The Seventh Sunday of Easter — The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh

The Seventh Sunday of Easter: May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26  |  1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19  |  Psalm 1

Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church

Happy Mother’s Day!

Over the past several weeks, our Easter sermon series has reflected on how worship relates to life in the world. We’ve learned about the offertory, confession and Peace, the Creed, Holy Eucharist, and the dismissal. Today, our final topic is Scripture — the living Word running through our lives.

Show of hands, how many of you struggle with reading Scripture?

It’s a dangerous business, reading Scripture. You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Some parts of Scripture are inspiring and beautiful: “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me shall never be hungry, whoever believes in me shall not thirst.” (John 6:35)

Some parts of Scripture are challenging: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)

Some parts of Scripture sound foreign to our modern ears: “Anyone who eats the fat of an animal that could become a food offering to the Lord must be cut off from their people.” (Lev 7:25)

Sometimes, parts of Scripture are warped and weaponized to justify all manner of things evil: genocide, slavery, racism, oppression, sexual abuse, prejudice: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your master, not only to those who are gentle, but also to those who are cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

Over the centuries, Scripture has shown great power – to hurt or to heal; to terrorize or to transform.

Rowan Williams’ book Being Christian reminds us that ‘just because it happens in the Bible does not make it right in God’s eyes.’ He says, “don’t take just a bit of the whole story and treat as a model for our own behavior…rather approach the Bible, the whole thing as a gift, a challenge, an invitation into a new world, seeing yourself afresh and more truthfully.” (Being Christian)

Growing up, I barely cracked a Bible, never attended Bible Study or religion class. Didn’t need to, I already knew what the Bible said about being a good Christian. Growing up in the evangelical rural South, I learned three things: love God and your neighbor; help the poor; and homosexuality is a sin. Follow those rules and you just might get to heaven.

But there’s something else I learned about God from my Methodist church. Every Sunday, we would sit near the back of the church beside a big window of the Good Samaritan who just happened to look a lot like Jesus. Week after week I would gaze up at this Good Samaritan sitting with this suffering man lying in a ditch alone. I don’t really recall much of what went on in church, but I do remember Sunday after Sunday seeing Jesus loving and caring for this fallen, wounded man. And I thought, if Jesus loves him so much, I want to know Jesus too. So in my Bibilical illiteracy I grew up thinking Jesus was the Good Samaritan.

Fast forward – I am heading off to seminary. I’m Episcopalian now, so I’ve read the prayer book (which by the way is mostly quotes and paraphrases of Scripture). Still haven’t cracked a Bible much. Still no religion courses or Bible study in my background. Still living out my three rules: love God and my neighbor; help the poor; and be a priest not a homosexual. Still convinced Jesus is the Good Samaritan.

Then one day a friend in seminary gives me this book to read called Homosexuality and the Bible. And it completely changed my life. I learned that there are different ways of reading the Bible, different translations and interpretations that all mean different things. This book opened me up to a whole new way of reading and relating to God’s Word. Suddenly, the Jesus I knew as the Good Samaritan was the same Jesus I encountered in Scripture. And that Jesus loved me too — all of me.

So I started reading the Bible…and the more I read the Bible, the more I encountered this loving, liberating, life-giving presence. Scripture totally transformed my life, my relationships, and my faith. Facing the hard passages of the Bible in community helped me love myself fully as God loves me.

A journey begun in the closet ended with me being ordained as the first openly gay priest in my Diocese.

How we relate to Scripture affects how we relate to God, our neighbor, ourselves, how we live in the world.

What beliefs do you carry from childhood? Have they changed over the years?

Rowan Williams states “an essential part of a Christian’s life is reading the Bible, because the Christian life is a listening life. We are a people who speak to God and in turn expect God to speak to us – most importantly through Scripture.” As we read the Bible, we hear our life, our story come alive in these ancient people.

How do we keep our feet grounded in God when we open ourselves up to Scripture?

Remember – the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation, but not everything in the Bible is necessary for salvation.

When you read the Bible ask:

  • What is the plain meaning of the text? What is happening on the surface? What is the historical background?
  • Look at God, look at yourself and ask who am I in this story?
  • What does this encourage me to do for God, myself, and others?
  • Where do I experience joy, peace, consolation, freedom? Where does this challenge me to grow?

Fast forward to now: Scripture is the food that feeds me every day — it is my home for prayer, formation, growth and guidance. And as life changes, so too the meaning of Scripture changes with us. This is what makes the Bible a living Word that inspires and challenges and nurtures, and guides.

But it’s a dangerous business, reading Scripture. When we try to place too much emphasis on one phrase or interpretation — when we have a one-size-fits-all faith mentality, we miss how God is sharing his love, his freedom, his life, his joy completely in us. We can’t just take one piece of the whole story and treat it as a model for our whole lives. And we can’t avoid and run away from the difficult passages either. Reading the Bible means facing the difficult passages together as a community. It means wrestling with God in Scripture til the break of day not letting go until God blesses and transforms us.

The liturgy of the Word on Sundays reminds us that reading Scripture is a team sport, not an individual one. Reading the Bible is the work of the people – it is about community. The Bible itself could be described as a library of souls spanning the ages of time, speaking from people’s various life experiences and responses to God. The Bible is not one book, one voice — it is a community comprised of all kinds of different books and people.

So if you are like me and find yourself struggling with Scripture, I hope that you will be open to this community where we seek to see the whole of Scripture as a gift, a challenge, an invitation into a new world, where we can know our true selves afresh, where we can hear God speak, and where we can share his oneness and joy together. Amen.