Sunday’s sermon: All You’ve Revealed

Texts for this sermon: Psalm 119:97-112 and Acts 8:26-40

Inkheart
Inkheart cover artwork by Carol Lawson

  • “Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain. Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane. A dog barked somewhere in the darkness, and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep. The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back into its printed pages. ‘I’m sure it must be very comfortable sleeping with a hard, rectangular thing like that under your head,’ her father had teased the first time he found the book under her pillow. ‘Go on, admit it, the book whispers its story to you at night.’”[1] → So begins Inkheart, a fantastical and heart-warming tale by German author Cornelia Funke.
    • Basics of the story
      • Main characters Mo and his daughter, Meggie = blessed with powerful and incredible gift – ability to bring stories to life with their voices → When Mo and Meggie read aloud, the sound of their voices literally pulls characters, creatures, treasures, and anything else from the pages of whatever book they’re reading, breathing life into them, and setting them free in the world.
        • Leads to all kinds of trouble
        • Leads to all kinds of adventure
        • Leads to all kinds of weird and wondrous happenings in their lives
    • Now, as someone who has loved to read my entire life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished a gift like this were real – wished I could read Anne of Green Gables, Bilbo Baggins, Jo March, the BFG, and so many others straight off the page because if their lives are that wonderful within their own stories, how cool would it be to have them here, too?
      • Hear voices
      • See faces
      • Interact with personalities … that up to now have only existed within my own mind, my own imagination.
    • As Christians, we call the Bible the “inspired Word of God.” We believe Scripture to be God’s Word spoken through people in particular times and circumstances that continues to speak to us today.
      • To challenge us
      • To comfort us
      • To inspire us
      • To engage us
      • But too often, we fall into the routine of reading Scripture because we think we should – because we feel obligated or guilted into doing so. We pull out our Bibles and flip through to a few of our favorite verses and call it good. But the question I have for you this morning is an important and dangerous and deceptively simple yet complicated one: What if?
        • What if every time we opened Scripture we looked for more than just words on a page?
        • What if we approached the Bible as more than just the book we turn to when we need a momentary pick-me-up?
        • What if we approached our own readings of Scripture expecting an Inkheart experience, one in which God’s Word and story and brilliance jump right off the page and grab a hold of our very hearts and lives?
  • That’s the sort of experience that we find at the heart of both of our texts this morning.
    • Philip’s story = powerful story of God and Scripture reaching down into people’s lives and stirring things up in a big way
      • Context for Philip[2] = one of the 12 disciples who had been with Jesus → scattered from Jerusalem because of the persecution that followed Jesus’ death → coming off huge success in Samaritan city (story of Simon “the Great Wizard” and the people’s conversion)
      • Today’s story: God calls him to this crazy desolate road in the middle of nowhere → gets there (somehow?) and finds a eunuch from Ethiopia (culturally/historically: anywhere south of Egypt at that time) reading aloud from Scripture (Isaiah) → inspired to “unpack” passage for him – explain who, what, where, when, how, and why of Isaiah pointing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection → eunuch is so moved that he asks Philip to baptize him in this stream they’ve come across → Philip fulfills his request → Philip is whisked off by God to the next stop on his evangelism tour through Judea and Samaria
      • Ya’ll, it doesn’t get much more stirred up than that! This story almost sounds like it could’ve come straight out of an early 20th century revival meeting complete with an altar call and an impromptu baptism! There isn’t anyone that we encounter in this story who isn’t stirred up … who isn’t inspired!
        • Philip = inspired to follow God’s call to this odd stretch of road and to share the Word of God
        • Eunuch = inspired to read Scripture in the first place, also inspired by Philip’s testimony to be baptized
        • Even God seems to be so inspired by Philip’s resounding success that God picks Philip up and transports him to the next stop along the line: Azotus (near Mediterranean Sea).
    • Ps = ode to the inspirational quality of Scripture:
      • I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil so I can spend all my time keeping your Word.[3]
      • I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order.[4]
      • I concentrate on doing exactly what you say – I always have and always will.[5]
      • The psalmist makes it clear that throughout his/her life – no matter what’s going on, no matter how s/he feels, no matter the requirement or the cost – the Word of God is, for the psalmist, the beginning and the end.
        • Source of strength, reassurance, guidance
        • Place to turn to in times of trouble
        • Teacher, mentor, protector, friend
