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Bible Sunday

Revd Dr Sam Wells explores the difference between reading the Bible and letting the Bible read us, allowing our idea of ourselves and the world to be turned upside-down.

Join Revd Dr Sam Wells and St Martin’s Voices, as they explore the difference between reading the Bible, thinking we know what it’s saying, and letting the Bible read us, allowing our idea of ourselves and the world to be turned upside-down. They look closely at the Old Testament story of Moses and the burning bush, and the way the story transforms our hearts and our lives. Recorded in St Martin-in-the-Fields with music by St Martin's Voices. Producer: Andrew Earis.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 25 Oct 2020 08:10


Hymn: Lord, thy word abideth (Ravenshaw)

Good morning. The Bible is a library of 66 books. It’s a kaleidoscope in which we see the character of God but also the truth about humanity. There’s not one gospel but four; there’s not one prophet but 15 or more; there’s not one book of sayings but several; there’s not one psalm but 150. The Bible is a prism we turn around in our hand, and each time seek to know the heart of God and make our lives and this world more nearly resemble the God we discover there.

Hymn: Lord, thy word abideth (continued)

The simplest way we do this is in worship; most worship is the rendering of the Bible into song, reading and prayer. Today we focus on one of the focal moments in the Bible, the beginning of the exodus story, to understand how the Bible works and how we may come to understand its ways.

Hymn: Thou whose almighty word (Moscow)

Before we hear the words of scripture, let us ask the Holy Spirit to take from our hearts all that prevents us hearing God’s word today.

Father of glory, you have shared your heart with us.
But we have closed our hearts to you.
Lord have mercy.

Kyrie eleison (Plainsong arr. John Harper)

Christ our saviour, you became the embodiment of the Father’s word to us.
But we turn our back on you and seek other gods.
Christ have mercy.

Christe eleison (Plainsong arr. John Harper)

Holy Spirit, bringer of life and love, you make Christ present to us in word and gesture.
But we misuse the life and love you give us.
Lord have mercy.

Kyrie eleison (Plainsong arr. John Harper)

Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 78 tells the story of how God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

Music: Psalm 78: 12-16

We read the story of Moses in the bulrushes in two parts; in between we sing from Luke’s gospel the song of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist.

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Music: Benedictus (chant by John Harper)

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Music: Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land (C.H.H. Parry)

Sermon: Rev Dr Sam Wells
Why do we read the Bible? Because, Christians believe, it shows us the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. Here’s the difference. When you discover the truth about God you’re reading the Bible. When you realise the truth about yourself you’re letting the Bible read you.

I want to look with you at the third chapter of the book of Exodus. This chapter shows us the heart of ourselves and the heart of God. And that’s as true today in the midst of a pandemic as it was 3000 years ago when this story was written.

We find out four things in this story about us and God. Have you noticed how strange it is right now not to shake anyone’s hand? God doesn’t shake Moses’ hand. But God does say to Moses, ‘This is my name.’ It’s a funny name: I am who I am. God is personal. God is not dependent on us. But God also knows our name. In this case, Moses’ name. Moses is frightened. For all our bluster about understanding the universe and following the science, when it comes to the awesome questions of eternity and mortality, we’re actually frightened. We read the Bible, and we find an overwhelming, yet personal and intimate God; we let the Bible read us and we find our fearful and timid selves.

Then, second, it turns out God sees us. ‘I have observed the misery of my people’ the story says. ‘I know their sufferings.’ How much we need to hear those words today. The pandemic has laid bare our fragility, our fear. We flail around, blaming each other, raging at our precarious existence. God says, ‘I see you. I understand you. I know you. I will be with you.’ Feel the power of those words. Right now many of us feel so powerless and insignificant. We know we shouldn’t complain because so many people’s hardships are so much greater than ours. God says, ‘I see you. I understand you. I know you.’ We’re not alone. God is with us. That’s God: but what about us? What we discover in Moses is we’re not bad people. Moses says some of the simplest and most important words in the Bible. ‘Here I am.’ The words that start every prayer. Here I am. I don’t know what I can offer, I’ve got a lot wrong; but put me to work. We read the Bible and find God sees us; we let the Bible read us and we find ourselves eager to respond.

