I preached for the first time on Sunday evening, at St Mary’s Addington. The readings were Isaiah 55.1-11 and Luke 4.14-30. This is what I said:
Today is Bible Sunday, a chance to consider the place of Scripture in our lives as Christians.
In the Church of England much of our liturgy quotes the Bible directly. This service of sung Evensong doesn’t just have the two spoken readings, but at least three sung portions of the Bible: the psalms, and the two scriptural canticles of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. This evening, the introit and the anthem were also using words from Scripture. Even the responses are mostly derived from the Bible.
So the Bible is a great resource for prayer, not only where it contains direct instructions, but in recording the prayers of our predecessors in faith and allowing us to join in with the prayers of Mary, Simeon, and so many others.
But the Bible is more than a book to aid our prayers. This incredible collection of texts tells us about who God is, who we are, and the relationship we have with God.
In this evening’s first reading we hear the prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, urging us to ‘hear, that your soul may live,’ and describing what will happen: the word of God shall not return empty, but shall accomplish God’s purpose.
That ‘word’ refers to the suffering servant of God, the Messiah figure of the preceding chapters of Isaiah’s writing: not the word-written-down, but the Word made flesh. We recognise that Word as a person, Jesus Christ — “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
In the reading from Luke’s gospel tonight we are told that Jesus himself had excellent knowledge of Scripture: good enough that his teaching in the synagogues of Galilee was praised by everyone. Synagogue means school – unlike the Temple, where sacrifices were offered, it was a place where people met to read, study and discuss Hebrew scriptures. So in tonight’s reading, we have the Word made flesh, studying the word of God! At the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus reads a portion of Isaiah. Then he stops, and tells his listeners that this has been fulfilled today in their hearing: the Saviour they have been told about is here, now.
Then Jesus gets quite critical, and his listeners don’t like that. They dislike it so much that they run him out of town and try to kill him and, somehow, he gets away. But that makes sense: Jesus has God’s purpose to fulfil, not only in the hearing of a small-town synagogue where he grew up, but for the whole world.
What is God’s purpose for Jesus? The passage he reads tells us:
‘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.’
This is the message of our Bible. God sent Jesus to be good news. Jesus IS that Good News! This is why Mary sings the Magnificat, and why Simeon prays the words of the Nunc Dimittis: they recognise who Jesus is, and rejoice.
May we hear in the Bible the good news that Jesus is for us and for all people, and in response, may we rejoice, and follow Him. Amen.