      • Continually makes source of this inspiration and revelation clear – text: Oh, how I love all you’ve revealed … My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed.[6] → “Oh, how I love all you’ve ” Notice, it doesn’t say, “Oh, how I love all the things I’ve so brilliantly and cleverly figured out all by myself.” This portion of Psalm 119 speaks of Scripture – of God’s commands, God’s counsel, God’s direction, God’s Word – not as a stagnant and easily knowable thing but as something that requires continued pondering, continued thought and time and interaction.
        • Scholar: Scripture is not a dead letter but a dynamic, living word. It is to be read and heard and proclaimed in openness to the Holy Spirit who leads the church to discern the Word of God for our place and time.[7]
          • [UCC: Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is still speaking,[8]]
  • But my friends, I would be remiss if I failed to recognize that this is a much easier thing to say than it is to do most of the time.
    • Lot of things that can make it hard for us to interact with Scripture
      • Emotions/state of mind get in the way – stressed, angry, worried → Our emotions color the way we see everything and everyone around us, even Scripture.
      • Busyness of life gets in the way → There’s always one more thing to do, and there’s always going to be one more thing to do: one more person to call, one more email to send, one more appointment to keep, one more dish to wash or load of laundry to start, one more bill to pay.
      • Our own uncertainty → Maybe we feel like the eunuch – like we need someone to help us read and understand. There are a lot of difficult passages found within these pages!
    • And this is why we come together for worship. We read together. We think together. We learn together. We all play the role of Philip as well as the role of the eunuch at one point or another, sometimes needing to see and sometimes helping to see the layers of meaning within the text.
      • Not just about the sermon – goes far beyond tools that I use to prepare for Sunday mornings
        • Greek
        • Hebrew
        • Commentaries and other sources I consult
      • Learn through each other’s life experiences → we cannot interact with Scripture – with the Word of God – without our lives being affected … stirred … changed
        • Scholar: Both the psalmist and Jesus were open to God’s instruction in a variety of forms – Scripture, tradition, and ongoing events and experiences that reveal God’s way and represent God’s claim upon humanity and the world.[9] → When we interact with Scripture – when we read God’s Word and spend time pondering it like the psalmist and working through it like Philip and the eunuch – that Word seeps into our very souls. It works in us and through us. It travels through the world with us as we continue to chew on the meaning of what we’ve read and try to figure out what God might be saying to us.
    • Being changed ≠ the only way we interact with Scripture – Inkheart quote: “Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?” Mo had said…”As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”[10] → If Scripture truly is the living, breathing text that we say it is, then we leave a little something of ourselves behind when we read Scripture as well. We leave a little piece of ourselves with God within these pages.
      • Leave our hopes and dreams
      • Leave our fears and challenges
      • Leave our heartaches
      • Leave our worries
      • Leave our prayers and our worship
  • You’ve probably heard the cute, Sunday school acronym for what “Bible” stands for: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (B-I-B-L-E). I’m challenging that acronym today. This Scripture that we revere – this Word of God in all its beauty and complexity and challenge and inspiration – is far from “basic.” It’s also a far cry from the dry, detached nature of any instruction manual I’ve ever encountered. There is passion in these words. There is pain and love and a call to understand and keep understanding in these pages. This is God’s love letter to us. This is the history of our faith. This is the telling and retelling of stories that have shaped and formed countless millions before us and will continue to shape and form people for generations to come.
    • Call of God and Scripture in our lives – In the words of the beloved Shel Silverstein:
      If you are a dreamer, come in
      If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
      A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
      If you’re a pretender, come sit by the fire
      For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
      Come in!
      Come in![11]

Invitation - Silverstein
artwork by Shel Silverstein

[1] Cornelia Funke. Inkheart. (New York City, NY: The Chicken House, 2003), 1-2.

[2] Acts 8:1-25.

[3] Ps 119:101.

[4] Ps 119:106.

[5] Ps 119:112.

[6] Ps 119:97, 109

[7] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1176.

[8] Gracie Allen, UCC “God Is Still Speaking” campaign, http://www.stillspeaking.com.

[9] McCann, 1175.

[10] Cornelia Funke, Inkheart. Quote found at http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2628323-tintenherz-tintenwelt-1.

[11] Shel Silverstein. “Invitation” in Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings. (New York City, NY: HarperCollins), 1974.

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