Sermon preached by Revd. Duncan Strathie, Sunday 26 March 2017, Mothering Sunday

Your Word is a lamp to my feet

Psalm 119:97-112
John 9

Can you see?

There are some people here who have issues with their eyesight, but I believe everyone here can see to some degree or another.

We take seeing very much for granted until and unless something happens to our eyesight. We live in a city which pulsates to neon, sodium and now LED lighting. Here darkness never really comes.

Have you ever been to a wilderness where it gets completely dark? Last October we were on holiday on the Isle of Skye, hoping forlornly to see the Northern Lights. But what we did see was our galaxy spiralling away through space and stars so numerous it was almost impossible to believe they were there.

In Jesus’ time there were no street lights. When darkness came you retreated to the safety of your lamp-lit home. It was impossible to work as you couldn’t see. You had to wait for the light to come.

When the Psalmist says “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” and Jesus says “I am the light of the world” are they speaking literally or metaphorically?

Are they talking about photons that fall on and illuminate objects to enable us to see them or are they talking about spiritual sight?

So, let me ask again. Can you see?

Do you have spiritual sight? Perhaps you just catch a glimpse of something every now and again. Perhaps you see this group of people who, on the whole, seem rational and upstanding folk, and you think ‘I want what they’ve got’.

Perhaps you’re here today because its Mothering Sunday, or it is your custom to come to church each week, every other week, once a month, every now and again. Maybe you’re here to make sure you get a tick in the register to allow your child to apply for a place at our school.

Whatever reason you’re here, It’s great to see you. But let me ask what do you see this morning?

As we continue on our Lenten pilgrimage we arrive on the Sunday of Lent 4 at Mothering Sunday. I know that Revd. Caroline is going to say something more about this later, so I will concentrate on our Lenten theme for this week which is seeing the Bible as a lamp.

Each of us lives our life by a story. It may be a story that has been chosen for us or one which we actively shape. It may not be very coherent or seem conscious and it may only emerge as we struggle to bring up our children, run a business or lead a community when we hear ourselves saying things like ‘Mum used to … ’, or ‘My old boss once said … ’, or ‘My wise friend taught me … ’.

These are the stories that shape us and help us to develop our own story, which will in turn help shape the stories of those who come after us.

Christians are a group of people whose story is shaped, that is formed, by the Bible. It is a source of inspiration and its teaching shows how we should live, what should inform our decisions, what our priorities should be and how we should conduct our relationships.

The Bible did not spring fully formed from the hand of someone receiving divine dictation. Instead these writings were assembled by the people of Israel over many centuries.

What we call the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, is made up of three main collections:

  • The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, which as well as law contains vital stories about the origins and development of Israel as God’s people.
  • The Prophets which contain books we might classify as being historical records such as Samuel and Kings as well as the prophecies of people like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos.
  • The writings which contain a wide variety of kinds of books including the Psalms, Esther and Job.

Jesus regularly drew on the Law and the Prophets, the first two collections of books. They were important for him as a Jew. They should be important for us as Christians.

But we also have the New Testament, the Christian Bible which was formed in a similar way as the fledgling Church struggled with meaning, organisation and what it meant to live as followers of Christ in the face of persecution.

Like a work of art, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures were worked and reworked until their form and content was recognised to be complete and authoritative.

And that is like our lives, something which is worked and reworked as we become the person, the father, the wife, the boss, the leader, the worker God is calling us to be. Each of us is called by God to become the fullest expression of who we are so that it might bring glory to God’s name.

So, as we journey through life what gives you light to see what pathway to take, which turns to navigate, which terrain to cross? As Christians we are a people whose story is formed as we read the Bible. We read it so that we might be formed by it.

Our liturgy, our hymns and songs all contain verses from the Bible and every time we gather we read God’s word together. We’ve invested in pew Bibles to encourage us to engage more with God’s word. In our children and young people’s groups the activities are centred around stories from the Bible.

As we think about Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, Advent and Christmas too, our worship, our focus, the motifs that shape our coming together are drawn from the Bible’s stories which in turn shape our understanding of these events.

Some people expect the Bible to have an index at the back where they can look up what to do in any given situation. It doesn’t work like that.

In the midst of a week where we have seen terrible things happening in London, Mosul and Kintampo in Ghana, does the Bible have any words for us? Perhaps we can turn to

Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Or

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Or

2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.

The Bible offers the opportunity to instil values, to learn governing principles, to establish who your neighbour is. It is a reminder to look out for those who have little or no status: the widows, the orphans and aliens, those from outside.

When we hold our own story up against these measures how are we doing? How am I doing? Are there deficiencies in my understanding of the Bible? Are there bits I struggle with or which completely mystify me? Do I disagree with others over how a passage should be interpreted.

Well, my own answer to those questions is yes, yes, yes! How about you? This Lent we have been offered a rich and varied menu which presents a wide range of ways to help us engage with the Bible. What have you participated in? What are you going to sign up for?

It is only as we listen to one another and allow the challenges of our daily lives, our own story, to engage with the word of God that we can fully allow it to be a lamp to our feet and light to our path.