Bible, about why we still read scripture. The material is really old. There’s tons in there that is perplexing. There’s a lot that offends. Much of it can be used in spiritual malpractice. Too many of us have been clobbered by proof texts ripped out of context, separated from inspiring love.
But we keep on reading it. Every year, at the end of the year, we read a prayer about scripture (printed below) which reminds us why we pay attention to the Bible. It says we hear, read, learn, mark, inwardly digest scripture so that we might hold on to hope. And which one of us does not need some hope. The kind of hope reflected in the story of the Exodus. Freedom happens. The kind of hope reflected in the Exile. There is a way home. The kind of hope that lets Peter walk on water, kept from sinking by Jesus’ hand. The kind of hope reflected in Easter. Dead ends become thresholds. I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that old, old story all the time.
Research indicates that engagement with scripture is transformative in the Christian journey. For all that is confusing or annoying or even offensive, it is a story of relationship with God, a story of healing amid brokenness, a story of persistent grace. In other words, it is a story of hope. Are you in need of hope this Monday morning? Where do you go when you need a word of hope? The news? I think not.
Find your way into what Karl Barth called the strange world of the Bible. Make it a part of a daily routine. Persist in parts that are difficult. Ask your irreverent questions. Ask God to speak to you through it. And let it be a source of hope.
The Path, published by Forward Movement, in which the Bible is broken down into 25 chapters.
Read Forward Day by Day each morning
What is the Bible? by Rob Bell
The Good Book, by Peter Gomes
The Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four gospels
Psalm 139. Memorize it and it will change your life.
From the Book of Common Prayer:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We have found in the Bible a new world, God, God’s sovereignty, God’s glory, God’s incomprehensible love. Not the history of [man] but the history of God! Not the virtues of [men] but the virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light! Not human standpoints but the standpoint of God!
-Karl Barth, The Strange New World of the Bible
How do you stand up against injustice and not lose hope? How do you live with less worry and more joy? How do you forgive someone who has wronged you? What do you do when the person in power doesn’t have any integrity or moral compass? When do you take action and when do you trust that it’s all going to work out? What we see in the Bible is that we aren’t alone in these questions – these are the questions people have been wrestling with for thousands of years. And on page after page after page of their writings they never stop insisting that this struggle we call life isn’t futile, hopeless or pointless. It’s divine.
What is the Bible?
We are left with our question. What makes the church, your congregation and mine, different, utterly essential, without equal, unique? Let me venture a response: A congregation is Christian to the degree that it is confronted by and attempts to form its life in response to the Word of God.
Shaped by the Bible
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