Sept. 15, 2016

Dear Hyde Park Family,

So faith comes from listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message. Romans 10:17 (Common English Bible)

Over the years I have heard a lot of metaphors for how to relate to the Bible. Most of them make sense at some level, helping us connect the Bible’s peculiar words and imagery to contemporary experience. For example, the Bible can be like a road map: consult it for direction, and you’ll see the path you need to follow. Or a how-to manual: follow its instructions, and you’ll see your life through to successful completion. Or look at it like a cookbook, and you’ll have the ingredients to the best possible life.

I have found those metaphors to be helpful at times. But they have their limitations.
If you go too far with them, those images for the Bible can become far more self-serving than sacred. It can be an exclusively utilitarian perspective, in which what matters most is what the Bible does for us. So maybe there is a different question to ask. Not, “How can the Bible be more useful to me?” but, “How can I enter into the text as a participant?” in the words of Eugene Peterson:

The most important question we ask of this text is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’ A simple act of obedience will open up our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.” [1]

To reorient our approach to the Scriptures, to make it less about using the Bible and more about becoming useful to God, there is a key ingredient: Listening.

“Faith,” Paul writes to the church in Rome, “comes by listening, but it’s listening by means of Christ’s message.” The Scriptures are to be read prayerfully, not merely pragmatically, so that its message is less egocentric (all about us) and more theocentric (all about God). The text is illumined by prayer; prayer is grounded in text. It islogos and pneuma, word and spirit, united.


In 2005, I heard the great preacher and theologian Peter Gomes, of Harvard Divinity School’s Memorial Church, utter these rich words in a lecture:

I love the way that in an earlier generation, Presbyterians used to introduce the reading of the scriptures in the 50s and the 60s. Instead of saying, ‘Here beginneth the fourth verse of the seventh chapter of the gospel according to St. John’ (which is good Episcopal form), they would say, ‘Listen for the word of God in…’  And then they would give the citation. Now there is a useful distinction there which I have always cherished.”  [2]

Gomes reminded us that it is not the text itself that contains intrinsic power, as in the way I used to perceive it as a road map, instruction manual, or recipe book. Rather, the Bible is merely the conduit for a living conversation, between Author and audience, between Creator and creation.

The moment we disengage prayer from Scripture reading, we lose that attentiveness to God’s voice as we read the Bible, and the words of the text too easily become utilitarian, self-serving, and, therefore, potentially destructive:

Gomes continued:

Simply saying, ‘This is the word of God,’ is not only easy; it is dangerous. For the risk one runs is in conferring a kind of sanctity upon these human phrases that which may or may not be justified by what they actually have to say. But if your task is not simply to read a text, but to listen for the word of God – which may speak through, or beyond, or in fact in spite of the text – then you have opened up the possibility, indeed, that ‘Faith comes by hearing.’  Not by hearing the words of scripture, but by hearing the word of God.

And they are not the same! The word of God and the words of scripture are not the same. Ideally, one helps us to hear the other, but to confuse the two is to make a very serious and fatal mistake. And the history of our tradition is amplified by the blood of those who made that fatal mistake. To confuse the word of God with the scriptures is to get into very dangerous waters.

Peter Gomes helped me see that the engagement of Scripture is far deeper, and far more consequential, than reading any other book in any other kind of way. The words of the Bible (small w) point to the Word of God (large w), who is Jesus Christ. And it is that Jesus who calls us into obedient service, rather than merely appealing to our agendas.

This Sunday, we continue our journey through the core values of this congregation with the value of biblical rootedness. We will hear the sacred text of Psalm 119, unite in solemn prayer and joyful praise, but most of all, we will listen. Listen for God’s invitation for us to participate in the Bible’s ongoing story.


Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist


Wow! What a response to the Florida Conference flood bucket challenge for the people of Louisiana! When we started this initiative just three Sundays ago, we only set out fifty buckets, with the hopes that they would be filled. You responded by filling 200 buckets, which were delivered to First United Methodist Church in Lakeland last Tuesday. Your contributions, along with others around the state of Florida, totaled over 2,200 buckets (and still counting!), far surpassing the goal of the Conference. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Hyde Park! Well done!<

[1] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book:  A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, New York:  Eerdmans, pg. 71.

[2]  Peter Gomes, Lecture, Festival of Homiletics, May, 2005, Atlanta, Georgia.

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