Bible Sunday


Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalm 19:7-14
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
John 5:36b-47

I have asked you to bring your own Bibles to church this morning for a few reasons. Sorry to those of you that didn’t get that message. I remember a Lutheran pastor from my childhood who would ask to see people’s bibles when he came to visit. He wanted to see the condition it was in; was it dusty? Had the spine been broken? Was it well used?

I want to think about the Bible in your hands for a moment (or one that is at home!):
Where did you get it?
Who gave it to you?
How much of it have you read?
If all the Bibles disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow – how much of it do you know?

I would be so brave as to say that what you have in your hands right now is the most valuable thing you own! At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, she was presented with a Bible from the Archbishop of Canterbury with these words:
Our gracious Queen:
to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords

I believe this is true and I hope you do as well. I believe this to be true even though I don’t understand all of it. I have neglected it, I have avoided it and I get frustrated by it. Yet I believe it because I deeply love it, want to know and understand more of it. If you are in any way daunted by the Bible here is a secret: don’t worry about what you don’t know. Worry about what you do know and understand.
Am I living to the standards that are set out here.
Am I becoming more Christ-like?
Is there any actual evidence of what I know about this book to my family, my friends, or the wider world?

Today as we celebrate Bible Sunday, each reading has something to teach us about how we can take the Bible more seriously for ourselves in three ways.

Firstly: The Bible is God’s means of our development and growth as Christians (Timothy 3.16)

To be honest, many of us struggle to see the usefulness of much of the Bible. We get comfortable with what we know or what we think we know. That is just fine! Thank you very much! We might try to make excuses: the Bible is too hard, I don’t understand, I don’t need to understand, it’s outdated, old, irrelevant to the world now, it’s too violent, etc.

I love shopping at IKEA. When I go there I always come out with more stuff than I need! But what often amazes me is how I always seem to find a gadget or utensil that I am not sure how I have lived without until now. A garlic press, mini chopping boards, multi-sided cheese graters, spatulas of different sizes. It never occurred to me that I needed these things. Yet now that I have found them I cannot live or cook without them.

Perhaps it is because I have a perfectly good grater or knife that has done the job well enough for long enough. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t new ways of doing old things!

Growing and developing in our faith is a whole of life activity so when we leave this building. We need this book to help us get on with it. How can we possibly become more Christ-like (this is not the same thing as being a good person!) if we have not uncovered who Jesus is in the pages of the Bible?
We have been called to abundant life, life in the fullest sense. This doesn’t just happen! We need to grow and develop which takes time, it takes a lifetime! We need the teaching, the reproof, correction and training that the Bible offers us.

Secondly, Scripture brings us intimacy with God (Isaiah 55)

Now as a mainly English congregation, experience has taught me that intimacy is not a comfortable word for many people! And intimacy with God can really be a stretch for some! However, God has already searched you and knows you; He is intimately acquainted with all your ways! (Psalm 139).
Isaiah 55 offers us an invitation to draw close to God: verse 1: everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Thirst is a life-threatening need and here we have an invitation to an abundant supply! ‘You that have no money; come, buy and eat.’

None of us can buy what God is offering to us – we are unable and helpless to. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Logically you can’t buy anything without money. Someone has already paid the price. The water was free. Wine and milk are meant to symbolise luxury. The freely given luxury of God’s love and provision.

This loving God has a question for us: ‘why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’ Why do we waste our time on things that don’t matter?! We needlessly worry, get anxious, freaked out, spin our wheels over all sorts of things! It is so exhausting to live this way. People go searching for answers or explanations in all sorts of places yet so often we go last to the place where we should go first…God!

‘Listen so you may live!’ says God. Seek the Lord while he may be found! It is the Bible that reveals his thoughts and ways, sets his targets, voices his promises and is powerful to achieve what it says.

It is hard work though! It is really frustrating that ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.’ There is a plan and purpose for each of us (v 10-11); a good work for us to do. If we want to know what that is then we need to get close to God. We need to get intimately acquainted with His word.

Thirdly: The Bible keeps us on God’s path (4.3-4)
Have you ever had a driving experience in thick fog? Those fogs that descend so quickly that all you can do is crawl along the motorway with the fog lights on and make slow progress. It can feel claustrophobic, like you are lost, and you can’t just stop and wait it out. You have to keep going.

