Monthly Archives: November 2009
One of the more difficult trifles in human existence is the opening of a letter. In our modern times, I do not quite understand the practicality of the letter itself, first of all. In fact, I have concluded that there is not any practicality to it at all. I can only conclude, then, that either the sending of a letter is for the express impracticality of it, which yields sentimentality, or it is only thoroughly irrational people who mail letters. Regardless, the result of this irrationality or sentimentality is great strain upon even the most astute mental faculties, in my opinion. I for one cannot open an envelope without tearing it to shreds in the process (which I believe is perhaps my greatest character flaw) and only then do I come to access the words contained within.
I contrast two differing communications. The first I received from a seminary. It was inside a typical white envelope with the illustrious insignia printed at the top left of the front side, the stamp on the left, and my own name in the middle. It looked pristine and quite nice, but I knew, however, that it must be ruined if I was to find what was contained within it. With the greatest care I could possibly take, I attempted to open the top of the letter with my finger (for who has the assistance of a letter-opener these days?) and the stamp was destroyed. Subsequently, that nice insignia was torn asunder and my name split in two. This was deeply saddening. At this point, the contents of the envelope were inconsequential.
The other letter I received as of late was a personal one. In this instance, the letter was sealed as an envelope is typically sealed, but with more than simply this. Across the back of the envelope (the front was just as illustrious as the former letter, I assure you; thus, it needs no description) was a piece of tape. I thought that this task was difficult enough as it is. I am somewhat suspicious that this fact is well known and the sender is perhaps mocking me with the extra adhesive. Of course, I may simply be paranoid. This thesis has little backing, however, because this envelope opened without tearing apart the front. With the beauty of the packaging preserved, I felt that I could value fully the letter contained within. After all, of what value is the inside if the outside is ruined?
It is of immense value.
[[This is a draft of a sermon given as part of a program at Samford University to a church in Marion, Alabama on 8 November 2009. It is a variation and expansion of the message "How Long, O Lord?" given in Chicago posted before.]]
I think that we come to the Bible after so many years having heard the same stories again and again with this sense that somehow we have heard all this before. Sometimes we tune out the stories we have heard repeatedly, not recognizing the strangeness, majesty, or complexity of them. All those stories we know so well we seem to discount and develop distorted perceptions of them. For example, did you know that the story of Jonah ends with the phrase “more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” What does that mean? Jonah does not end with him in the belly of a fish or spit up from the belly of the fish onto land to preach graciously and humbly to the Ninevites. The story of Jonah ends with a bitter man who is angry that God did not smite “more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons.” That is not the part of Jonah I hear mentioned in Sunday School often. There is also a story in Acts where Paul is preaching and he preaches so long someone falls asleep and then falls out a window. Now, this past Friday I was at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham and Pastor David Platt preached for seven hours. I can assure you I will not go that long by any stretch of the imagination, but that is the picture I get when I read this story. Now, when this kid falls out the window, he dies. Quite honestly, I am not sure what I would do if that happened to me. I think that is why we have ground-level sanctuaries now. But not only does this young man die, but Paul stops in the middle of his sermon and walks downstairs and resurrects the guy. Then he keeps preaching. Paul watches a man fall asleep, fall out a window, die, and then resurrects him and keeps preaching. It is stories like these that convince me every day that I do not read the Bible enough. Do not even get me started on Ehud, Shamgar, and Elisha’s she-bears. Scripture is full of the unexpected and the unusual, and I think we take this for granted. We treat the whole Bible and even some really important passages like the Good Samaritan and Paul’s Conversion as if they are simply stories. I knew I used to go to Sunday School and look up the passage of Scripture and go through the entire lesson plan in my head before we even started class because I thought I knew the passage of Scripture. Thus, I would tune it out. “I know this,” I would say, “I don’t have to listen.” However, something I have come to realize about this book is that it has something new in it every time I open it. I could read every word of it this afternoon and open it up to do the same thing tomorrow and I guarantee you that I would find something new. His Word is dynamic, alive, and revelatory. Read the rest of this entry