The Word of God Fully Known

(Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 19; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 21, 2019 – UBC Digby
This month I happened to hear a radio documentary on The Saint John’s Bible. At the start of the 21st Century, some artists and scholars produced this large copy of the Bible, in English, in the ancient way. Printed on calfskin vellum, it was all written by hand – calligraphy – with many illustrations by artists, called illuminations. It is large – it is in seven volumes. Like the Bibles of old, made in the monasteries, the illuminations used not only ancient inks but gold leaf and silver. They use the imagery and people of the contemporary world, in this case, the dawn of the third millennium.  

I found the story of this Bible so inspiring. It was commissioned by a Benedictine college in Minnesota, Saint John’s University. Also, two hundred copies of it were produced, for sale. So the Saint John’s Bible does get to be read and seen by many people around the world. Saint John’s Bible

A project like this makes us remember there were days gone by when books were rare. There were no printing presses, not to mention computers and printers.  Each Bible was copied by hand. The word of God was rare in those days. And so special.

I’m having a Bible-focused Sunday again, today, with four scripture readings. First, from Amos, prophet to the prosperous kingdom of Israel of old. 
Amos 8: The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  

Is hearing the word of God rare in our day and land? 

Is there hunger, yet, for real words from God?

Will there be such a famine, in our day?

What was the problem in the days of Amos?

What’s our problem?

Psalm 19:  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the eyes. 

God and God’s word is revealed in more than one way; not just the Bible. And how we explain  the Bible are not just with words and study and research and books and essays and sermons. It also comes alive for us in art. Such as these illuminations.

I’m not sure why, but there is something so powerful and moving for me as I explore some of the images from this gigantic, modern Bible.  

Where have you seen God, amazingly, in the Bible?

Where have you seen God, in incredible ways, outside of reading the Bible?

Colossians 1:  …to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.  

The Church today faces this challenge in lots of creative ways: the challenge of making the word of God fully known in the 21st century. Amid the online preaching, the trendy technological city churches, and the fresh expressions of Church that meet in coffee shops and tattoo parlours, there are things like the Saint John’s Bible. Ancient and modern, at the same time. I like this story about it… 

A volunteer, named Jason Engle, was taking copies of the Heritage Edition of the Bible around – those 200 copies of it that were made. He often, on trips, would stop on his long journey in the evening, for a bite to eat at a McDonalds restaurant. One night he did this, after a presentation in Chicago, stopping late – just a few folks in McDonalds.  This young fellow comes up to him and says, “Hi, my name is Michael, are you a Christian?” Yeah, says Jason. Michael says, “Well, I’m homeless; wanna have dinner with me?” “Yeah, sure.” And a conversation begins. 

Michael tells Jason a lot of his life story. And he shares a gift – he quotes poetry he has written for God.  After a while, Jason says, “I have a gift for you.” He goes out to the trunk of his car, and brings out his copy of the Saint John’s Bible, first volume. 

He starts showing it to Michael, who is amazed at this. Then an elderly woman in the restaurant looks over. Then one of the teenage staff. She goes out back and brings another staff person. They are all looking through, at the artwork, but then they want to hear it read, what the Bible says. So they get reading. 

Eventually the manager of the McDonalds comes out, frustrated, because all the teen staff are gathered at this table out there! Reading a Bible.

What are ways you can see the Bible getting known around here, today?

Luke 10:  Mary… sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…
“…there is need of only one thing.”

Nowadays, I read this story, and think it is about balance – having balance in our lives.  The balance between being a Christian who studies the Bible and being a Christian who lives a busy, day-to-day life. Often, many of us are like Martha, and the one thing we need more of is simply to pay some more attention to the Lord. It might mean more Bible; it might mean more praying.

Your next step, this summer, could be one of two things: ONE: know the Bible more yourself.
TWO: share the Bible more, for others.
What do you think your calling is, this year?

Make the word of God fully known!

She Matters Too

Solidarity Sunday, Mother’s Day,  E7,  May 8, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby / J G White

(Proverbs 31:8-16, 25-31; Luke 10:38-42)

It was years ago I heard this, dare I call it, old wives tale, about a chapter in the Bible.  Proverbs 31.  It went something like this.  Woman: open the Bible to Proverbs chapter 31.  You will see it has 31 verses.  Read the verse that is the same number as you birthday is in the month you were born.  That verse is for you.  

So, my wife, Sharon, was born on the 25th of a certain month.  Her verse would be She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

Now, this sort of works best for women born on the 10th or later, because the first nine verses are not quite the same sort of complimentary wisdom.  Yet, this method is really a superstition, I’d say, and a bad way of using scripture.  We don’t believe in using this book for magic, like this.  God’s word is not a silly horoscope!  

Look instead to the whole chapter.  In fact, start where I didn’t earlier, at verse 1.  Read what it says. The sayings of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him.  This Lemuel is not known from anywhere in scripture or history, only from this.  And this claims to be wisdom he learned from his mother.  This gives the chapter a powerful perspective.  Especially as we read the advice a woman gave to her son, an ancient king.  Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (8-9) The call for justice goes out:  Care for those in need!  Be fair! Those who are oppressed are valuable. She Matters! 

