Read, Mark, Learn
This Sunday is Holy Scripture Sunday, the last Sunday before “Christ the King Sunday,” which is always the last Sunday of the church year. Holy Scripture Sunday is not on the official church calendar and it is noted only in the Collect of the Day which is one of my favorites. One of my professors in seminary would have us recite this Collect at the beginning of each class and I still know it by heart.
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Sometimes taking the Scripture seriously gets a bad rap. We get pilloried as anti-science, anti-progress, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-, anti-, anti-. It saddens me that Christians today are more often identified by what some might be against rather than what we are for. This has led to some seeing the Scripture as just a collection of outdated rules and regulations. But it is not so!
Recently, I was chatting with a guy I see at the gym, a fellow swimmer. He asked what I do for work and when I told him, he said that his parents used to come to St. John’s more than 20 years ago. When I commented that was before my time and before the church split, he asked what the split was over. I said that it was in opposition to a number of shifts in the direction of the national church, but that the issue that generally got the most attention at the time was homosexuality.
He immediately told me what an important issue that was for him “because the Bible is so clear on it.” I replied that I do not perform same-sex marriages but that I do not believe it was necessary to leave the denomination over it. But then I went on to comment that my daughter is married to a woman. That left him stammering and the conversation came to a fairly quick end.
My reason for telling that story is that had I not had a relatively settled and careful conviction on the subject that allows me to love my daughter, and her wife, and still not be willing to perform same-sex marriages myself, his comments would have put me off the church, and the Bible.
We live in a culture that puts side by side those who claim Scripture as a mantle and those who find it hopelessly out of step with the times. So, how are we to celebrate the Scriptures in a way that is winsome and attractive, yet true to what we are taught there. The Bible is not a “wax nose” that can be shaped to whatever we want. Nor can we as Christians and the Christian community just dismiss it when it doesn’t fit modern presumptions.
That’s why this Collect is so meaningful to me. We are to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Bible. Not just memorize a few selected texts or use it to shore up our own preferences and biases. Rather, we submit ourselves to Scripture and commit to the hard work of plumbing its depth and breadth.
If you have been in a class or Bible study with me, you know that I do not take Scripture at a cursory level. I am never content to just take a superficial quip and move on. No, we take the time to plumb the depths, to think through the challenging bits, to let other passages of Scripture inform our reading of each part. It can be intellectually challenging but o so worth it! And in the end, it is the only way to truly submit to Scripture.
The Bible is not a rule book for us to discern the correct rules but the story of God’s work among His people. It is not enough to quote a couple of verses on a subject and move on, but it is necessary to consider carefully how each part fits in to the grand story of God’s unending love for us and His unending desire to draw us back to himself.
How can you invest a little to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest all holy Scripture?
This column appeared in the November 15, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.