The lines marking the lanes suddenly became a lifeline. They showed you each metre of the road one at a time, helping to navigate the bends, avoid collisions, and eventually to getting to your destination.

Many people unfortunately believe the Bible to be a rather long and boring set of rules to take the fun out of life. Again, untrue! We need rules, guidelines to keep life between the lines like the markings on a motorway. Imagine trying to watch a footie match that had no rules, or bake a cake without a recipe, or drive a car without road markings.

It would all end in disaster as we would each individually have to make up the way to do these things. Now we might be tempted to think that we know best. But likely the person next to us thinks that way too. This is what Paul is talking about in verse 3: ‘the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine (teaching or belief), but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.’

Paul is spending so much energy commending the importance of scripture to Timothy because he realises that a time is coming for the church when it will be very difficult for the church to stay faithful to God’s path. He predicts a time when instead of seeking the truth, Christians will let their own desires be the filter for what they hear, distracted by false teaching. Things like ‘just be a good person’; ‘it’s all the same God we believe in anyway’; ‘we all basically get there in the end’; ‘The Bible, church, Christianity, etc is fine for you but not for me.’
Those are not God’s word. Watch out for itchy ears!

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is taking on some Jewish people who have itchy ears. They know their scriptures and they are trying to find eternal life in them. Jesus is saying ‘no, no, no – I am the way to eternal life.’ The Jews are missing this because they don’t believe that God has sent Jesus. They won’t go to him to have life. It’s all there in the Jewish scriptures, right back to Moses and yet they refused to believe it. Itchy ears can make you deaf.

What do we need to do to grow & develop as Christians, have a deeper intimacy with God and stay on his path:

First thing – pray! Pray to want to grow and develop in your faith. Pray for a closer relationship with God. Pray for purpose and guidance. No one is going to force you. Not even God. Maybe you have to pray to want to want to grow & develop, deepen your relationship and stay on the path.

Secondly, don’t take it for granted. Today access to the Bible is only a click away on a smartphone. I suspect many of our homes have multiple copies of the Bible and in multiple translations. In the western world we have easy-to-read, easy-to-access versions of the Bible at our fingertips. But because it is so easily available, it is possible that we undervalue it. Paul reminds Timothy of his rich and privileged heritage, because he wants to leave a legacy in the life of Timothy and the life of the church that will carry on into the future. Don’t take it for granted!
Really what if all the Bibles disappeared overnight? How much would we still know?

Thirdly, Do it! Does the Bible feel like a dry and dusty book to you or does it captivate you like a long-awaited love letter? To rekindle a heart habit of reading and relishing the Bible, maybe you can take some time this week to revisit parts that in the past have been especially meaningful to you.

For many people there are Psalms that have a special significance, or perhaps the gospel accounts of Jesus. If regular Bible reading has become difficult, why not revisit these parts of the Bible and as you read them, pray that God would give you a fresh passion for his word?

In this book we have the most valuable thing that this world affords! It is God’s way of communicating to the world that he created and so loves. We as his followers need to know what is in her so we can share that message with the people that so badly need it. We need to grow and develop as Christians, deepen in our intimacy, our relationships with God and stay on his path, stay close to him. We do this through prayer, by not taking this book for granted and by doing it!

Proper 24: Asking

Sons of Thunder – from

Trinity 20/Proper 24

Isaiah 53:4-12
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Questions, Questions and more Questions!

I am going to start this sermon with a question!

Are you the kind of person who asks a lot of questions? There are little questions, big questions, easy, hard, dumb, unanswerable, un-askable, rhetorical, revealing, innocent and embarrassing questions that we all carry around in us and have asked of us. We all ask questions for different reasons: some people are naturally curious, sometimes we need better or clearer information, instruction or directions, some of us might be a busy-body and just want the news.

Questions form the basis of most conversations and communication. If you spend any time with children, you can be asked a multitude of questions on any number of subjects in a very short amount of time! I am sure that many of us have had the experience of being asked a question that we did not have an answer for. That awful feeling when the teacher asks you and you have no earthly idea what the answer is!

