Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, October 16, 2016
Scripture Reference: James 1:19-25
Sermon: Committed to Christ: Bible Reading
It is said that everyone loves a good story, and you can’t get much better than the Bible. As Albert Outler describes it, “It is the story of what God has been doing and will always be doing on earth for his people. It is the story of what he has designed us for. . . and what we can count on from God,” (Crossman, pg. 37). And if that wasn’t enough, it comes complete with action and adventure, romance, mystery, stories of inspiration and stories that amaze. There is certainly revenge and destruction, but also stories that give hope. It has it all, including poetry, prose, and wisdom sayings. One would be hard pressed not to, at the very least, be intrigued by this story that, with all its unique pieces woven together, can bring understanding to our lives.
Only one has to actually read it and listen to the stories and messages of the Bible if one is going to actually benefit from it. It can’t merely be casual reading, when it is convenient, or when we need a word of comfort or hope. We have to listen and engage the Word of God as if our life depended on it.
To help us understand this, Bob Crossman, in his book, Committed to Christ, tells the story of Eric Weihenmayer. Weihenmayer is a world-class athlete who among other things has climbed all seven of the greatest summits in the world. That in itself is remarkable, but what makes his story so incredible and such a powerful witness to us is that Eric is blind. He was born with a degenerative eye disease that left him completely blind at the age of 13. What Eric does have to see, to guide him as he climbs, is his own hands to feel as well as listening. He listens to his walking sticks hitting the snow and ice. He listens to the bells of people walking ahead of him, and he listens to the directions his friends offer. To get a glimpse into Eric’s experience, I invite you to watch this trailer from a documentary made. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnR2dpLnS14]
One glimpse at the conditions on Mount Everest and it becomes clear that it truly is a matter of life and death for Eric to listen to the sounds and voices around him. They are what keep him safe and moving forward amidst very treacherous surroundings. The same could be said for us. Life holds many challenges for us – difficult choices of what to do, multiple things pulling for our attention that call us to prioritize and define what we value. As Christians we believe the Bible is God’s Word giving us the guidance and direction we need to navigate these situations, but we have to recognize its value. We have to take the time to read, to listen to what it says. For us, and in our life with Christ, it is as much a matter of life and death as it is for Eric.
Only as we listen to our reading from James, it isn’t merely a matter of listening to the Word, but we must do it. Eric couldn’t just listen to the instructions his friends gave, or the bells, he needed to actually do what they were instructing if it was going to make a difference. The same is true for us when reading the Bible. The impact comes when we start to do what it says. It is the practice, the living out of God’s Word that forms us.
It reminds me of my experience of learning Spanish. I studied Spanish for 6 years – 4 in high school and 2 in college. I did really well in the classroom, but I never had to use it beyond the class time. I never traveled to another country where I was dependent on it, where I had to use it all the time so it never really became part of me or my vocabulary. As a result, I don’t claim to speak Spanish.
Crossman tells a similar story about a young man 100 years ago when the telegraph was the fastest method of long distance communication. The young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. When he arrived to apply for the job, the room was busy and filled with all kinds of noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s desk instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.
The young man filled out his form and sat down in the waiting room with the other seven applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up and walked into the inner office. Naturally, the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Soon the employer escorted the young man out of the office and announced, “Thank you for applying, but the job has just been filled.”
Not surprisingly, the other applicants began grumbling, and one spoke up, saying, “Wait a minute. I don’t understand. We never got a change to be interviewed. Not to mention this guy comes in last and you hire him. That’s not fair.”
The employer said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. You all had the same opportunity. During the last several minutes while you’re been sitting here, didn’t you hear the telegraph key clicking? It was the sending the following words in Morse code: “If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.” None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his,” (Grossman, pg. 39-40). Unlike me with my Spanish or the other job applicants, this young man not only listened, he practiced, he got to know the Morse code so that it was part of him. It truly influenced who he was, what he heard and paid attention. The same is to be true for us as Christians as we read and study the Bible.
Being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, of not only learning about but living out God’s design for us. It is not something we can just instinctually do. We maybe can start that way, picking up things by listening to others – things like not stealing or swearing, being forgiving, loving strangers. That, however, can only take you so far. One has to study the Word to learn more, to realize it’s not so much what you do, but why you do it; it’s about your relationship with God. It’s about engaging God’s Word so that one learns about God’s grace and love, God’s hope in you, so that it begins to shape and transform you.
In some ways it’s like being a plumber, an electrician, or carpenter. Perhaps you can figure out and do a few things by picking up the tools and trying to do something. But you can’t really become a tradesman until you read and study, until you start to practice and do what you have been learning. Even then you still have to keep learning as parts and equipment change, or as you discover your own areas of expertise. We become plumbers, electricians, teachers, Christians by reading, listening, and doing what we are learning, by letting those lessons shape us and become part of us.
Indeed, as James writes, we have to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers. James was written to guide Christians. It is often one of the first books new believers read, not only because it is short, but because it has lots of practical advice. And early on, among the first instructions given, we are urged to not just listen, but do. As Christians we must hear the Word and take it in. We need to let it shape and change how we are living so that all can see we are committed to Christ.