The Habit of the Word

There are some noises that drive me kind of crazy.  I’m sure the same is true for you as well.  

  • Fingernails on a chalkboard.  I hate that.
  • Our dog, barking at 2 in the morning.
  • The sound of people talking during a movie…in a theater…ugh.
  • The sound of a car with a bad battery, trying to start. (I hate that!)
  • The packer’s chant.  (“Go, Pack…yeah, you get the idea)

Another sound I don’t particularly love is the warning sound that our car makes when we drift too close to the lane markers.  Do you know this sound?  <Beep!> It is so annoying.  We’re driving down the interstate, and come around a curve, and the car shifts a tiny little bit to the left, and then, <Beep!>  I’m convinced that they set these things to super-sensitive, because half the time, we’re really not even really that close to the line.  At least…that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Now I know that in the scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal, but it is annoying.  

I think this sound <Beep!> annoys me for two reasons:

  • First, it’s just an obnoxious sound.  I’m driving along with Lori, and we’re jamming to Bon Jovi, or Queen, or Springsteen, and there it is.  <Beep!> (I’m playing it a lot right now, by the way, because I want it to annoy you…because I want your empathy.
  • But the second, and maybe the real reason that this sound annoys me, is because it’s right.  It is simply an objective measure of where I am in my lane.  It just beeps when I let the car drift a little bit.  And that, of course, is its job.  

    But I don’t particularly like to be told when I’m doing something wrong, or when I’m not driving the way I should.  I get annoyed when confronted by the fact that maybe I should focus more on my driving, and less to singing along to my high-quality 80’s music. (The music of my people!)

The fact is, that warning noise is there to protect me.  It keeps me on track.  It keeps me from going over the line and past the boundary.  (Even though it annoys me) And so while I could just push a button and deactivate it, I don’t.  

Today we conclude our four-week sermon series called “Habits of the Heart.”  Today we’re thinking together about the scriptures, and the role they play in our lives, and how we can (and should) make reading the scriptures a faith practice…a habit, for ourselves.  

I think we need just a moment of honesty.  I think sometimes we avoid reading the Bible, because it can feel like it’s just a bunch of rules; yeah, we know there’s good stuff in there, but also stuff that reminds us that we don’t always follow well.   And we worry that when we read the Bible, it’s just going to be one series of warnings <Beep!> after another, telling us what we are doing wrong.

Now to be fair, there is law within the scriptures.  There are guidelines and rules for how to live.  But we have to recognize that these are placed here not to condemn us, or to make us feel guilt or shame.  Rather they guide us…they direct us…they show us the path…and they are there because of God’s love for us.  Remembering this is especially important in the world in which we live today.

I recently read a story about a woman named Marti Ensign, who served for many years as a missionary in the African nations of Rwanda and Berundi.  In 1999, Marti arranged to bring some African pastors back to the United States to attend a conference together.  During their free time, these Rwandan pastors wanted to go shopping.  Even though the conference was being held in a relatively small city, Marti knew that there was a chance that they might have difficulty getting from one place to another, or might even get lost.  

So Marti gave the group her cell phone number and some quarters (because these pastors didn’t have American cell phones) and told them, that if they had any trouble, to find a pay phone and to call her. 

Less than an hour later, her phone rang.  One of the pastors said to her “I am lost.”  Marti told him: “Ok, no big deal.  Just lay the pay phone’s receiver down, and go to the street corner and find the names of the two streets, come back and tell me, and I will come and get you.”  She heard the phone being set down.

In a few moments, he returned to the phone and reported, “I am at the corner of “Walk” and “Don’t Walk.”  

Sometimes this is how life can feel, isn’t it?  We are lost at the corner of “Walk” and “Don’t Walk.” 

I mean really, don’t we live in a confused world?  There is just…so…much!  We are surrounded with data, input, notifications, directions, instructions, news, opinions, and guides.  Some days it feels like we are living in a perpetual state of “overload.”  And so much of what we see and hear seems so contradictory. 

