The collect this morning is one of, if not my favorite collects from the Book of Common Prayer. Every time I hear it or read it I have a strong desire just to get my Bible and spend some time in the scriptures, listening, reading, marking, learning, inwardly digesting and embracing scripture.
Let’s read it again: “Blessed Lord, you 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”. (Proper 28, BCP)
All scripture is written for our learning. Listen to the Word, read it, mark it, take notes, memorize, learn what the, mark it, take notes, memorize, learn what the mean, inwardly digest and make scripture a part of your life, embrace the Word. It just makes me want to dine on God’s Word. And, that means more than just the book. The Written Word is the instrument that points us to the Living Word, which is Jesus Christ. It’s important to read it and to mark it up if you want to or at least to take notes on the side. I have a favorite Bible that I like to read devotionally every morning, and it is marked up. Every psalm is noted and highlighted. It’s probably my third or fourth Bible that I have had the opportunity of just wearing it out. I have lots of Bibles at home, but my marked up and well-read Bible is the Bible I like to read from every day.
Now, we know there are different ways to read and study the Bible, different methods of approaching Scripture. When I’m studying I like to put the passage I’m reading about into its cultural and historical context, to know the date and authorship, style of writing, and do word studies of the original language. For example in our gospel passage today from Mark, we know this gospel was written around 70 AD after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. It was a terrible time for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Rome had had enough of the Maccabee rebellions and they attacked the city, tore down the temple, and even broke up the large rocks that made up the walls of the temple. (Mark 13)
The historian Josephus says there were so many people killed by Roman soldiers in the streets that they had to climb over dead bodies to continue the slaughter. It was a terrible time, but that’s what happened, and Mark was written right after that happened. When you read this passage knowing the context, and then you realize that passages like this are prophetic. The destruction of the temple was a theme of some of the prophets in the Old Testament. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah also prophesized about wars, earthquakes and famines to come. Prophets look at the immediate future, but they are also looking into the far-off future. So it is with Jesus in this passage. All of the prophets in the Bible used this way of communicating the principles of the Kingdom of God. Not only was the temple destroyed in the past by the Babylonians, but it is to be destroyed again by the Romans.
Jesus says: “Beware of people that come to you in my name. Don’t be deceived. Don’t fall for false prophets indicating the place and time of the coming of Jesus back to earth and the destruction of the world”. (Mark 16:6-8) False prophets have been hanging around since the time of Christ and in our time with the message that “this is the end of the world”. We have all known these misguided wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ll name a few of the several hundred: Remember James Jones, Peoples Temple and the Jamestown Guyana massacre. Jones started out as a reputable evangelical minister for many years in Indiana, later moved to Redwood Valley, California and then to San Francisco, but later took on the role as the new Messiah. And the suicide cool-aid that would usher over 900 into paradise? Remember in 1997, the “Hale Bopp” comet and the cult “Heaven’s Gate”.
Thirty-eight men and women in an upscale area of Rancho Santé Fe all took poison, laid on their beds and expected their souls to be transported to a spacecraft following Hale Bopp Comet to ride the heavens for eternity. Marshall Applewhite met Bonnie Nettles referenced the Book of Revelation and passages from the King James Bible to support their mission. People have been directed to hide in caves, to meet together and wait on mountain tops, to sell everything they had. And just in 2011, the radio evangelist Harold Camping, founder and president of the Family Radio network of Christian broadcasting headquartered in San Francisco predicted the coming of Christ on three separate occasions, and it never happened. Before his death in 2013 he confessed that he had been wrong, and just as Jesus said, “no one knows the day or the hour of Christs coming”.
“Beware that no-one will lead you astray. Many will come in my name and say: I am He. They will lead many astray. Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, earthquakes, tsunamis’, but this is just the beginning of the birth pangs to come”. (Mark 13:8) All through history we have seen severe persecutions, the destruction of nations, ethnic cleansing. We have viewed with horror the sufferings of people under the rule of Hitler, Stalin, and Idi Amin. We have witnessed the brutal wars in Uganda, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Croatia, and the list goes on and on. Yesterday we heard about the tragedy of over a hundred murdered in France by terrorists on a religious mission, and we hear about these tragedies all over the world almost on a daily basis now.
Be careful. I take it as my responsibility as a “watchman on the wall” a guardian of the faith, and you should also be careful. Read the scripture. Put it into context. What does the passage of scripture say to you, and what did it men to the original readers. Why was it written? What were the social conditions? What applies and what does not? For example when you read the writings of Paul, what problems is he addressing in the church, and how did he deal with it? How do we deal with similar problems today in our context? What are your social conditions, and what is your context and how does this word apply to you?
Apply the Word to your life, especially the teachings of the principles of the Kingdom of God, principles that we are encouraged to life our lives by. When we embrace the word it transforms our life, from ‘glory to glory’ as the Apostle Paul says. Transformation into the image of Christ is a process. That’s what it is intended to be, and that’s the intent of the Word to change us from ‘glory to glory’.
I pray that we as a church will be hungry for the Word, and thirsty for the Spirit. That combination of Word and Spirit, the Power and Glory of God. The word is written for our learning. Hear, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest and embrace. And, ever hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen