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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA 19014
11 Pentecost - Proper 14
August 12, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
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This morning’s sermon will be rather a different of type of sermon – one that I think of, in
to do with our life as Christians in general, our life as a Church, or as a worshipping body –
thoughts, usually, that I have long wanted and meant to share with you. So today I will take
the time and opportunity to do some of that.
I have more than once made to you the observation that Episcopalians are exposed to
more scripture in their worship than the members of any other Church. Every Sunday, and
on all major feasts, our worship includes three readings from the Scriptures, including one
from the Old Testament, one from the Book of Acts or the Epistles, and one from the
Gospels, and we also read, together, a portion of the Psalms. On top of that, much of the
language of our worship is based on, or even taken directly from the Bible, as well, from
the Lord’s Prayer that is used in full, to the words of many Collects, to the Great
Thanksgiving, with the words of our Lord at the Last Supper. So many Church’s that claim
to be thoroughly Bible-based and rooted only in Scripture read only one short selection,
and that one usually chosen by the preacher to fir what he wants to say!
Ours, I believe, is a great approach not only to our to worship but to our religious
education, as well, and I’m proud of our church for that. On the other hand, the WAY we
use the Scriptures can be problematic. The briefness of the lessons is one failing. Another
– and a big one – is that we take our readings out of order and, often, out of context.
We do a fairly good job of the Epistles for a good part of each year, at least. And, likewise,
for much of the year, in what we call Ordinary Time (those periods of the year when we
dress the Altar in green), as we read the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke, in years A. B,
and C, respectively – BUT with a great deal of mixing of the three, otherwise, on special
days and seasons, and with a liberal dose of John’s Gospel sprinkled throughout all three
years. It can be confusing, and the approach doesn’t really give us a clear understanding
of the whole story of scripture, or even of any of its parts.
Some recent and current examples: last week I mentioned that the day’s Gospel reading –
from Luke, because we’re in Year C of the Lectionary – didn’t follow on the reading from
the week before, and the jump from one situation, with the parable of the importunate
knocker, to another situation, and the parable of the rich fool – two parable very different
in tone and intent – is quite a leap and might seem rather jarring if we don’t realize that 58
verses that we didn’t read had come between the two selections.
Today’s Gospel isn’t quite so separated from last weeks – only nine verses – and next
week’s Gospel will follow another nine verses from today’s.
But, rather incredibly, two weeks from now – on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost – we’ll be
hearing those same nine verses that we skipped between last week’s reading and this
week’s! Even more surprising – to me, at least – is that the nine versus missing from
between today’s Gospel and next weeks, doesn’t appear in the Lectionary at all, nor does
Matthews version of the same parable – you’ll never hear them read on any Sunday!
Today’s Old Testament reading can also confuse, but in a different way. At the beginning of
Chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis, the great story of God’s people begins with the call of
the 75 year old Abraham to be God’s friend and servant, and of God’s promise that
Abraham would be the father of a great nation. The following chapters cover many, many
years, with much traveling and much sojourning in foreign lands, and many adventures –
all this punctuated by repeats of God’s promise of many descendents, but with Abraham
and his wife continuing childless, becoming more and more frustrated, more and more
Two weeks ago, we read that delightful story that has Abraham haggling with God to try to
save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the week before we had read the beginning
of that same story, of God’s promise that Sarah and the now 99-year-old Abraham would
finally, at long last – a quarter-century after the original promise – ACTUALLY see their son
born to them and to the world the following year. Altogether, it was a great story,
connected, told over two weeks – a real rarity.
Yet today we hear God promising to Abraham a son and descendents as numerous as the
stars, at some indeterminate time in the past – long before the scene we heard two and
three weeks ago!
It’s all so very confusing, to anyone who’s actually paying attention – as I hope all of you
So I hope you realize that, in spite of all the Scriptures we hear in our services – and I
repeat, I am proud of our Church for maintaining that tradition through the centuries –
realize that we cannot learn, or come to understand, the Bible, simply by hearing it read on
Christians need to know the bible – oh, not to quote it, nor to, as we sometimes put it,
“spout it”! I find most people who make themselves obnoxious by doing those things
really don’t have much grasp of what they’re quoting, much real understanding, anyway!
I know, because you’ve told me, that many of you realize, as I do, that one can’t understand
the faith unless he or she has some understanding of the history of the faith – how it came
to be what it is – but you must also understand that we can’t understand the faith, either,
unless we have a grasp of where it came from, its roots: the Bible!
I have said to you many times that there is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t pray.
Praying Christians run the gamut from the child on her knees at bedtime to the
contemplative spending most of her hours in her cell or the chapel, deep in prayer, but
whether on their knees or on the run, Christians pray.
But it’s equally true that there can be no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t know the
Bible, whether the child listening to Sunday School stories or the biblical scholar
comparing ancient manuscripts. Scripture is foundational to our faith. We need to read it.
We need to listen to it. We need to know it.
And when we do hear the Scriptures read in Church, we need to remember that the
lessons we hear are not laid out in a continuing, coherent attempt to teach the scriptures,
as such. While the Epistles do make a stab at covering books at a time, the coverage even
there is selective, and the letters few and incomplete. But the Gospels, while the attempt
is made to cover the basics of each book, over the three year rotation, are done in only a
partially consecutive manner.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the combination of Old Testament lessons and Gospel,
within the basic outline of each Gospel, and the basic structure of the Church year, are
much more THEME ORIENTED than anything truly approaching comprehensive. The themes
that are highlighted by our Scripture readings are vitally important – and they are, for the
most part, the basis for our preaching. But so are the stories told in them important, and
their teachings, both in themselves and in their context.
Today’s lessons are actually an exception to what we usually see: for a change, they work
together – all three – to illustrate the central themes of the Gospel and the Old Testament:
The Genesis reading is about Abraham’s faith in the face of the promises and prophecies
of the lord he worshipped and served.
The Gospel is about faithfulness in response to God’s promises and his wishes for us.
Meantime, we’ve switched over to Hebrews, for our Epistle reading, to look at an explicit
discussion of faith, itself, and we’ll continue with that book, now, for the next three or four
So listen to the lessons.
Listen too – I hope, at least – to my sermons which, even on those occasions when they
make no specific mention of the lectionary for the day, almost always address their
themes, and usually at least refer to them as part of the sermon’s framework. And listen to
the sermons of those who come after me. They matter, because the Scriptures matter!
On November 18, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, we will pray “Blessed Lord,
who caused all Scripture to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read,
mark and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the hope of
everlasting life,” just as we have every year since the First Book of Common Prayer in
We need to continue to pray those words – and to learn to mean what we ask for in them.
In Jesus Christ’s Name, Amen.