Then, third, God says, ‘I want to set you free.’ For many of us, the last seven months have been a prison. We can’t see the people we want to see, do the things we want to do. We’ve lost money, confidence, hope. And yet, in the midst of this crisis, we each meet people who get the important things right – kindness, gentleness, patience; people who have time for us, and seem able to rise above the climate of fear. Friends and strangers. People who’ve been set free. Maybe God’s not going to set us free outside for a while yet. But we can still let God set us free inside. What does Moses do? He says, ‘I think this is beyond me.’ He’s daunted. We’re daunted. It’s looking like the journey from here to the end of the pandemic is going to be longer and harder than the one we’ve already made since March. We read the Bible and find God wants to set us free; we let the Bible read us and we find we’re shaking in our boots about what lies ahead.

Finally, fourth, the greatest discovery of all. God says, ‘I am on fire with love for you.’ We meet a God who loves us a burning passion, but a passion that’s never exhausted; with a love that’s on fire, but a love that does not destroy. Here’s a God who shapes that burning passion in such a way that it will catch our attention, bring us into relationship, transform us, and set us free. It’s not just that God is a personal being, with an unshakeable purpose to set you free: more than that, the reason for the story, the dynamic at the heart of creation and salvation and Bible and church is this: God is on fire with love for you. This is the discovery that makes sense of all the others. The burning bush is not just some visual aid. Neither is it a warning of hell or a threat of agony for the unwary. It’s a picture of the very heart of God. Moses discovers the truth at the center of the universe. God is on fire with love for you. And Moses feels the joy of that fire. He does go to Pharaoh. And God does set people free. And those people come back to this very same spot and make a covenant with God. We read the Bible and find God is on fire with love for us; we let the Bible read us and we find this discovery transforms us, our lives, our fears, and our future.

See how all four of these discoveries point in one direction. There’s a name for the heart of God. That name is Jesus. God comes close to us and we find out God’s name. God’s name is Jesus. In Jesus God sees our sufferings, knows, understands and shares our lives, and is with us. In Jesus, God is saying, ‘I am dying to set you free.’ And in Jesus, God constantly, quietly, gently whispers to each one of us, saying, ‘I am on fire with love for you.’ A fire that doesn’t consume, doesn’t destroy, and never goes out.

That’s what we find when we read the Bible. That’s what we discover when we let the Bible read us. God sees you, is with you, wants to set you free, and is on fire with love for you. We fear, are drawn in, step back, and are finally consumed with God’s passion for us.

Our greatest challenge in this pandemic is, we don’t know what story we’re in, how long it will last, or where it’s going. God says, ‘Enter my story. May you feel its fire today. May it draw you without consuming you, embrace you without destroying you. May it give you identity and purpose. May it fill you with love for people and longing to deliver them. And may it set you free.’

Music: The Lord is my light and my salvation – Brad Nix

Mysterious God, you know us by name. Be close to all who today feel anonymous, isolated, sad, or angry. Lift the spirits of any who are surrounded by fear like a prison. Empower all who work in healthcare. Give insight and wisdom to those who govern. And show us how through this pandemic we can find truth and meaning.

God of truth, you see us, you know us and you are with us. Open our hearts to the way your scriptures show us who you are and who we are. Keep our souls in a soft and malleable state that we might know the imprint of your grace upon our lives. Direct our attention to those whose plight is worse than our own.

Prayer chant: Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us (Taize)

God of mercy, you long to set us free. Be with any who are in prisons of their own or another’s making. Give hope to all for whom being kept at home is a sentence of fear and dismay. Shed you light into places where there is cruelty and oppression. Make this time of adversity one of reflection and new resolution.

God of glory, you are on fire with love for us. Send your Holy Spirit upon your people, that each may know that fire in their hearts today. Bless any who are close to death and all who grieve. Make your son’s death and resurrection the foundation of our hope in you.

Prayer chant: Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us (Taize)

What we call the Lord’s Prayer is a combination of words from Matthew and Luke’s gospels in the New Testament and the First Book of Chronicles in the Old. Let us pray.

Lord’s Prayer (John Bell)

Your word, that lamp for our feet, reveals to us the stony ground we often tread upon, where, stumbling in our weakness, we reach out a hand for you to hold, asking simply that you lead us once again to firmer ground, toward that rock upon which our journeying began, where, in safety we can rest awhile. And may the blessing…

Music: Thanks to God whose word was spoken (St Helen) 


  • Sun 25 Oct 2020 08:10

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