from the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Reflections magazine
Bishop David Reed is calling individual members and congregations to commit to reading the entire Bible in 2018. Below, excerpts From Bishop Reed’s Bible Study introduction at the 114th Council, February 22-24, 2018, in San Marcos.
The proclamation of Scripture is that God’s Word is near to us, that it is within reach, accessible for us to hear and to know. The biblical theme for the diocese for 2018 comes from Deuteronomy 30. The people of God are preparing to enter the Promised Land, and they are paused there for a long time — the first 30 of the 34 chapters of Deuteronomy — as Moses gives them final reminders for taking to heart all that God has spoken to them in the wilderness. They are rehearing — rehearsing — the Word of the Lord.
And Moses says, “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you this day is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear and observe it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (30:11-14).
When Moses says, “The word is very near to you,” he isn’t talking about words in a book or on a scroll, but to the present and powerful living Word, the creative and enlivening Breath of God. The Word is not somewhere out there — interesting, maybe, but external to our lives — but up close, even within us.
In Scripture, “the word” usually refers to God’s revelation, his self-disclosure. It doesn’t usually refer to the written word, but rather to God’s speaking, or his messengers’ inspired speaking on his behalf. God is a God who is always making: what he speaks comes to be. He makes creation, he makes us, he makes meaning. Jesus, the incarnate Word, preaches the word of God. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ is called the Word of God. Jesus speaks the Word and is the Word; what he speaks comes to be.
To partake of Scripture regularly is to find that we are not only “taking it in,” but that it is also taking us in. We find ourselves drawn into the landscape of Scripture, no longer spectators or tourists, but participants in the biblical story of God and his people. We find that the Word leads us to see more clearly our own lives and the life of the world. One reason to read Scripture is so that we won’t easily settle for other notions about life. As we read and do the Word over time, we discover that it isn’t so much that Scripture needs our interpretations, as it is that all our interpretations — of life, of others, of ourselves — need Scripture. Episcopal priest and New Testament scholar Fleming Rutledge writes, “The right approach is not ‘What questions do I have to ask of the Bible?’ but ‘What questions does the Bible have to ask of me?’” (The Crucifixion, p. 20).
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann poses similar questions to the whole faith community. “Bible study,” he writes, “is not a neutral enterprise when it is faithfully done . . . Serious Scripture study calls one to repentance and invites one to a changed perceptual world . . . Our present danger is not that the Bible should be taken too seriously or given too much weight in decision making. Rather, the danger is that we will miss its claim and fail to recognize its peculiar power and authority in the believing community . . . [The Bible] is to be understood as addressing the church, calling the church to its rightful identity and to its proper mission” (The Bible Makes Sense, p. 111).
I encourage you to take the time and join in this adventure of reading and studying God’s holy Word by committing to reading the Bible this year. As you do, have confidence that the Word is not far off; indeed, it is very near to you, upon your lips and in your heart.
The Rt. Rev. David Reed is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas