GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE
FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
“O God, give me purity – but not yet.” So the young Augustine prayed as he resisted his mother Monica and her Christian witness. One day in his garden, Augustine had one of the most famous self-confrontations in history. “Suddenly I heard a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know. But it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, ” Tolle lege, tolle lege,” “Take and read, take and read.” I ceased weeping, and immediately began to search my mind most carefully as to whether children were accustomed to chant these words in any kind of game, and I could not remember that I had ever heard such a thing. Damming back the flood of my tears, I arose, interpreting the incident as quite certainly a divine command to open my book of Scripture, and read the passage at which I should open.” Augustine took up the Bible and opened it to Romans 13:13 :”:Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on Christ.” The life of Augustine was changed and with it the course of world history.
The Word of God changed the life of Augustine. God’s Word changed the life of Antony. In third century, in Egypt, the young Antony, eighteen years old at the time, happened to walk by the door of a church. St. Athanasius, in his biography of St. Anthony, writes, “As he was walking along, he collected his thoughts and reflected how the apostles left everything and followed the Savior, also how the people in Acts sold what they had, and laid it at the feet of the apostles for distribution to the poor and what great hope was laid up in heaven for such as these. With these thoughts in mind, Antony entered the church. And it so happened that the Gospel was being read at that moment, and he heard the passage in which the Lord says to the rich man, “If thou wilt be perfect sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor, come follow me and thou wilt have treasure in heaven.” Antony immediately left the church and gave to the townspeople the property he had from his forbears, then he gave himself to ascetic living, living a life of self-denial. Again the Word of God had its effect. It entered the life of an Egyptian boy and changed his life and that of the world.
We could go on and on. Martin Luther was in the tower when he read anew the words of St. Paul to the Romans, “Justified by faith, we have peace with God.” It gave Luther inner peace and assurance of the Gospel and with it, launched the Reformation. Or when John Wesley went to the chapel in Aldersgate and heard the Scriptures read and remembered that his heart was “strangely warmed.” What all these experiences have in common is simply the power of God’s Word to transform lives. The Bible is the key to faith and understanding. The Holy Scriptures tell us of God and God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. If you wonder what you should believe and do, simply go to the Bible. Theologians teach the sufficiency of the Scriptures. That means, all that you need to know to be a Christian is found in the Bible. They also speak of the perspicuity of the Scriptures. What that means is that the Bible is readily understandable.
As Lutheran Christians we are quick to point out how the Bible should be interpreted. Unlike other religious traditions, we do not need bishops or popes or church conventions to tell us what the Bible means. Unlike other traditions, we do not say that each Christian is able to interpret the Bible. What Lutherans say is something else – we say the Bible interprets itself. The Bible interprets itself when verses shed light on other verses. What about those things that are mentioned only once? St.Paul mentions a baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians, but it is mentioned only once. Did Jesus baptize? It is mentioned only once in John and then seemingly contradicted? When we say the Bible interprets itself, that also means that when something is mentioned only once, then perhaps it isn’t all that important and we do not have to worry overmuch about it. If it is important, the Bible will say it over and over again.
And we are also clear about the message of the Bible. God’s Word is clear in proclaiming a God of love and salvation. God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the promised land. The Ten Commandments were given as a way for God’s people to respond to a loving, saving God. God sent His only son, Jesus to be born a human being, to live and teach and heal, to die on a cross for sin and rise again in victory. God remains with God’s people now through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we are not left orphaned and alone but with Christ even now as we await His second coming. We have God’s presence in the Scriptures, in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the presence of other believers. These are the important things and the whole Bible bears witness to God’s love.
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Last week in our Bible class, we were talking about the Lutheran Church being a church of the Bible. There was some question about this – whether we really are a Bible Church like we say we are. We take Christian education seriously in the Lutheran Church but now I wonder about knowledge of the Bible. Certainly when you go back and read literature of the past, it is filled with Biblical allusions and themes. People in those days new their Bible stories and characters. Martin Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, says that as Protestant Christians we must be Bible Christians and without a recovery of biblical literacy Protestant Christianity is doomed to continual decline and even extinction. John Stott, chaplain to the British royal family has noted, “Without the Bible, world evangelization would not only be impossible, but actually inconceivable. It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility of evangelizing the world, tells us a Gospel to proclaim, directs us how to proclaim it and tells us that it is God’s power unto salvation for everyone who believes. It is, moreover, the observable fact of history, that the degree of the Church’s commitment to world evangelization, is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible. Whenever Christians lose their confidence in the Bible, they also lose their zeal for evangelism. Conversely, when they are convinced about the Bible, then they are determined to evangelize.”
In our Gospel, Jesus answers, “If (anyone) loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word which you hear isn’t mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:23-24 WEB). Just before our passage, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15 WEB). If we love Jesus, we will keep the Word. Our faithfulness to the Word of God becomes a sign to ourselves and to God, that we are Christians. And as we keep God’s Word, we have the most wonderful promise – God will come to us. When we follow the Word of God rather than our own notions, God will dwell with us. Christ will come into our home and live with us. Isn’t that the most wonderful thought that Christ is living with us in our homes and families. God is not far away in some heaven above, but with us as we read Bible stories with our children, tell our faith stories at home, pray in Jesus’ Name.
John Wesley was once of the most articulate and well-read of eighteenth century Christians, yet he always said that he was a man of one book. The people of Israel in ancient days were called people of the book, even now Muslims grant to Jews and Christians that title. We are people of God’s book. We are Bible Christians and we will grow in our faith, transmit that faith to our children and grandchildren, grow the church as we are grounded in the Bible.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Follow the words of Christ and his commandments. Do not be persuaded by alien ideologies or make the Bible say what you want rather than the clear meaning of what God wants of you. Let the plain words of the Scriptures have their effect in you. Read the Bible in daily devotions, join a Bible class or men’s or women’s study. Love God and follow God’s word and let God make a home with you. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.