This week’s collect is one of my favorite collects. Let’s look at it again. “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” (Proper 28, BCP)
I love the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. This exhortation and longing prayer stirs my heart: “Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace” Sometimes in church service, I like to put down my bulletin and just listen to what is being spoken, to think about it. To hear and to read; One of the greatest gifts God has given me is my love for reading scripture, and the many times of reading scripture. I have read the Bible from cover to cover many times, and I love the narratives.
Sometimes I read the Bible like a prayer, reading it to God and with God, “Lectio Divina” or holy reading, praying scripture. The reading entwines with the heart of God, and it’s like we become united through the scriptures. Scripture is a wonderful thing.
Several years ago, a few years before we became Episcopalians, we got hold of the Book of Common Prayer, and we started reading the scriptures listed in the back of the BCP, the “Daily Office Scripture Readings”. Our lives were very busy. I was working in Sales Management, and Naomi was the CEO of a Refugee Resettlement Agency, and when we left in the morning we would not see each other until later in the evening. We found our best time to read the Bible, have prayer and discuss the day together was early in the morning. We decided to read all our readings for the day, both morning and evening offices, at the same time in the morning. This had been our custom for many years, but we made some adjustments with our morning readings, thanks to the BCP.
Two things I like about the daily office readings. One is that it’s like setting down to a well-balanced meal. We always start off with a Psalm or two, read an Old Testament passage or from the Apocrypha, and then a New Testament passage, followed by another Psalm or two and then the Gospel reading for the day, kind of like a well-balanced meal. Another thing I like about the Daily Office Readings is the Psalms.
Technically, if you do all the offices, Morning Prayer, noon Eucharist, evening prayer and special services on Sunday you will read the entire Book of Psalms every four weeks. However, If you are just reading the Daily Office every morning, you will go through the entire book of Psalms every seven weeks. I have a favorite Bible that I use just for morning devotions, and the Bible is all marked up, color coded with no overall method at all, just marked up, especially the Psalms.
Now, there are some psalms I just love, but there are some that I just do not like. Those psalms have no marks in them at all, and sometimes I tell Naomi that I don’t want to read that psalm for the day, and we go onto the next reading. There are just some psalms that have nothing that I want to think about. I love it when we come to the psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134, every seven weeks, or Psalm 1, 2 and 3 every seven weeks. You know, it’s kind of like visiting an old friend, dropping in at a scheduled time, and the old friend is expecting you, not a stranger, a guest, and it’s just wonderful.
It’s the same way with the Gospels, reading through Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. And, then the epistles, the letters to the local churches. Then there’s the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature, Job, Psalm of Solomon, Sirach, Tobit. It’s wonderful to go through them every year. We just read Revelation. That’s not one of my favorite books, but I enjoy Revelation 22 and 23, the narrative about the City of God and the Heavenly Jerusalem. It’s powerful reading. I love the pictures of paradise.
I highlight promises and meaningful scripture with a highlighter. I read the passages. I think about them; I meditate on them. I digest them and inwardly and try to make the truths of scripture apply to my everyday life. I have memorized many passages of Scripture, and those verses come back to me from time to time as they are coming back to me in this sermon. And, at other times the scripture motivates me to study with an inquisitive mind. I want to know who wrote a particular book or in the case of New Testament letters, who wrote this message, and why was it written?
We study to know the context of scripture, the when, where, why and how? What kind of writing is it? What language was it written, and does the language of the text reflect the language of the time of authorship? Is the New Testament letter written to a specific church or is it a message that is to read and passed around to other churches? For example: St. Paul’s letters to the churches are unique to what was going on in those churches, things that needed to be corrected and things that they were to be applauded. And, what can I take-away from the reading to learn from and apply to my life?
The continuum of interacting with scripture is important to me. Holy Scripture is a gift that just keeps on giving. I’ve studied other religions. In my post-graduate work, I did a lot of study that included visits to different faith practices. What I gained from how other faith traditions approach their religious beliefs is an awareness and appreciation of our faith traditions, the rich traditions and on-going practices of Christianity. I love Scripture, and I am driven to consume scripture daily, just as the Israelites gathered manna daily as they traveled in the wilderness. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)
We are encouraged to desire the sincere milk of the word; to” taste and see that the Lord is good, (Psalm 34:8) and I am reminded of that beautiful invitation in Isaiah: “Ho everyone that is thirsty. Come you to the water. He that does not have money, come buy and eat. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
We are not only called to hear, read, mark and learn scripture, but we are exhorted to embrace and to hold fast. In other words, do my best to apply the deep meanings of scripture into my life daily. The Holy Spirit resides within us. We are called temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are encouraged not to be weary in doing what we think is right. Our faith is a living and vibrant faith.
“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”
Our children’s Sunday School teachers have a two-fold mission: To teach children the stories of the Old Testament and New Testament, to have a working knowledge of scripture, and the second mission is to point children to Jesus, to appreciate and understand that we are a “people of the book”, and we are also people of the person, the person of Jesus Christ”. We want to impart a deep desire for scripture, to lean and apply those scriptures to their lives. What does it mean to be a Christian? What are our benefits and what are our responsibilities?
FATHER DAVE MADSEN