Sermon by the Rev. Marek Zabriskie on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
This morning, I am going to ask you to do something that will transform your spiritual life. I want to invite each of you to read the entire Bible in 2020, and if that’s too daunting, I want you to commit to reading the entire New Testament, Proverbs and Psalms in a year.
To read the Bible in a year, you just need to read three chapters of the Old Testament, a psalm and a chapter of the New Testament each day. It will take you 20-30 minutes, and you will never regret doing it. To read the New Testament in a year will take you only 5-7 minutes a day. There is not a single person here who cannot do this. So, I hope that you will participate.
Our Read the Bible in a Year Plan incorporates a chapter of the New Testament and a psalm each day and an Old Testament reading, so there is never a day where you are not fed spiritually. We start by reading both the Old and New Testament simultaneously from start to finish.
What I am essentially asking you to make is to a spiritual New Year’s Resolution that transform your soul. Most Americans make a New Year’s Resolution. The number one resolution is to lose weight, followed by a resolution is to exercise more. Within three days, most of us have given up on our resolutions, because we have no one to hold us accountable. We resolve to lose ten pounds, but we don’t tell anyone. So, it’s easy to give up.
This year, I invite you to make a spiritual New Year’s Resolution, and we will help you achieve it. Inside your worship leaflet, you will find a Bible Challenge sign up card. All you have to do is clearly write your name and email address on it right now and drop it in the alms basin during the offertory. We will send you information to help you get started when we launch officially on January 6th. If you need a sign up card or a pencil to fill it out, please raise your hand and an usher will furnish you with one.
Already have 118 people signed up to participate, and we’re just getting started. We will invite all of Greenwich to join us. I encourage you to invite your family and friends across the country to sign up online and participate. There’s no obligation to join Christ Church. No cost. Nothing. This is just an opportunity to come alive spiritually. Our nation is so politically divided. Here’s a chance to be united and to focus on God. When we read the Bible, we say, “God, I want to build my relationship with you,” and God always honors this commitment.
We’re encouraging all of our teenagers to use an app called d365 to engage Scripture each day. We will also send out a Bible story each week in 2020 to our young families and invite them to read the story with their children and discuss it as a family. Everyone can participate in The Bible Challenge. We will have speakers on Sunday’s morning to help us learn more about the Bible and will send a weekly email message to offer insights about how to read the Bible. We recommend reading the New Oxford Annotated Bible, which is available in our bookstore.
If you prefer to listen to the Bible, you can download it on Audible.com or Pandora or you can buy the Bible on CD and listen to it in your car. We also have an app. Just download the Bible Challenge – Reading Plan by Forward Movement, which has the Bible reading plan and daily meditations, questions and prayers that go with it. Or you can buy The Bible Challenge book in our bookstore. We just sold out, but we’ve ordered 100 more copies.
If you want to grow spiritually, you need a daily spiritual practice. Attending church is not enough. You need to take at least 5-10 minutes a day to connect with God. My wife, Mims, is still living and practicing law in Philadelphia. We commute back and forth each month, and I call her every night. We talk for 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. We’ve had some great conversations. If we don’t do this daily, our relationship will diminish. The same proves true with God. We need to connect with God for 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes each day, and it makes all the difference.
You can pray, read a devotional book, take a spiritual walk or listen to spiritual music each day, but studies reveal that the number one spiritual tool to help us to grow spiritually is to engage Scripture each day. St. Augustine instructs us to read the Bible as if we are reading letters from home, written by a loving parent full of wisdom who wants the very best for us.
That’s why we need to take advantage of the greatest spiritual tool that God has ever put into human hands to sharpen our faith and deepen our knowledge of God. St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
World news fascinates me, and I am old fashioned and enjoy reading a printed newspaper, but the news is often disturbing, and it rarely fills me with hope. That’s why I turn each day to the Good News of God found in the Bible, because it refreshes my soul and gives me hope.
Earlier this week, I had a meeting with our wonderful curate Andrew Kryzak. I mentioned that I had just been reading Scripture. Andrew asked me, “So, why do you read the Bible?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “Because it brings me joy.” That my friends, is the number one reason to read the Good Book, because it will gladden your heart.
Reading a portion of the Bible each day will steady your life’s journey and bring out the very best in you. It will remind you that you are never alone. God is with you. God’s Word will shine light in the midst of your darkness and help you see the way to a more hopeful future.
I will admit that reading the Bible is an art, and we will teach you how to read the Bible in a prayerful way so that you can discover its deepest wisdom. You will become a spiritual athlete, who has put on the full armor of God and is ready to serve as God’s ambassador wherever you go.
The author of Psalm 42 writes, “Deep speaks to deep.” When we sit calmly and prayerfully read the Bible, God speaks to the deepest dimension of who we are. Iron sharpens iron. A.W. Tozier wrote, “The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select just a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than the whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
I launched The Bible Challenge in 2011, and it transformed my 321-year-old church. Lives were changed. A Vestry member said, “This is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My favorite time is getting up first on Saturday and Sunday and sitting with my cup of coffee and my Bible. I almost disappointed when my family gets up.” Afterwards, she took the Education for Ministry or EfM class, so she could learn ever more about the Bible.
A teenager in my parish whose father died tragically in a car wreck wrote, “The Bible Challenge is going really well. I read a little bit every day. It keeps faith on my mind all the time.” She later won a college scholarship for her service work, and reading the Bible had inspired her.
An eleven year old said, “When you read the Bible you start looking at the world in a new way. A flower becomes a miracle.” And a woman who rarely worshipped with us, wrote, “I find myself picking up the Bible in the quiet of the night as well as first thing in the morning.” After she finished reading the Bible, she gave our church a million dollar gift in gratitude.
But my favorite words came from a former Marine Colonel in his late 80s. He read the Bible using a magnifying glass and took 45 minutes to read each page. He wrote, “While I spent eight months to finish reading the Bible from creation to revelation. It is only a start! It was a difficult, enjoyable and challenging experience…. I did most of my reading and listening in the still of the night… While I had frequent contact with the Bible in the past, my absorption was in fits and starts. Now, in a sense, I have put it all together. Yet there is no such thing as finishing with the Bible. It is a trip through eternity. It is also a reminder of ourselves.”
My friends, our world needs passionate Christians, whose faith is contagious. Are you willing to become one? I hope that you will participate in the 2020 Bible Challenge and let the Good Book transform your life. I’m, and I hope that you are, too. Amen.