It makes finding our way forward difficult…complicated… challenging.  How do we know what is true and what is not?  How do we move forward together when people…sometimes even people who live in the same household, can both hear the same information and take away two completely different…or even opposite…truths from it? 

How do we know?  Where do we turn?

The author of our first scripture reading today, from Psalm 119, has an answer for us:  The psalmist would say “we turn to the Word.”  We turn to the Word.

By Word, the psalmist is referring, of course, to the scriptures.  The Word of God.  The text that we believe was written by humans but inspired God.  The Word is what tells the story of God and God’s people…and it is both the definition of, and the descriptor of, our faith.

“Your Word,” the Psalmist writes… “is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”  The Word shows the way, it guides and nudges us.  It keeps us on track.  It keeps us between the lines, and when we wander, well, the Word reminds us:  <Beep!> and we move back to the center.  

If it stopped there, it would probably be adequate.  But the thing is, it doesn’t.  The idea of Word goes beyond simple words on a page.  

In John’s Gospel, chapter one, it says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God.All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into beingin him was life, and the life was the light of all people.The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

John is talking about God’s Word, but a much more expansive, inclusive definition.  The actual Greek word John uses for Word here is “Logos,” which means Word and so much more. 

John is saying that yes, this is the Word, but at the same time, Jesus is the Logos, the Word…Jesus is the Word made flesh. 

In otherwards, Jesus is all of the wisdom, all of the power, all of the beauty, all of the joy, all of the grace, allof the peace and all of the love that you find here…in human form.  

This is Word.  And Jesus is Word.  And the Psalmist is saying, it is to the Word, that we turn, to find clarity, guidance and direction.

We turn to the Word.  We turn to Jesus, the lamp to our feet, and the light to our path…the light that no darkness can overcome.

Jesus is found in the scriptures, and the scriptures are found, lived out, in Jesus.

So if I were to tell you that the habit we’re thinking about today is to simply “read the Bible more,” well…that’s just a small portion of what John, and the Psalmist, are talking about.  

So instead, I’ll give you a different habit.  The habit I’d like for you to develop, is to find Jesus.  Not find as in “he’s lost.”  That’s not what I mean.  I mean find as in “to see” Jesus.

We live in a world that is so noisy, so messy and so complicated, that I think the work of God and the presence of Jesus is easy to miss.  We look for the signs, but often we just stand on the corner of “walk” and “don’t walk” and don’t know where to go.

But when we look to the Word…to Jesus revealed here, and in the bread and the wine, and within all of each other, we are guided in the way forward; “a lamp to your feet.”

Here’s my homework for you this week.  I want you to find Jesus, right here in the Word.  Let’s pick a book…ok…how about Romans.  Romans is one of my favorite books of the Bible.  In it, the very nature of God’s love is described.  And it is beautifully written.  And it’s not super long.  Only 16 chapters.  Beginning tonight, read chapter 1.  Tomorrow, read chapter two.  If you want, read it with someone else.  Maybe together as a family.  In 16 days you will have read the whole book.  And I believe that as you read, Jesus will be revealed…you will discover Jesus, the living Word.  And I believe that the Holy Spirit will work.  And I believe…strongly…that your life will be changed, just a little bit. 

I’ll even make it easier…beginning this afternoon, after church, and then every morning for the next 15 days, I’ll post the chapter from Romans on Trinity’s Facebook page.  Read it.  Think.  Pray.  And discover Jesus, the Word.  Let me know how it goes.  I want to hear.  

And if you have questions, I want you to ask.  (If you have hard questions, I want you to ask Pastor Amanda.)  But I want you to ask, and explore, and learn, and discover, and make discovering Jesus a habit for yourself and your families.

Martin Luther once said that “The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.”  We don’t worship the paper…the ink…we worship the Jesus who is revealed to us in the words of the scripture.  

And when you look for Jesus here, you will discover that Jesus has been looking for you…waiting for you…anxious to draw close to you…regardless of the chaos and noise of life.  

You will discover that Jesus is already with you, and has been from the very beginning.  

It’s not about warnings or rules…it’s about life.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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