Sunday 23 October 2022: Bible Sunday
Isaiah 45:22-25, Romans 15:1-6, Luke 4:16-24
Context: a largely white, middle class, well-read congregation of around one hundred in a suburban context. Mainly aged over fifty but with some younger parents and individuals
Aim: we are to be broadcasters of the promises of God which have been fulfilled in Christ
One hundred years ago, on 18 October 1922, the British Broadcasting Company was formed by a group of leading wireless manufacturers. By the end of the year their first Director General, Lord Reith, was appointed. He famously said that the BBC was there ‘to inform, educate and entertain’ and down the decades it has done just that.
I wonder, as we think back, which part of its history and output we value most? The 10 o’clock News, the Archers, the Coronation, Morecombe and Wise, Dr Who, the shipping forecast or maybe the humble pips! As I reel off those programmes, I realise how much the BBC has become woven into my own life and that of our nation. I’m also struck by the central ideas of Lord Reith’s founding vision that words matter; that the spoken word has an integrity which can speak to our world and change history.
On this Bible Sunday we are gathered around many words and are reminded that, above all else, God’s word speaks into our world and changes history. This is most clearly seen, as his promises are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
GOD’S WORD IN HISTORY, THE CHURCH, AND THE WORLD
The power of God’s word is clear in Isaiah’s prophetic vision. We are gathered into the heavenly court as the nations are summoned for a history lesson. God proclaims his salvation of Israel through his agent Cyrus the Great. Cyrus has defeated the mighty Empire of Babylon, freeing those held captive and enabling them to return home and re-establish Jerusalem. God proclaimed that Israel would be saved and ‘lo, it has come to pass’. God’s word has achieved its purpose, God’s people are freed, and the nations realise that he is the lord of history.
Meanwhile in our reading from Romans, Paul reminds us of the role of God’s word in the life of the Church. In this climactic chapter, Paul shows that God’s word is a means of grace through which we are instructed, encouraged, and offered hope so that we might be of one mind, to the glory of God.
In our Gospel, the teaching on God’s word takes us to a different level as we are confronted with the word made flesh. Jesus stands, reads from Isaiah, and tells the people that these words are fulfilled in him. In many ways it seems that this is what his hearers expected, having heard accounts of his prophetic ministry elsewhere. Now they hoped to reap the benefits of this ‘local boy made good’. Their expectations, however, are upended as Jesus proclaims that he has not come to offer divine favours to his hometown but rather to proclaim God’s radical inclusion of all in his plans for the salvation of the world. This jubilee to end all jubilees, offers salvation for the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed- and that goes far beyond the confines of one village.
GOD’S WORD IS FULFILLED
Together these passages speak of the fulfilment of God’s word; that they have an integrity to them. When God promises to do something, it will come to pass. These are no dead letters but words which drive forward the history of the world, the life of the Church and the salvation of our planet.
Too often, however, we are like the nations of Isaiah, surprised to see God’s hand at work in our world. Like the Romans, we can be slow to realise that God’s word is at work in us and can end up using Scripture to define our difference, rather than to unite us in common purpose. Like the people of Nazareth, we too can focus our hopes and prayers on special favours from God in the life of the church rather than realise that the word made flesh sends us out for the salvation of his world.
On Bible Sunday, we can often feel ourselves exhorted to read more of the Bible and to do so more frequently. But our readings today ask much more of us. For we are invited to see the power of God’s word at work in the world and the church, for the salvation of the whole of creation.
Earlier I spoke of the founding of the BBC and like the Church of England it has, over the last one hundred years, become a national treasure. The similarities do not end there. For we too are invited to be broadcasters, transmitting clearly through words and pictures the fulfilment of God’s promises in Christ.
We too are called to inform and educate a world in need of Good News and whilst we may not be in the entertainment business, we are nevertheless to grab the attention of our neighbours so that they might realise that in our day too, Scripture is fulfilled in their hearing. Amen.
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