Thursday, March 1, 2012

God astonishes us

Lenten Meditation  1 March 2012

“This marvelous anthology of books and letters called the Bible is all for the sake of astonishment!  It’s for divine transformation (theosis), not intellectual or “small self” coziness.” (page 7)

Stained glass window of Grace Baptist Church of Hampton, VA  

          To begin with astonishment and transformation as an assertion, even as a theme about Scripture, is a delight.  Too often Christians are so tight about the reading and study of the Bible that it becomes more of a duty or a rote exercise than sheer joy or amazement.  There have been times in my life when either preparing for a sermon or for teaching a class that I allowed the intellectual discipline to become the primary focus of my study.  Now it is important, I believe, to understand the context of a passage, a chapter, or a book of the Bible, but there is more to be received than simply knowing the history, the form, or the linguistic nuances which make up a passage.  What is God revealing to me today through a word or phrase of this reading?  How can I hear Good News through this passage?  What is it challenging me to do with my life, having read this passage?

          Some of you may be familiar with a form of Bible study sometimes called “African Bible Study.”  This is the format we used in small groups at our diocesan convention last November; it is also the way we begin Executive Council meetings and Standing Committee meetings.  One member of the group reads the passage and a discussion ensues on the first question found at the end of the previous paragraph.  Then another participant reads the passage again, sometimes from a different translation and conversation focuses on question two.  Finally, a third participant reads the passage again, and the third question is discussed. This style of Bible study does not require one be an expert in the study of Scripture; each participant brings his or her own experience to this digging into a Bible passage in order to share with others insight gained for living today.  Beginners on the spiritual journey as well as the veterans may discover new insights both from their own depths but also from the others in the group.

          I never cease to be amazed in the study of Scripture at how often a word or phrase which I have read many times all of a sudden leaps off the page as if it had just been written for me today.  I may have done in-depth analysis of a passage several times, I may have preached on this verse repeatedly, I may even have taught about this bit of Scripture numerous times; but today I see that word or phrase as if it had been inserted in my Bible overnight, never before to be seen or heard.  Astonishment at how God has provided for me draws me deeper into the depths of my own soul and into the Bible itself.

          My prayer for you this Lent is that the Lord of life may deepen your astonishment as you read through the Scriptures and as you hear the proclamation of the Scriptures at worship.  Listen carefully to what is being spoken.  As you read passages of Scripture, try reading aloud instead of eye-scanning the words.  There is something powerful in the auditory reception, and you will read aloud much more slowly, allowing God to get in between the words in order to jump out and surprise you.  Make awareness of amazement a part of your discipline this Lent.

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