Preacher: The Revd Rob Ryan, Cathedral Curate (2010-2012)
23 October 2011 (Bible Sunday)
If we were able to look in earlier chapters of Nehemiah we would be able to see what these people have seen … that the scriptures are indeed powerful! They have seen how Nehemiah has changed. They have seen how he has allowed God to transform his life. They are aware that is is only through Nehemiah’s personal transformation that the transformation of their nation , and their return from exile, has been possible!
So is it any wonder that they become acutely aware of their spiritual poverty?! So aware that they do, in fact, demand that the scriptures be read in the square to all the people.
As they heard, they were challenged because they wanted to make a difference. It becomes clear to them, as it must to us, that if they wanted to make a difference and change their society - then first they must allow themselves and how they live to be changed.
Today is a good day to remember that the Bible challenges our lifestyle!
As some of you will know, my role as ‘Pioneer Curate’ is to create a new way of being church, to form church with those who do not go to church, So, I am involved in creating with others a different way of being church and living out the Christian faith together in a way that makes sense to us in, and relates to, our everyday world and culture.
In the process of my work, while I look for these people to join us in our exploration, I come across a lot of people who call themselves atheists. I have chatted at length with a lot of atheists over the last 3 years in Rochester and something surprising has struck me.
Almost every single atheist I have spoken to has had a very good knowledge of our faith. They know the Bible. They know who Jesus is, they know what Christianity teaches, they know what we believe. They are fully aware of the crucifixion and resurrection and what that means for how we should live out our lives. They’ve visited our churches, listened to our songs, heard our sermons (!) and read our holy book. The message is not the problem.
We, the Church. We who talk about grace, but are quick to cheer when the bad guy gets his comeuppance. We who talk about forgiveness, but would rather hold a grudge with the person sitting next to us. We who talk about desiring persecution for His name’s sake, but make sure that we do our fair share of persecuting of “the other”. We who talk about God’s acceptance, but reject, avoid and ignore those who make us feel uncomfortable and those who are different to us.
I could suggest why we are so bad at living this out, which could end up sounding like excuses, but I think it boils down to one thing.
We don’t really believe the message for ourselves. Deep down, in our inner being, when it comes to it, we don’t really believe the message of this book. We don’t really believe that God truly loves us in the complete and unconditional way that he says he does.
And when we don’t believe it, we can’t live it out, not really. We serve a God who can do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine” and yet we place limits on how much he can love. We place those same limits on ourselves and we place those limits on others that we come into contact with. No one wants to believe in a God who can only love in a limited way!
Bible Sunday, like every Sunday, like everyday, is not about celebration or preservation or protection …. Today is all about transformation. It’s all about living our lives differently. It’s about living in a way that shows we do indeed believe that we are loved! It’s all about asking ourselves if we are willing to change.
Paul guides is here in those words to the Colossians: As God’s chosen ones, (that’s us!!), holy and beloved (that’s still us!), clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another ...forgive each other … clothe with love … let the word of Christ dwell in you richly …
In the words of Eli … and indeed the words of the complete Bible :
‘Do more for others than you do for yourself’