In this morning’s Gospel reading we see an exchange of questions between Jesus, James and John. This exchange shows the approachability of Jesus; and although their question was misplaced, Jesus engages seriously and compassionately with them. Previously in Mark 10, Peter put his case forward about the disciples giving up everything (homes, families, jobs) to follow Jesus. Jesus’ response to Peter is that all will receive it all back in this age and eternal life in the age to come.

James and John now seem to be putting their oar in and asking (which is actually a demand) to Jesus. They preface the request with: ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. They say this before they actually ask/tell Jesus what it is that they want him to do. There are very few people whose request I would grant before I knew what the request was!
Their question is often dismissed as foolish or arrogant , ‘oh those silly Sons of Thunder!’ and there is some truth to that, but James and John have done a couple of things right.

Jesus does not rebuff or get angry with them as the disciples did; Jesus welcomes the question, invites them to ask it, but has some questions of his own for James and John. Questions that are not easy to answer!

‘What is it that you want me to do for you?’ asks Jesus. The first thing James and John did right was that they have come to Jesus; generally a very good starting point. James and John clearly trust Jesus to come through for them. However it is evident that they may have missed what Jesus was trying to tell them about what was awaiting him: being handed over to the chief priests and scribes, condemned to death, handed over again, mocked, spat on, flogged and killed; and after three days rise again.

James and John believe that Jesus will come through in the end even though they skipped over that tricky middle bit! How is our trust this morning? Do we live like we believe that Jesus will come through in the end? Jesus should be, wants to be, our starting place; the safe place where we can take our questions.

Jesus invites them to ask and what do they want? The reply: ‘Sit at the right and left hand in your glory.’ James and John are not criticised for this request, not at least by Jesus. James and John believe that Jesus will win; Jesus will be in glory and they want to be right there with him. They are ambitious for God! They expect Jesus to be glorified. Jesus redirects these ambitions, wants to reset their priorities and motives.

How ambitious are we for God? The real danger we face as a church, a group of parishes and the Church more widely is: apathy, cynicism and complacency. These are the roadblocks to abundant living and transformation!

Jesus wants us to want more, seek more, hope more and need more of him. This, I think, is why he didn’t get annoyed with James and John as they were doing the right thing: going to him and asking but they needed some redirection.

Now the confident and bold request of James and John is rather tacky, somewhat ignorant and immature, the motives were more selfish than not. But they ask! They engage in a real relationship with Jesus. They want to stay close to him by being with him in his glory! Save us seats Jesus! We want to be with you!

This reminds me of all the times that I don’t ask, don’t engage and don’t lean into what Jesus might be trying to say to me. Sure, we might throw my own questions his way but how often do we stay around for an answer? Am we willing to wait even if it takes a long time?

The answer to the request of James and John does get answered. Jesus tells them that it is not his request to grant but it is for those whom it has been prepared. Sounds a little cryptic but Jesus is completely deferring to God. This is not Jesus’ decision to make. The purpose of God will not be thwarted! But neither can they be fully understood beforehand.

The places are seemingly prepared for those who want to serve. This is what James and John fail to recognise and probably the other upset disciples too. Jesus calls them together for a lesson of ‘supreme importance’ as one commentary put it. Jesus is not going to operate like the world does, ruling with tyranny and a heavy hand.

Jesus came to serve and not be served. You want to sit on my left and on my right? Then you must be the servant. Want to be first, then you have to be the last! Give up your entitlement, move downwards. This isn’t about rules but a way of life.

The real question we need to ask is: ‘What can I do for you?’. This is a question to ask of God but also to each other. Be prepared for more questions than answers; not always what you want to hear but always loving and always true.

Like James and John, we might want God to do something for us. Ask away! Go to the Father in faith, in confidence; He will take your questions, your ambitions and desires in order to line up with His will. If we are willing.

Don’t be embarrassed. James and John certainly were not. Their questions were heard. The answers may have been unexpected, even unwanted but they came away changed from these conversations, hopefully understanding more of how God operates and what Jesus came to do. He came to serve and we should be willing to do the same.

You won’t ever get anything if you don’t ask!

So friends – ask the questions, expect to be heard, be ready for an answer and for change.

