I have been talking to Jack, the Bible Study Dog, today, as I often do when we are home alone. I’ve been sayings things like: “Jack, you know it’s Bible study day, and I know that you are looking forward to jumping up on people, untying shoe laces, trying to steal food, playing the predator game (it’s too complicated to explain now), praying in your own way and listening to Master talk (and talk…).” I talk to Jack not because I’m crazy or think that Jack understands what I’m saying or much of what I’m saying. It’s just that he appears to listen so intently and eagerly and there seems to be a certain intelligence in his eyes. Oh, sometimes Jack seems to look at me with a cynical or indulgent stare. This has me thinking about the way that we attend to the Word in worship and in Bible study.
Previous generations of Christians, including the Puritans in America, listened to sermons that lasted for hours. Puritans also could understand and converse about sermons with complex outlines and, for us, dense logic, even if they were farmers or not college-educated. We are not even expected to listen to a sermon or teaching for more than 50 minutes in some churches today. A few years ago 15 or 20 minutes, at the most 30 minutes, would be more common. I know the old saying, ‘The head cannot absorb what the seat cannot endure.’ I also remember being taught in Christian Ed. class that, if one must choose, it is better for the pastor to make the room too cold for comfort, rather than too hot for comfort.
That reminds me. Do you remember the story of Eutychus? Well, St. Paul was let off the ship and stayed in Troas for a week. On the last night, the Christians “…gathered together to break bread…” (Acts20:7b, ESV) and Paul “…prolonged his speech until midnight.” (v. 7d) On top of Paul’s long-windedness, “There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.” (v.8) You can see where this going can’t you? Long message, night-time, heat, oxygen deprivation… You’re getting sleepy, very, veeeery sleeepy… When I count to three… Anyway, “[ ] a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.” (v.9) BAM! A bit of a severe result of falling asleep during a teaching, don’t you think? “But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.'” (v. 10) We are told that, undeterred, Paul “…conversed with them a long while, until daybreak…[!]” (v.11b) And the congregation, having other things to think about, in addition to Paul’s, no doubt ‘deep’ teaching, “…took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” (v. 12) I have nodded off while someone “talked still longer.” And if the room is stuffy, well, that doesn’t help either. But I aspire to be alive to the WORD and engaged with teaching at every opportunity.
I think of texts like, “How sweet are your [God’s] words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103, ESV) or “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105, ESV) Also, read Psalm 119:97, 111, 129-130.
There will come a time of a New Covenant when “[ ] no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:28, ESV) The forgiveness part and the “remember no more” part are available now on the basis of the death of Jesus for our sins and that when the Father looks at Christians he sees them clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The other is not yet or not completely yet. We still need regular teaching of God’s word and we still need to say to one another, “Know the LORD.” St. Paul reminded the Ephesian elders, the last time he was able to visit them, that, “I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27, ESV) Jesus commanded disciples that they should make disciples by, not only baptizing, but by “teaching [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)
Believe it or not, I have occasionally noticed eye-lids drooping while I am teaching. I do all I can to be a volcano of diverse, edgy and creative teaching. But, alas, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Still the Word is so alive, “sweeter than honey” and a “lamp to my feet.” Sometimes, when I read the Bible at the end of the day, it wakes me up and I can hardly sleep because I many wonders in Scripture and I feel so alive! “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, NRSV) Yikes!! It’s not just that I read the Bible, but the Bible reads me. It’s not tame; it’s not safe. It is more dangerous than a double-edged sword. I remember that J.B. Phillips, the translator of a popular paraphrase of the New Testament, said something like that translating the New Testament was, for him, like working on uninsulated electrical wiring in an old house with the electricity still on. Exactly.
Now, if only I can stay awake… And put first things first!
The post was powered by “Then Is The New Now” (2002) by Denison Marrs and “With Abandon” (1999) by Chasing Furies.