Bible Sunday - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson

My parents still worship at the church I was brought up in, St Saviour’s Ravensthorpe

It holds wonderful memories of my faith coming alive and the first stirrings of my call to be a priest. I can close my eyes and see the wonderful east window installed in the 1920s with all the angels sporting the trendy hairdos of the period. I can smell the incense hanging in the air and the warm touch of the Yorkshire sandstone carvings. It’s many years since I’ve been in the church but every time I have returned I feel like I’m about 18 again. People always say they are delighted to see me but they tend to speak to me as though I’m still at school and have never grown up. And perhaps I haven’t.

Listening to the second lesson this afternoon, I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt when he returned to the synagogue in Nazareth, where he too had grown up. Here comes the local boy made good and we knew him when he was nothing.

He unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  

Essentially, Jesus is laying out his manifesto, his ministry and a vision of God’s kingdom on earth. But more than that, the kingdom of God is incarnated, is embodied, in Jesus himself. He not only proclaims the kingdom, he is the kingdom.

The atmosphere in the synagogue soon turns from warm admiration and pride in this local boy to a desire to make an end of Jesus. The word of God challenges and disturbs, and it certainly did for his hearers.

Today on Bible Sunday we give thanks for the Word of God. In the words of the first lesson, this is an encounter with the living God,

          Incline your ear, and come to me;

          Listen, so that you may live.

Like Jesus’ fellow worshippers in Nazareth, it is all too easy to allow the reading of scripture to be like wallpaper, to gently go on around us in the background, having little impact on our living.

One of the real positives of the lockdown for me was joining with others in celebrating Morning Prayer online. We explored individually and yet corporately the Word of God, allowing it to dwell in us richly, thanks in no small part to the Dean’s incisive homilies. It really felt that instead of flitting from one passage of scripture to another like some spiritual grasshopper, we could dwell on one book of the bible, day after day and drawing deeply from its wells.

There is much to be said for reading a commentary alongside a book of the bible to gain deeper insights into the scriptures. But nothing can replace entering deeply into a passage of scripture, reading it slowly over and over again, mulling over it and dwelling on a certain word or phrase; discerning what God might be saying to us in our own situation. There is much talk about the benefits of slow food, rather than fast food. The same is true of the food of which Isaiah speaks,

          Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

          And delight yourselves in rich food.

May the word of God be a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path. Amen.