Sermon Preached by Diane Simms 10am at St.Mary’s Fishponds
Readings: Psalm 77 and Luke 15:11-32
Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so
Today is Bible Sunday.
They say that the hymns we sing have a deep and lasting influence on our
faith – on what we believe – about God and Jesus.
As a child, back in my Sunday School in the Church of Ireland we used to
sing this hymn. At the time I had no idea that the words were forming my
faith, the faith in Jesus I still hold today.
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so
This simple children’s hymn captures in a few words the vital message of
the Bible. Which is this:
The Bible is the story of God’s love for me – and for you.
And Jesus shows us exactly what God’s love is like.
Another important point about this little hymn is that it teaches that the
Bible is trustworthy. It is a reliable source of information about Jesus and
God. I know Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so.
Martin Luther, the theologian who inspired the Protestant Reformation
held a high view of the Bible as the doorway to God’s grace through faith.
Luther expressed this in a three-part saying: ‘Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide,
Sola Gratia’. By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone – we are
saved, through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the reason we celebrate Bible Sunday. The truth is – we follow
Jesus Christ and not a book. And yet, we call this book the Holy Bible
because it it bears witness to something miraculous – the Word Of God
taking on human flesh in Jesus Christ.
Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.
The story of Jesus’ love begins in Genesis at the very first moment of
Creation. In the Nicene Creed we declare that Jesus is ‘of one being with
the Father, through whom all things were made’. Jesus is the co-creator,
the eternal word, God’s Voice. The voice that cried out: ‘Let there be
light!’ John echoes this view of Jesus as God’s voice at the start of his
Gospel when he refers to Jesus as the Word – the source of life and light.
Jesus is much more than a Word in print. He is the living Word who
speaks and acts. He heals and saves.
In recent decades Bible scholars have become enthralled with
understanding the Bible as one integrated narrative from Genesis to
Revelation. They view the Bible as the dynamic drama of God’s love in
action. God’s love is revealed through his wonderful deeds. The Anglican
Bible Scholar, Tom Wright, who was a previous Bishop of Durham,
describes the Bible as a five act play stretching from Creation to New
Creation. Here is rough sketch of his view.
Act 1 is Creation: In Genesis we meet a Good God making a good world. God who says ‘Let us make human beings in our likeness.’ The Bible begins by telling us that we are wanted. God didn’t have to make us. He loved us into existence and we have a purpose in reflecting God’s image in the world by caring for creation and each other.
Act 2 is the Fall, told in Genesis chapters 3-11. Humans rebel against God. They try to go it alone and build their own empires.
Act 3 is the story of Israel which stretches all the way from the call of Abraham through Moses and the Exodus, the Promised Land, the Exile in Babylon, and Return to Israel – up to the birth of Jesus.
Act 4 is Jesus – putting Israel and the nations right with God, through his living, suffering, dying and rising to new life .
Act 5 is the unfolding of God’s New Creation. Equipped with the Holy Spirit we in the Church are God’s partners working with him to bring hope and healing as we anticipate God’s New Heaven and New Earth.
This is the overarching story of the Bible – the story of God’s salvation which we love to hear again year after year at the St.Mary’s Easter Vigil service. The Exodus foreshadows the Resurrection. The dramatic crossing of the Red Sea tells of God’s rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s liberation of the whole of humanity from the slavery of sin and the sorrow of tragedy.
So where does faith come in? We latch onto faith by finding our place in God’s story of salvation. Where we are each coming from and where we believe we are going. I wonder where you found yourself in today’s Bible readings: yourself, your family, this church or community and our current world?
As we listened to the first half of Psalm 77 we heard the Psalm writer expressing a sense of disorientation. She dared to accuse God of forgetting her plight. She longed for life to return to the way it was before. But even in her sharply worded questions in verses 7-9 you can see that she knows that God is gracious, compassionate and merciful and she rightly expects to God to show his true colours.
This rant to God is called a lament and here in England, if we are nice polite people, we don’t take naturally to it. But we should! In these months of disorientation we can use the prayer of lament to shift our troubles and worries out of our heads and place them instead before God.
Jesus himself used the prayer of lament in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And like the writer of Psalm 77 getting things off our chest leads to fresh hope and trust. We turn from looking down and inwards and saying “Poor me!’, to looking up and outwards to God. The turning point in Psalm 77 happens at verse 11. ‘I will remember the works of the Lord and call to mind your wonders of old time’.
As I already said – the Bible is a record and reminder of God’s acts of saving love in the past. We can hold on to those mighty deeds to keep us going in the present.. With good memories to cherish, lament can turn into gratitude. And gratitude for small mercies brings hope of bigger ones. Look, we are here together in church with a choir that is singing and an organ being repaired. Thanks be to God!
A couple of weeks back we prayed words of St.Augustine – in one of my favourite collects. He says this to God: ‘Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in You.’ The writer of Psalm 77 goes on this journey from restlessness to rest, from dis-orientation to re-orientation. By remembering God’s help in times past, she recovers her attitude of gratitude and a sense of peace.
And finally let’s return to the Prodigal Son. I chose this reading for Bible Sunday because it is the Bible story supreme. A parable told by Jesus about God’s love. In this parable the storyteller and the story merge into one glorious harmony.
When people ask you why you go to church, you could simply say… ‘Let me tell you a story Jesus told..’ When you know this story by heart, it becomes so easy to show people the one true God Christians believe in. I might say something like this:
We have a God who knows we make reckless mistakes (like the younger son) – we’re mean-spirited (like the elder son). In our hearts or with our feet we leave home, get lost and drift away from our Father’s love. But then, perhaps someone close to us, something in us – God’s Holy Spirit – nudges us back to our senses. This reality check, this feeling of remorse, tells us things are not right and slowly we turn and we turn until once more we see clearly the face of our heavenly Father. He is running to meet us down the sidetrack we got lost on, with a smile on his face, eager to lead us back home. This God of second chances starts forgiving us and straightening us out. And as we glow in the warmth of his love our mean spirits and hard hearts begin to melt towards others who have wronged us. And we celebrate coming home to God where we belong together as God’s adopted children.
Let us pray
Storytelling God, you unfold the creation and call a people and send Jesus to draw us into your story and make us your companions forever. Be near to any who feel they’ve lost their way in these days and lead them home to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.