electronic Common Prayer: an app version of the Book of Common Prayer, with daily readings
Daily Readings from Forward Movement
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Grant us so to hear …, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”
Episcopal clergy love this quote…everything that we deem important—whether it’s something in the Parish Notes, or our favorite muffin recipe, or our latest blogpost…it is to be “read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested.”
But the collect today is not talking about our favorite muffin recipe, it’s talking about Scripture.
This collect was written for the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, and you can actually hear the echoes of the Reformation in it. The Reformers wanted Scripture to be (once again) at the center of our lives… The original version includes a line that for some unknown reason was edited out of the contemporary version…Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” “By patience and comfort of thy holy Word”…or as one scholar rephrases it…”by steadfastness and by the encouragement of Scripture.” (Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayerbook, p. 195). That’s the essence…how do we get to a place where scripture is something that encourages more often than it confuses us…? How to we get to a place where we find the great complexity of scripture something comforting rather than just a jumble of contradictory passages that we struggle to make sense out of?
No doubt, certain scriptures are comforting…I’m sure we all have a favorite bible story, or a go-to passage…ones that help us remember who we really are and what we’re supposed to be doing here… But scripture is also challenging, and confusing. There are passages that don’t sit well…ever. Today’s Gospel for instance…(“I love apocalyptic, end-times Jesus,” said no one ever. … How do we get to a place where we can be encouraged by a passage like this, even as we admit that we’re probably never going to really understand what is happening. How can we develop a relationship with Scripture, that continues to encourage us no matter how challenging it might be…How do we get to a place where we can where we can read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it without getting heartburn…or needing to do mental gymnastics to square things up so that they make sense?
The bible is a difficult book…it’s not even a single book, and not even a collection of smaller books, it’s more like an entire library…full of epic stories, poetry, legal documents, genealogy, farce, tragedy, and other people’s mail…letters, that aren’t actually meant for us…advice for daily living…and lots and lots of passages that contradict one another…Which is it, the lion laying down with the lamb, or death, destruction and betrayal?…Scripture is never going to completely reconcile those things for you. But it also will refuse to allow you to ignore one of them…We will always have to deal with the God of vengeance and the God of love—the God of justice and the God of mercy—being the same God…Scripture holds—and encourages us to hold— multiple things in tension, and invites us to continually go deeper and deeper into the mystery that is revealed by that tension.
”The bible,” says one of my teachers, “is not primarily a book of answers, but … an invitation to intimacy with God.” (Countryman, L. William, How Can Anyone Read the Bible?: A Little Book of Guidance, Church Publishing, 2016).
Franciscan teacher, Richard Rohr says, “the Bible is the best book in the world and the worst book in the world. It is the worst when it is used for bullying and self-justification; it is the best when it is used for the healing of the world and for transformation of the self.” (source)
What’s necessary, I think, as a practice in the Way of Love, is to regularly and intentionally engage scripture… we need to be steeped in scripture…not so that we “understand” it, but so that we can stand under it…stand in it…become so saturated with it that it becomes the primary interpretive lens through which we see all of life…
So how do you regularly and intentionally engage it? Certainly, you can just dive in…but I don’t necessarily recommend that. And I also don’t recommend jumping around and reading at random. Nor do I recommend starting at the beginning and marching straight through to the end—certainly not if you’re just starting out—later on, after you’ve spent some time living into its tensions and mysteries, then it can be fruitful to take a journey through the whole thing. But if you’re just starting out…I recommend starting with a Gospel. Start with Mark. Start by reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Because the Word of God is not finally, nor fully, the Scripture…the Word of God is God’s own self becoming fully and truly human in the person of Jesus. Jesus is our primary lens for understanding Scripture. Jesus uses scripture, interprets scripture, argues scripture…he teaches us how to see scripture, how to see life…If you’re going to start anywhere, start with the life of Jesus. Of course, Jesus was Jewish, and all of the scripture he uses, and quotes, and interprets are the Jewish scriptures, so spending time with the Old Testament will deepen your appreciation of the New Testament. There a many, many online tools, and apps and etc. to help you get started, and keep you going…The Presiding Bishop recommends starting with Lectio Divina, the slow and intentional reading of a short passage, and he explains how to do it on the Way of Love podcast.
Start with Jesus, and branch out from there. Another piece of advice, borrowed (so I understand) from our late Bishop Tom Shaw, who liked to remind people, that what ever you decide to do, read scripture, pray, take on a new spiritual practice…whatever you think you should do (“I’m going to read the bible every single day) whatever you think you should do…cut that in half…and then make it your goal, NOT your starting place.
“St. Gregory the Great, in the 6th century, wrote, the Bible “has on the surface something to nourish infants and, hidden with in, something to hold the minds of the highly educated in awe. It is like a river that is, […] both shallow and deep, in which a lamb may wade and an elephant swim.” (quoted in Countryman).
In order to follow the Way of Love, we need to be steeped in scripture. Scripture needs to become the lens through which we see and interpret the world. There are many, many ways of doing that, and I pray that you have a practice that sustains and supports you in your journey…
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience—steadfastness—and comfort—encouragement of holy Scripture we may hold fast to the hope that you give and promise in the life of Jesus.