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Scripture Reading: Hebrews 4:12-16

Presentation of Third-Grade Bibles

When I read The Cat in the Hat, I’m always struck by the final line, after everything is cleaned up and Mother comes home to ask what happened that day. The line is a question, “What would YOU do / if your mother asked you?” So the whole book is not just a story, it’s a question. We don’t read about a giant cat, we read to find out about who we are.

The writer of Hebrews says, “The Word of God is living and active.” It teaches and challenges us. That is to say that what we read in this story should challenge us and make us think. It’s not just a story about something else; it’s about God in our lives.

Our tradition is to share this scripture with our kids as you get to be old enough to read it for yourselves and wrestle with it on your own terms. I hope you remember these words and let them work on you as witnesses to God’s goodness and love in Jesus Christ. I invite you to dig into this story with us and with Christians everywhere. Ask this book your questions, share your discoveries with us, and may we all grow.

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Meditation

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that we might try an exercise in praying somewhere out at the far edge of our idea of God. I found that my prayer taught me more about my sense of how God works in the world, and I remembered how important it is to know that God already knows my needs (even if I don’t pray to God in such familiar terms all the time).

Do you have someone in your life like that? Someone you can tell everything to? Someone who knows everything about you? Maybe it’s a spouse, a sibling, or a best friend. How does it feel to be known like that? Often that’s comforting (although it may not always be). I grew up knowing that God knew everyone like that and trusting it to be a good thing – your experience of such a God may vary – but I got to know that nowhere is away from God. The Bible is full of stories and psalms about this idea. It’s present in Hebrews, and it’s also in Mark today. There’s nowhere away from God’s care, and nothing you do is apart from God’s knowledge. That’s a powerful, challenging, and (most of the time) hopeful idea.

Hebrews says that the Word of God is alive and active. It cuts to the very center of our being. It knows us and exposes even our deepest, darkest pieces. God understands our intentions more clearly than we know ourselves. That can be very challenging, and it’s certainly very powerful. The truth is a big thing.

Jesus does that with the rich man who wanted to be good enough for heaven. The man asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” as if that were something within his reach. Jesus cuts to the truth: you don’t go to heaven by being as good as God. Eternal life is God’s work. It’s made possible by God’s transformative power. That hard truth, spoken in love, is how Jesus is: he’s God’s Word.

I think that rich man reflects how many of us are with the Bible – or why so many of us avoid the Bible – we tend to seek the key information that will justify ourselves. I imagine we can keep it up for a long time, if we listen selectively to see where we’ve followed the rules, kept the commandments, and thought right. But then something comes up, or someone asks us why we’re trying so hard to be good, or Christ challenges us to do more than we’re able. That’s when the voice shifts, when we hear not just words in the Bible, but instead we hear the Word of God. Christ speaks to us with that profound challenge, offered in love.

Here’s a new comic that is quickly becoming one of my favorites (our Facebook members already saw this). This is how I hear the Word of God among these words:

When we’re honest – especially with this book, in my experience – the most challenging ideas tell us the most about ourselves and reveal God’s truth most clearly. When we seek the truth, Truth often finds us first, because it knows us from within. Someone (Jean-Luc Marion? Martin Luther?) has said that scripture is a book that when we read it, in truth it reads us. When we look for God, that’s God seeking us. Finally, we never find God, because God already knew us deeply. The Word of God doesn’t ultimately tell us what has to be known, done, or achieved. It tells us what’s real, about ourselves and about God. What’s real is that it’s not our job to be perfect, it’s our job to be loved.

The rich man seems to live our story of life with the Bible – my story, anyway. We often seek to be justified and right, but we come to a different kind of truth. Here’s the story of my life with the Bible: I take it very seriously (not literally, because that’s just about facts, and getting the facts right isn’t the point). I intentionally ask the Bible to give me a hard time. I ask it hard questions and let it ask them of me (and I highly recommend The Hardest Question for help finding those questions). When I find a question that challenges my assumptions, something I can’t quite grapple with, I know I’m deeper into the book than I would go by myself. I also know I’m deeper into myself than I’d go without the Bible.

At the bottom of the questions, I always pray to find a word of grace, the promise that God in Christ gives life beyond anything I could cause to happen. There’s nothing we ultimately have to do, accomplish, or sign off to be loved. Instead, we’re invited to receive love in the midst of challenges and deep knowledge. Having received that promise, we can respond with something more hopeful about life.

So at the bottom of the questions, wonderings, and challenges, we can approach God confidently – frankly – telling the truth about our lives and our needs. We’re able to walk with God in faith, not as if we have all the answers, but having lots of questions, doubts, and mysteries. That faith can say to God, “Here’s what I am and what I know. Here’s what I seek. But you are God, and you hold these questions with me.”

Blessing of Confirmation Class

Here’s part of what that looks like. We gave our third-graders Bibles, not to give them the answers, but to give them challenges and problems, and I invite their questions. So here comes our confirmation class. These four youth are at another stage in wrestling with this great story: they’re ready to ask their own questions and allow this book to question them. They’re ready to start claiming what they will believe in adult words.

We’ll walk together this year to ask questions, share ideas, and wrestle. We’ll pray, worship, and serve. The goal is not to learn the right answers, but to ask the good questions. My prayer is that these youth will encounter a God who loves them, who continues to guide and support them as they explore, and who welcomes them into new life. I don’t know what that new life looks like for each of them, or each of us, but I trust that God will show us.

So let us seek God’s blessing on these youth as they begin this process: Living God, whose Word is always active and growing and speaking to us: walk with us, speak to us this year, open us to see and hear and receive and respond. Be with our confirmation class. Help them to question boldly, quietly, humbly – and to celebrate always your presence. Thanks be, O God. Amen.

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