Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pastor Erik--November 2008

Last August, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met in Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. Among the various items for discussion was something called the “Book of Faith Initiative.” Its intent, in a nutshell, is to put before the church these questions: “We Lutherans take the Bible seriously, right? Well than don’t you think we all ought to read it more? And shouldn’t we all do this together?” The answer, as you might guess, was a resounding “Yes we should!” And our church went to work figuring out how we were going to encourage every synod, every congregation, every disciple of Jesus to dig in once again to the Bible, our Book of Faith.

One of the ways our wider church is helping us do this is through the publications of resources for Bible study, the first of which we have been using for our Adult Education class here at Bethlehem this fall. It’s called “Opening the Book of Faith” and its purpose is to get us started on this renewed journey into God’s Word for us. This is only the beginning of this journey, we will continue to use the Book of Faith resources as they come out (next is “Rediscovering the Book of Faith”) and very likely will have other places and groups using the series so that more and more of us can get on board. One of the taglines of the Book of Faith initiative is “Open Scripture. Join the Conversation.” I hope that all of us will.

There is another tagline that some folks at Bethlehem have asked questions about: “The language of scripture is our first language of faith.” This is not a call for all of us to suddenly become Hebrew and Greek scholars, but to deeply learn the “language” of the stories of the Bible, how God has acted in the lives of God’s people throughout time and history, and to learn to “hear” and “speak” this language in our daily lives. As the leaders’ material puts it “The language of the Bible becomes our language. It shapes how we think and speak about God, about the world, and about ourselves. We become renewed, enlivened, and empowered as the language of Scripture forms our hearts, our minds, our community conversation, and our commitments.”

If this is all a bit confusing, how about a story. My mom wears a silver bracelet with a Native American image of a whale on it. If you ask her about it, she will tell you the story of Jonah and the whale (well, in the Bible it says “big fish” but that ruins this story, so lets stick with whale). Jonah, if you recall, was told by God to go to the town of Nineveh and preach to the people there. Jonah didn’t listen, and embarked on a wild journey to avoid God’s call for him. He ended up on a ship in a storm, was thrown overboard and swallowed by a whale. Finally Jonah did what God asked him to do (though he was grumpy about it) and the city of Nineveh was saved.

But why, you would likely ask her, do you have a whale bracelet? Then she’ll tell you about how she was sitting in church one Sunday feeling overwhelmed with all of the demands on her time, longing for a sense of balance, and she heard again the story of Jonah. But as she listened, the call from God became not just a call for Jonah, but also for her. And the call from God was not to go to Nineveh, but to simplify and find some balance in her life. However, the final message she heard from God was the same: “Do what I say or I’ll send a whale to swallow you up!”

Fast forward a few months, and she and my dad are in London at the British Natural History Museum. When she walked into the room with a full size whale (bones and skin) hanging from the ceiling she involuntarily jumped back. Her heart started to beat fast and she thought. "Yikes, God, so you really mean it!" Thankfully, the whale did not come crashing to the ground as she feared. From that moment of awakening, however, my mom started making some changes in her life. She now wears her whale bracelet every day and thinks of it as a tangible reminder to focus on balance and try to listen to what God is calling her to do and not what she has put on her own to-do list.

So can you see how the “language” of the story of Jonah from the Bible became the “language of faith” for my mom? She knew this story deep down, from when she was a child—but that Sunday heard it in a new way for her. And then, months later, the story gives the occasion for a flash of insight, and she sees her life through the lens of Jonah and the whale. Because that story, in the “first language” of the scriptures, was part of my mom’s story, God was able to use it to work a miracle in her life. And now she (quite literally) keeps that story with her every day and it shapes the decisions she makes moment to moment. This is how the Bible is supposed to work in our lives. God breathes new life into stories written thousands of years ago so they can become alive again in our hearing, and shape our lives to be part of the one great story, God’s story. That’s what our “Book of Faith” is for. I do hope you’ll join in the fun.