Falling in Love with the Bible
By: Susan Naslund
If you were in the combined worship service on Sunday, September 3rd, with Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, you witnessed the melding of two faith traditions into a Spirit-filled expression of exaltation and praise. I did not expect it would be such a joy to sing and pray with our next door neighbors. I did not expect to experience such great delight in the open table we shared. And, I did not expect to have my heart melted experiencing God’s Word together.
As we gathered in the Narthex, I recognized some people I knew from from the community, and my heart was warmed by the familiarity. I saw faces of neighbors I didn’t know, who were nevertheless grateful to be seeing mine, and my heart was filled with hospitality. The Lutherans and the United Methodists were going to worship the same God together. Entering through the double doors side by side, the unity felt right. My heart was primed for a gentle transformation.
Throughout the carefully planned service, Pastor Greg Batson and Pastor Dan Roschke each shared elements from their long-established orders of worship, so that we could experience something new in our spiritual lives, as well as a commonality between the two denominations. In a particularly moving time before the reading of the day’s scripture, Pastor Dan held up a large Bible. He explained that in the tradition of Shepherd of the Valley, he would walk through the church with the oversized book, giving all an opportunity to touch the pages. This procession was symbolic he said of the “living Word passing through the congregation.” As Pastor Dan moved through the aisles of our church, arms reached out. Fingers tenderly touched the open tome, sometimes bearing a sweet kiss. Other hands made the sign of the cross as the gilded-edged Bible went by them. Witnessing this, I realized that while I treasure the history, stories, and poetry in the Bible, I have not been in love with the Word of God for some time.
So, I took a look at what our two denominations believe about the Bible. In the United Methodist Church, we say that God speaks to us through the Bible. We say that it is God's Word. UMC.org explains it this way:
We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired, that they were filled with God's Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge.
We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture.
We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life's present realities.
And, John Wesley taught that tradition, experience and reason should be applied to the reading of Scripture to “bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith.”
Shepherd of the Valley’s website describes their belief about the Bible this way:
As Lutherans, we believe that the Bible is the written Word of God. It creates and nurtures faith through the work of the Holy Spirit and points us to Jesus Christ, the living Word and center of our faith. And in reading the Bible, we are invited into a relationship with God that both challenges us and promises us new life. (SVLC.org)
Both faith traditions hold similar views of the central position the Bible takes in Christianity and the importance of studying the scriptures. But, perhaps as a United Methodist, I have been relying too much on the Wesleyan method of study in my intellectual pursuit of the Bible, and not paying enough attention to the effect of Scripture on my heart.
I decided last Sunday to fall back in love with the Bible. I will allow myself to be vulnerable while reading it, and I will accept the invitation “into a relationship with God that both challenges me and promises me new life.” I am grateful to our neighbors at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church for demonstrating their love for the Word that is certainly a combination of both the head and the heart.