That’s the name – for a second year in a row – of our campaign with Canadian Baptist Ministries.  She Matters.  There is work we can do to bless girls and women around the world who have not had the opportunity to learn, to earn a living, to become leaders.  This is the work of Jesus, as He came to do, and we join Him today.  

The She Matters Campaign addresses and advocates for gender equity for women around the world.  Think for a moment of the key responsibilities held by women for their family’s nutrition, health, education, food security, among other areas.  Yet millions of women and girls in some places are denied access to important and often life changing health, welfare and employment skills, information and training because of a lack of literary skills.  They cannot read and write.  Their marginalization is sometimes deliberate.  Boys are favoured in education and nutrition.  There are communities in which local leaders, mostly male, perpetuate structures of patriarchy by telling women that they must accept their place, remain silent, and that Christian workers will harm them and their families.

One of the key barriers to breaking the cycle of systemic poverty is lack of free primary education for children, in particular females.  The lack of basic education perpetuates adult illiteracy and maintains a barrier for women who would like to have sustainable employment skills and access to knowledge.  

Baptist congregations, through CBM, support several initiatives that open up opportunities for women through literacy classes, and for girls through access to education.  

In India there are church based initiatives among tribal people in rural villages where there are no schools.  A girls’ hostel was opened by the Kui Baptist Convention and Canadian Baptists.  The hostel provides a secure place for girls and young women to board while they study in primary and secondary school.  In addition, there are women’s literacy classes in the rural communities.  

In Rwanda, over seven hundred and fifty women are enrolled in reading and discussion classes.  The materials cover important themes such as child nutrition, violence against women, and women’s leadership in their churches and communities.  Students learn to read the scriptures and discuss them in their community classes.  

A Rwandan Baptist pastor introduced an adolescent girl named Rachel to CBM’s Children of Hope Program for children from child led households.  Rachel was grieving the death of her widowed mother and was overwhelmed and fearful of being thrust into the role of primary caregiver to her four siblings.  Through the program, Rachel and her family members were enrolled in the national health care program, school fees were paid and a trained mentor visited regularly with the family to provide support and encouragement.  

When Rachel finished school, a literate, educated young woman, she was enrolled in a vocational program to become a tailor.  A micro-credit loan helped her to purchase a sewing machine and start a small business.  Rachel is now twenty- three with a growing business that includes her own dress designs.  She has been trained to mentor three other child led households with sixteen children in all.  Rachel is a strong Christian witness among the children from child led households.  

These literacy and education programs are not a passing fad.  They are commitments to gender justice, to the healing of the world, to recognizing the potential of girls and women.  She Matters is our statement through words and actions that transform lives.  (Shannon Youell, She Matters Too sermon resource, 2016)

Women and girls are given opportunities to live the life of the wise woman of Proverbs chapter 31. And this is Jesus’s vision too.  

A great wisdom moment in the New Testament comes in Luke 10, with today’s story of sisters, Martha and Mary, having a visit from Jesus, their friend and Master.  The contrast between these two sisters has been considered and meditated upon by so many through the years.  Martha, who is busy, busy with the tasks of hospitality; Mary who simply sits to listen to the lessons of the Master.  

This was one text a little group of pastors pondered last week while on retreat.  We were there, at Bayside Camp, to be quiet and meditative; to be with Jesus.  We wondered about what other things might have happened if Martha had acted differently, or Mary.  

Martha, we are told, was the one who welcomed Jesus into their home.  But then her attitude shows up: she keeps busy, and gets frustrated at her sister who is not helping her.  Martha even tells Jesus what to do!  “Tell her to help me!”  

How often do we tell God what to do, when we have not yet spent enough time listening?  There can be a balance in our lives.  Work and activity for God; rest and being with our Master.  Some of us are naturally like Martha – busy and hospitable and energetic.  Some of us are like Mary – contemplative or studious.  All can have balance.   In the end, it was Martha’s attitude, not her work, that was the issue.  “Martha, Martha,” said Jesus, “you are worried and upset about many things…”  We wondered if, suppose, Mary had got up and got to helping Martha, if Mary would have done it with simple confidence, and not been harried.  To know how to be restful and take in a special moment can be balanced with our busy moments and responsibilities.  And perhaps it was counter-cultural for a woman to sit at the feet of a Rabbi teaching, when there was work to be done.  Jesus commends Mary for choosing well to be a student of the Master.  She matters – both Mary and Martha matter – and both can be disciples of Jesus: learners in His school of Kingdom living.

And so we come full circle, back to the wisdom of Proverbs 31 – wisdom from the mother of a long-forgotten king.  But the mother’s wise, poetic advice has never been forgotten.  And here, from so long ago, is that exemplary balance that can be seen in a woman’s life, not to mention in a man.  She works with fabric and clothing; she is like a merchant in the town.  She supplies food in her home; she is a business woman.  She is strong and full of dignity;  she is filled with wisdom; she is loved and respected by her partner and children.  She is in balance.  

Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

And to the rest of us we could say: Strength is fragile and handsomeness is but the surface; but a man who fears the Lord is to be praised.