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If you are a fan of science-fiction or fantasy novels, you may be familiar with the author Robert Paul “Tad” Williams. If you are not a fan of science-fiction or fantasy novels, then know that he is an international best selling author. He has written a few series and one of them, Otherland, is a four book series. All four of these books were dedicated to his father; however, his father, like some of you is apparently not a fan of science-fiction.
The inscription in book one (1996): “This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love. Actually Dad doesn’t read fiction, so if someone doesn’t tell him about this, he’ll never know.”
Book two (1998): “This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love. As I said before, Dad doesn’t read fiction. He still hasn’t noticed that this thing is dedicated to him. This is Volume Two – let’s see how many more until he catches on.”
Book three (1999): “This is still dedicated to you-know-who, even if he doesn’t. Maybe we can keep this a secret all the way to the final volume.”
Book four (2001): “My father still hasn’t actually cracked any of the books – so, no, he still hasn’t noticed. I think I’m just going to have to tell him. Maybe I should break it to him gently. Everyone here who hasn’t had a book dedicated to them, take three steps forward. Whoops, Dad, hang on there for a second…”
From 1996 to 2001—five years—Dad did not crack one of his son’s books to see the dedication. My recommendation, if someone you know publishes a book, take a few minutes and at least flip through it. You never know. Now, and don’t let this sting too much, but as astonishing as that story is, what is even more astonishing is that I know Christians who haven’t seen the inside of a Bible in the last five years—if not longer. So today, and I don’t know if this is technically a sermon or not, I want to encourage you to do more with your Bible than just dust if off when you think I might be stopping by.
So, how do we begin? My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures, when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to read and pass by. If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned.”
That is truth. There are many mysteries contained within the words of Holy Scriptures and many of those mysteries are without answers. Take for example, within the book of Daniel, there is a passage known as the Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. It speaks of sixty-two weeks here, desolation, a week of a covenant, a half week following where sacrifices cease, and so on. It is fascinating. People drown in this, seeking to know what it means and how to apply it to today, going as far as to predict the day of Jesus’ second coming. As Brother Thomas pointed out, their curiosity at delving the mystery impedes them from seeing what God has revealed; therefore, we should read and know these passages, and then feel confident in moving on, knowing that God will reveal the meaning behind such passages when he chooses. But there is a difference between something that is a mystery to us all that should be read with simplicity and faith, and a mystery or passage that can be understood with a bit of study. And don’t say, “Oh, study! That’s what we hired you for Fr. John.” Nope. That’s not how it works. As we read today, even the disciples had to study and have tutoring lessons: Jesus only taught in “parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
Just using the first parable, I want to show you what a bit of study can do and further the understanding of Holy Scripture and of God—and trust me, I didn’t know all this before I sat down and started studying this week.
The parable: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
On the surface, this is a parable about the Kingdom of God and how much of the work is done in secret, in the soul of the one who would believe. We don’t see this work—the germination of the seed, the putting down of roots, etc.—just as we don’t see the work of the Holy Spirit and how it begins within a person’s soul until, like the plant breaking the surface of the ground, the person’s faith becomes obvious and begins to grow. As the plant matures, as the soul matures in faith, both produce good fruit. When the harvest is ready, the farmer brings that fruit into his storehouse, just as God brings us into his eternal kingdom. A careful reading shows us these things, but through our study, we can learn so much more.
Consider this: at the end of the parable, Jesus said that the farmer “goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Simple enough, that’s what a farmer does and we understand that’s what God will do, but through study, we discover that this is actually a quote coming from the book of the Prophet Joel. What is the book of Joel about? Briefly, a plague of locust had swarmed through the land and destroyed everything, which led to a great famine. Joel says to the people, it is because of your sin, your turning from God, that has brought this plague upon you. He uses it as a opportunity to tell the people how God will punish those who turn from him. Then, towards the end of the book is the verse that Jesus quoted partially:
“Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
for their wickedness is great.” (Joel 3:13)
Joel is saying, the Kingdom of God is at hand and your judgment is near. And further, a student of the Scripture would then be reminded of other passages in Joel, in particular, the great message of hope and of the Messiah:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:28-32a)
And then, the student of Holy Scripture, will also remember… St. Peter quoted that passage on the Day of Pentecost! (cf. Acts 2:21) On the day that God poured out his Holy Spirit upon us all.
On the surface, you have this innocuous parable about a farmer planting seeds, but as you dig and study, you discover the entire Gospel message: the people have turned away from God, but the Kingdom of God is at hand and judgment is near, the Messiah is with us, God is giving himself and pouring out His Holy Spirit.
That is only one example of where study can lead you with just this one short parable (don’t get me started on how the resurrection is also revealed in this passage or we’ll be here all day!)
Because we have such easy access to Holy Scripture (87% of Americans have a Bible in their homes and on average, these homes have three or more copies/source), we can sometimes take if for granted, but it is not like this everywhere. In the mid-1980s a large shipment of bibles entered Romania from the West, and the dictator’s lieutenants confiscated them, shredded them, and turned them into pulp. Then they had the pulp reconstituted into toilet paper and sold to the West. That was thirty or so years ago, but there are plenty of stories like it still today.
In our church, we process the Book of the Gospels, we hold it high, the book can be censed, it is brought out into the midst of the congregation so that you can see it, it is sealed with the Cross of Christ, the text itself is kissed. We do these things, not for tradition or for ritual. We do these things because this is God’s Word to us. It is His love letter to His people and just as you do or may have read and reread a love letter from a sweetheart until its falling apart because you’ve folded and unfolded it so many times, so I encourage you to do the same with Holy Scripture and discover what God has to speak to you today.
Let us pray: 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.