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Why We Come Together to Hear Scripture

Way back in September, when I was just digging into commentaries on Isaiah, I remember reading that it is very likely Isaiah - the prophet - intended for his vision to be performed.  Isaiah wasn't just something to be read in the quiet hours of the evening, but a drama to be enacted and enhanced by music.  Yes, Isaiah even intended parts of his vision to be sung in the context of a believing community, for his messages to fill the cavernous space of the Temple that he imagined standing again in renewed glory.

I imagine Isaiah would have been very pleased had he been present for our Cantata this past Sunday.  I was more than pleased.  I was moved and moved deeply.  Sitting in the front pew between the choir before me, Brady and Rebecca reading to the right, Cheryl and other players moving us through the various songs and announcements, I found myself finally realizing the fullness of Isaiah's vision.  I heard and experienced the Word of The Lord come to life through song and performance.

Several of the passages that were read in "Journey of Promises" came specifically from Isaiah, and they were also passages I had read on my own over the last few weeks as well as passages I had read with the small group of us who have gathered here on Wednesday nights.  I am struck by the stark contrast between the different ways I have experienced Isaiah over the last several weeks.

The first experience - sitting and reading it quietly in small carousel at Roy O. West library or in my office - is a very solitary act indeed.  It requires the most:  the most attention, the most imagination, even the most work to unearth surprises and new details.  It requires an honest, naked listening to the text.

The second experience occurred on those Wednesday evenings when a half dozen or so of us would gather in the sanctuary - reading large chunks of Isaiah's prophecy and stopping occasionally to raise questions and discuss.  This enhanced the text, brought it to life in new ways.  Every time I walked away from those Wednesday evening conversations, I left convinced that the Word of God truly is a living and breathing thing and that it comes to life every time believers gather around it, listen to it, discuss it and try to discern all over again what it is saying to us today.  I never once have felt reading Scripture together and out loud has been futile, even when it was just three or four of us.

But, the first two experiences cannot come close to comparing to the experience of hearing Isaiah in the Cantata.  The text came alive all over again.  New meanings and connections were made in my mind.  The thread of lament became tighter and more pronounced, but so to the joy and awe of God's shaping history to bring about salvation.

It strikes me that all three are important:  quiet, solitary times of devotion; more intimate gatherings with a small circle of friends to speak our minds and hearts; and - occasionally - larger gatherings where our Scriptures come alive through the gifts of music and drama.  Indeed, the very natural rhythms of the week are intended to give us this full compliment of hearing and receiving God's Word, and it is why those who have practiced reading Scripture as a holy, personal text over the years recommend that all three ways of receiving God's Word are present in our lives.  You might think of it as a type of spiritual
daily bread pyramid:  daily, private readings of the Word; gathering in small groups through the week; and topping it off with hearing the Word as a full community on Sundays.

In any case, I'm tremendously grateful for the work Cheryl Beck did in order to bring this year's Cantata to us.  I believe recordings have been made of the Cantata, so if you would like a copy, please contact Carol Jervis or see Mark McKee.

As we continue to move closer to Christmas, we are turning our attention back to the Gospel of Luke.  This will be the first year in my ministry that I will intentionally walk through Luke's gospel.  My hope is to continue on as well to Luke's follow up letter, The Book of Acts - which details the early life of the Church.  I invite you to begin reading Luke's gospel.  You can begin by focusing on the first two chapters.

These opening chapters serve as a prelude for Luke's overall message and themes.  It ties heavily into the stories of the Old Testament and is a great link between God's promises in the past to the people of Israel and God's new promises to all nations through the long expected Messiah, Jesus Christ.

I hope you were similarly blessed by the Cantata this past week, and I pray God will continue to reveal the beauty of His Living Word to you ... in all ways.




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