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Seasonal Communion - Bible Sunday - October 2008

Prologue

A recurrent situation: The Vicar visits a family to arrange a wedding or a funeral.

Q:        Is there any particular reading you would like?
A:        Er, could you suggest something?
Q:        Surely.  Have you got a bible somewhere about?  Then I can show you.
A:        Yes - er, somewhere.

There then ensues a rather frantic search, which if successful, usually yields a dusty but otherwise pretty pristine volume that almost invariably belonged to someone's grandmother.

I tell this tale not to mock but simply to illustrate what seems to be a fairly general attitude to the Bible.  It is revered as a holy thing - it is something that it is important to have in the house - but it is not very often read.  In our service on this, Bible Sunday, therefore, we focus on one way in which Holy Scriptures may profitably be read.

Collect for Bible Sunday

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and hold for ever the hope of everlasting life which you have given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Reading: 2 Timothy 3, 14 - 4, 5

But for your part, stand by the truths you have learned and are assured of.  Remember from whom you learned them; remember that from early childhood you have been familiar with the sacred writings, which have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind.

Before God, and before Christ Jesus who is a judge of men living and dead.  I charge you solemnly by his coming appearance and his reign, proclaim the message, press it home on all occasions, convenient or inconvenient, use argument, reproof and appeal, with all the patience that the work of teaching requires.  For the time will come when they will not stand wholesome teaching, but will follow their own fancy and gather a crowd of teachers to tickle their ears.

People turn to the Bible for many reasons.  Some go in search of knowledge, some of wisdom.  Some seek in it inspiration, others consolation, others guidance.  The principle reason for reading the Bible is as part of the effort to become a more Christlike person.  One of the most effective methods of reaching this goal is a method of meditation developed by Ignatius Loyola.  It is a method with five main steps, the 5 Rs.

Stage 1 is Reading
You read the passage - perhaps the gospel for the week from the service sheet.  Then you read it again, this time trying to fix in your mind every detail: the setting, what was done, what was said.  Having done this you put the book aside in readiness for Stage 2.

Stage 2 is Recollection
You run through the passage again, but this time you run it through as a filmstrip in your own imagination.  Evoke the scenes as vividly as possible - its sights, its sounds, its smells.  Listen to what is said.  Watch what is done.  As you do so certain things will strike you?  Hold onto these things because they from the heart of Stage 3.

Stage 3 is Reflection
Go back to the things that struck you as you were scanning the filmstrip.  Make them the focus of your reflection.  If it was something that puzzled you, try to tease it out perhaps in an imaginary conversation with whoever said it.  Above all, treat it as what it is, a bridge, a point of connection between the Bible story and your own life and experience.

The Reflection leads forward to the two final stages of the Meditation.  From the Reflection come Resolutions about future conduct or about future attitudes.  Resolutions in turn lead to Rededication, a prayer of commitment to carry the Resolution through.

What makes Ignatian method so effective in helping to generate a Christlike life is that it allows the influence of Christ to operate upon us at two different levels.  It operates consciously through the resolutions it leads us to form.  There is also the unconscious influence that comes from spending time in his company.  The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating and so the next part of the service will take the form of an Ignatian meditation.

Meditation

Stage 1 - Reading: Mark 10, 46 - 52
(Read first by the Vicar, publicly.  Read second time by the congregation privately.)

They came to Jericho; and as he was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside.  Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Son of David, have pity on me!’  Many of the people told him to hold his tongue; but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him:’ so they called the blind man and said, ‘Take heart; stand up; he is calling you.’  At that he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  'Master,' the blind man said, ‘I want my sight back.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has cured you.’  And at once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.

Stage 2 - Recollection
It's a crowd scene, Lord.  The action takes place at the gate of the city of Jericho.  There is heat.  There is dust.  Above all there is noise and there are bodies.  There are people crowding the gate to greet you.  There are people trying to get in and out.  It is mayhem.  I see the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside in the midst of the milling crowd.  I hear him cry, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’  I hear the rebukes of those around him.  I see him refused to be silenced.  I see you stop, Lord.  I hear you say ‘Call him.’  I hear the crowd urging him forward.  I see the literal leap of hope as Bartimaeus springs up, throwing off his mantel, and comes forward.  I hear his plea: ‘Master, I want my sight back.’  I hear you speak the words he wants to hear: ‘Go on your way; your faith has cured you.’  I sense the bewilderment and the joy as Bartimaeus' sight returns.  I watch as with gratitude he follows you on the way.

Stage 3 - Reflection
As I recall the scene, Lord, a number of things stay with me.  There is the two-facedness of the crowd, first dismissive and then suddenly unctuous.  There is that power of hope that brings Bartimaeus leaping to his feet.  There is the utter directness in which real need finds expression: ‘Master, I want my sight back.’  But above all what strikes me, Lord, is how in the midst of all that tumult, you heard the one cry of real need.

I, too, live in a noisy world, Lord.  Some of those noises come from outside.  There always seem to be things crying out for attention, jobs clamouring to be done.  And some of the noises come from inside, the voices of the fears and anxieties that in months like the last one can rise to an almost deafening crescendo.

Stage 4 - Resolution
My resolution, Lord, is to try always, in the midst of the clamour of other voices, from within or without, to try to be alert, as you were, to the one cry of real need, and to try to set everything else aside in order to reach out and minister to it.

Stage 5 - Re-dedication
I remember, Lord, the words of St. Teresa of Avila.

'You have no body now on earth but ours; no hands but ours; no feet but ours; ours are the eyes through which you are to look out in compassion on the world; ours are the feet on which you can go about doing good; and ours are the hands with which you are to bless men now.'

Help me to place all I am and all I have at the service of those in need, as you did.

Amen.

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