Proper 23: The Grace of Change

From Orthodox Christianity –

Hebrews 4:12-end
Mark 10:17-31
Trinity 19/Proper 23

Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year; I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school.

Our bible readings this morning remind us that God is a God of change. In Hebrews, the word of God is living and active, it is meant to bring change to our lives, sharply and piercingly. It will expose and judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We are to turn away from ourselves and to the throne of God to find grace to help us in our time of need. Mark’s Gospel tells the story of the young man who comes to Jesus looking for change too. His apparent earnestness, maybe an expectation of an easy answer is dissolved when he does not receive what he wanted. He leaves Jesus grieved and unchanged (as far as we know).

How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace it with enthusiasm while others might be slower to embrace. In my previous life as a nurse, you learned early that things change quickly, and you need to be able to respond fast.

Not all change is bad or negative either. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing; we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed; never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change; always do! Over the last 19 months, we have all had to face so much change. Much of it has been unwelcome and unwanted; although some changes have been seen as positive and should continue.

What change was the young man seeking? He starts in the right place, at the feet of Jesus. He has all the material goods and does all the right stuff; but maybe having the stuff and doing the right stuff has made life boring for this young man. He wants more of something. Jesus looked at him and loved him. I love these little verses that get tucked in – we almost always overlook them. Jesus loved him. He loves you.

Now Jesus could have gone a few ways with this young man’s question of how to have eternal life. It would have been easy for Jesus to secure a new convert. ‘Great!’ Jesus could have said ‘come on! You already follow the commandments, you’re already calling me ‘good’ so you must know who I am because only God is good. You’re in!’

Jesus could have also worked him in more slowly, easing the young man into the values of God’s kingdom. ‘How about you writing a small cheque to charity this year? Nothing scary – just a token?’

However Jesus is not interested in convenience or comfort. That is what I (maybe we) are concerned about. Remember that Jesus loved him and because he loved him and said the truthful thing, the hard and unwanted thing he knew would cause the young man’s excitement to disappear on the spot. “Sell what you own, give to the poor and follow me.’

This was not what the young man wanted to hear and so he goes away shocked and grieving. This was not the change he was looking for! He was probably shocked because he considered his wealth an entitlement; symbol of worldly accomplishment and of God’s favour. This young man had not found true happiness despite the trappings of life. He seems to be after life in its fullness as we all are. Maybe he thought that he could buy his way to eternal life by observing a special commandment.

Jesus welcomes his desire but also knows his weakness, his attachment to possessions and this is probably why he invites him to give it all to the poor so that his treasure and his heart will be in heaven and not on earth. But the young man decides (as far as we know) to hang on to his wealth which will never bring him happiness or eternal life.

What about the church? The Church has faced huge changes in the last year which for an organization that is notoriously slow and often resistant to change has been a challenge. We are working on changing some of the structures in the Hambleden Valley Group at this time, we need your prayers and support to do this. The Rural Review has been an opportunity to look at ourselves with honesty and integrity; we cannot stay the same.

The Friends of the Fawley Church want to make changes to this building that need support and prayers too. It will take courage and fortitude to do this.
If we only look at the bank account or the church building – it will never work. We need to look at something bigger, beyond us; that being God of course! In any and all instances we need to approach the throne of grace and seek God’s mercy and help.

Then there are largely two options as seen in the examples of the young man and Peter and the disciples. If we do not hear what we want or receive the change we seek, we can walk away. We can keep what we have until we lose it.
The other example is that of Peter. He lays it out for Jesus, ‘look at what we gave up to follow you!’ It was not lost on Jesus what had been given up in order to follow him and all will be made good according to him.

If, however, we stay the course.

In this season of change – God is offering us new opportunities. Following Jesus will challenge us to lifetimes of change where we are invited to encounter God in new ways apart from tradition, memory and resting on history.

Like the young man, we might want more from God but may not want to give up what God wants us to. We might choose to hang on to the familiar – even if it doesn’t bring us happiness or eternal life because it is comfortable.
Are we willing to risk being disappointed with the answer God gives – but choose his way regardless?

My prayer is that in this coming season of change we will be ready for whatever may come, that we will hold fast to the promises of God and know we can approach the throne of grace when help is needed.