First and foremost: PRAY FOR TONGA!!! Pray for the safety and welfare of all residents of the Tongan Islands, and for peace for the people waiting here to hear from their family there. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Now that we have prayed, I will speak to other things
There is an old joke about a pastor dropping in on a parish family. The mother greets the pastor at the door and—wanting to make a good impression—turns to her son and asks him to go get the book they love so much. He returns with the TV Guide.
About five feet away from where I sit, I have a four-sided rotating book carousel which houses many of my Bibles, around 40 of them in varying sizes, shapes, descriptions, translations, even languages. I’m sort of a Bible junkie, which—given my vocation—is not a bad thing.
That said, a week ago I was attending a meeting of interfaith leaders. We met—appropriately spaced outside—at Temple Israel at the generous invitation of Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff. While we were there he was kind enough to invite us into the sanctuary and even up onto the bema, the raised portion of the room from whence worship is lead by the Rabbi, cantor, and others. He opened the ark and brought out one of the scrolls, unrolled it and pointed out the section of Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy in our Bible) to be read that following Sabbath. What they read, now last Friday, was the song of Miriam, a celebration of being brought safely through the Red Sea ahead of the ill-fated army of Pharaoh. The Hebrew letters were spaced in a unique way, setting the song off from the rest of the text. If you have never seen a Torah scroll they are a magnificent work of flawless calligraphy, prepared by hand by an authorized scribe and—with proper care—usable by a synagogue for centuries.
I just checked and there are Torah phone apps, just like there are many, many Bible apps, available for use by the faithful. Still and all, I get the sense from the Jewish friends I’ve had that reading the Torah is a more intentional and savored act than is Bible reading by many Christians. I fear too often we take its presence for granted and, as a result, tend to diminish or devalue the worth of what we hold in our hand: the Word of God.
The gospel lesson this Sunday (Luke 4:14-21) depicts Jesus reading from the holy text of Isaiah, then preaching on that text in a way that both thrills and threatens the people there in Nazareth. For better or worse they were affected by Jesus’ reading and interpretation. Honestly, that is what scripture should do for us: it should elicit a response from us.
If you have ever engaged in the practice of lectio divina (divine reading), then you have known the value that can come from looking slowly and intensely at a passage from the Bible, even a very short passage. I once heard a pastor say that what was important was not that we get all the way through Scripture, but that Scripture get all the way through us.
My encouragement is that you and I take time each day to focus on a passage or two out of the Bible (may I recommend the daily readings I set forth in the weekly worship bulletin?) and spend some time with that passage: reading it more than once, perhaps in more than one translation. Give it the needful time and space to allow it to speak to you in a deep way.
The first day of my seminary training, another student gave me a guideline for public reading of Scripture which I think applies here too: he said that we should read the Bible like drinking a glass of fine wine—we should savor it. I need to be reminded of that from time to time—perhaps you do too. As we slow down and drink more deeply, I am confident that the God of the Universe will speak to us, right where we are.
May your study be blessed,