I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. I love the Bible! It does bear repeating. I love its stories and songs, its letters and poetry. I love the ways its literary forms and its messages function so effectively together. I love its cadences, its rhythms, its music. I love its raw humor, its brutal honesty. I love its radically subversive ideas and its beautifully imaginative imagery. I love its profound creativity. I love its admitted and stubborn bias towards the story of God—in and through its many stories of consistently surprising inversions of experience and expectation into wonder and joy. And I love the potent omni-relevance of our Scriptures ever shimmering right there on the surface of the deep well of their mystery.
Long range worship planning is thus always a celebration. I get so excited at the prospect of exploring these wonderful texts—so excited at a series that will allow for an extended conversation about a particular character, story or theme. So having just spent time doing some such advanced worship planning, I’m anticipating what lies ahead for us at Woodbrook. And even amidst the Bible study and preparation for the immediately upcoming Sunday, I find myself looking ahead to the future work of wandering through other texts (both those familiar to us and those not) looking for a way in, a way through, and a way out. I love that.
For Rebekah and Joseph await us in June and July. How exciting is that? The time we spent with her son and his father, Jacob/Israel, now a few years ago (six years ago, actually !2005), remains a good memory (anyone else remember that series fondly?!). It’s always good to encounter Jesus in stories, this year mainly from Matthew, and this August, as we look in and through worship at the various festivals of our faith that shape our identity—our being in the world, I invite you to remember how so many of those festivals are themselves shaped by the biblical stories that ground them—root them. I invite you to celebrate how thoroughly our worship is itself shaped by our Scriptures, even as we are ourselves. And I love that.
Week in and week out, we gather bringing the particularities of our various circumstances to the biblical story. That’s different, I believe, than taking the biblical story to our circumstances. Think about that; it’s not just a word game. Because it’s not that we take our holy texts to make sense of the world and its ways, but rather take ourselves to those texts to receive a sense of God. We gather not so much to be told what to do as to be reminded that what we do ultimately matters because it either reflects the God we say we follow or it doesn’t. We gather primarily to be reminded of who and how God is in the world, then, secondarily, of our own identity and responsibilities as the children of God in the world. It’s tricky. We don’t want to impose our world on the text any more than we want to impose our text on the world. We come to the Bible and it locates us within its truth, responding to our honest questions not so much with conclusive answers as with professions of trust, sometimes soaring, lyrical professions of assurance, sometimes painful prayers of scant hope. Within Scripture, we find ourselves located not in a web of comprehensive meaning, but in a web of relational being, and then, how do you establish parameters on an ever-expanding conversation? I love that too.
You’ll get no argument from me, the Bible has certainly been (and is) abused. It has been (and is) used to shut down conversation, relationship, imagination and possibility. It has been (and is) used to oppress and to justify oppression. It has been (and is) used to close minds to more than can comfortably be acknowledged. But the living word that engages people with God and shapes being can also open up conversation, relationship, imagination and possibility, can sustain the pursuit of justice and can open minds to more than can comfortably be acknowledged. What’s not to love about that?
And this much is always true: anyone—anyone trying to nail down the word of God into some absolute certainty, universally authoritative and applicable leads only to the resurrection of the mystery whose depths extend so far beneath our comprehension and our understanding of relevance. And those depths constitute the fullness of the love but the surface of which fills our living with abundance.
I want to share with you one of the greatest compliments of my preaching career. Someone once said, “We’ve left a lot of worship services saying what a great sermon. We leave here saying what a great text.” That’s what I say! That’s what I try and say … every week. And, yes, I love that too!