November 17, 2013 - The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Luke 21:5-19

Our Collect today is probably my favorite Collect in the whole Prayer Book. "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." 

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest... 

I love the way those words roll off the tongue. These four things are the basics of our relationship with Scripture as Episcopalians, as Anglicans, as Christians. 

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest...

We are to read them, we are to engage them. We don't shy away from Scripture because it is foreign or ancient, or uncomfortable, but we enter into them and participate in a conversation with them. 

We are to mark them. Have you ever met a person who treats the Bible as so sacred, that they refuse to write on the pages, with its thin gilded paper, and the spine never cracked? It is almost as if we were to worship the Bible, instead of the God to whom the story points. 
I had a professor in college who said that if we weren't buying a new Bible every couple of years, because our old ones had worn out, and the margins had become too full, we weren't reading our Bible enough. 

We are to learn from them. As we read them and mark them, we find ways that these words that have spoken to so many over the ages continue to speak to us today. We learn the ways that these stories are our stories, stories of humanity and divinity, stories of love and forgiveness, stories of creation and renewal, stories of sin and redemption, stories of frailty and grace. 

And finally, we are to inwardly digest them, to take the Scriptures so far inside of us, that they enter our bones and marrow, and become a part of us. The metaphor to inwardly digest them reminds us that the Scriptures are there to nourish us. We do not live by bread alone, and part of that nourishment is found within the pages of this book. And the nourishment it offers is a not a meager piece of stale bread, but a rich banquet of the finest foods and well-aged wines. 

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. 

Notice what the Collect doesn't say. The prayer does not say to follow the Bible. We don't follow the Scriptures, but we find within them the story of the one we are to follow - Jesus Christ. The prayer does not say to worship the Bible. We don't worship the Scriptures, but within them we find the story of the one we are to worship - God. 

Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. 

Engaging and re-engaging these stories until we know the hope - know it deep down inside of us, know it in our brains and hearts and guts and sinews and bones- know the hope that the stories of Scripture remind us of, the hope of God found in Jesus Christ. Finding the hope and love and mercy and peace in the story of Scripture is not always easy. 

And lessons like those we heard today are a great example of how challenging it can be. The day is coming we hear, in both our Old Testament and Gospel readings, before we hear about terrible destruction, earthquakes, famines, and plagues, hot oven fires, the falling of the temple's stones. This certainly does come across as good news, and probably repels many of us in this room, uncomfortably in our seats, thinking "I thought Jesus was all about love and peace. And what is all of this talk about the future, as if Jesus was a fortune teller. I don't buy that stuff." 

And yet, as we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture, as we engage these readings that make us uncomfortable, we find that even these have something to offer, and as we continue to engage, as we continue to come back to the table to nourish ourselves from these words, we find layer upon layer of meaning. As we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the whole of Scripture, we stop looking at these words of Jesus in a vacuum, and see that he speaking in a certain form, a certain manner that is relatively common in Scripture, that looks to the future expectantly in order to speak more fully and powerfully to the present. Stop worshipping these stones, being in awe of human-made temples, these too will pass. Stop worshipping big buildings. Stop worshipping tiny technology. Stop worshipping fast cars and planes and power. These, too, will pass. All things will pass, the great temple will pass, our new temples will pass, but hold onto that which is imperishable, the love of God that safely and comfortably holds each one of us, that cares so deeply that each hair on our head is valued. Put your trust not in beautiful stuff, but in the one God who made us and remakes us every day. That doesn't mean that we necessarily need to radically give absolutely everything away. We can appreciate the stuff we need to live, we can delight in the stuff that adds joy and beauty to life, we can enjoy the stuff that allows us to create just as God created. But there is a difference between appreciating and worshipping, and the line is fine. 

Closer to home, these words remind us that we don't remodel the Parish Hall and Kitchen for its own sake, just to show off, and admire what big "stones" it has, or rather what big burners the new stove has, and how many ovens it has, and think that this building will still be standing there at the end of time, but we remodel it to do the work that God is calling us to do in this time, to create space that allows us to grow in our faith, and reach out to neighbors in need. 

Jesus is also saying to his disciples and us that when all of the earthquakes and famines and wars come to the world and to our lives, for such destruction will come to each one of us, don't run after the false teachers who claim they can give you easy answers, who claim they can make sense of it all, but stick it out with him, the one who doesn't give answers, but gives instead a way, the way of the cross, the way of love and peace. 

Yes, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story. Crack open the spine, pull out a pencil, and start writing your questions in the margins. Because although it may not be obvious and easy - in fact, it may at times be difficult and messy - this story is rich and powerful and nourishing, if we would just come to the table and feast from the banquet. Amen.