Sermon delivered at the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel at United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia, PA
We are book-bound people.
And when we together read such multilayered texts like these, from Jeremiah and Revelation, we step into our peculiar duty as people bound by books.
There is quite a lot to say about Jeremiah’s prophetic oracle, and John’s “revealing” apocalyptic book. There is too much to say, in fact, all of you, now, have probably have got so many new books under your belts, than you can attest to the complexity under our noses.
I first want to acknowledge just some of the powerful images in Jeremiah and Revelation. Babylonian exile; political doom; God binding wounds; are what we find in Jeremiah. In the face of rejection, humiliation, and bodily injury: Jeremiah tells God’s truth. He writes God’s truth in a book. To the falsely hopeful of his time, it is so often despair and exile that Jeremiah foretold. To the despairing, however, we read tonight—he writes hope. A vision of God-given leadership and health.
There is also, of course, too much to say about Revelation. In the author’s concluding statements Jesus’ eerie voice rings… The voice of a strange and otherworldly savior-sovereign. A total Jesus, an Alpha to Omega Jesus, both snow-white and blood-soaked—both Lion of Judah and having-been-slaughtered Lamb—a both/and Jesus.
Acknowledging these powerful images in Jeremiah and Revelation, what if we move past them a little tonight? And think instead of the projects of these writers, the project of God, which is, I think, to make of us all a book-bound people and a people of book-binders.
The technology of the Book is explicit in both author’s works. Scholars call this oracle of Jeremiah the “Book of Consolation.” In the first verse of this chapter, God commands Jeremiah: “Write in a book all of the words I have spoken to you.” So, too, the author of Revelation warns their readers: that this book was written with God’s own authority, and not to add or take away form it, this is God’s book.
God abides in, with and under the books.
God tells Jeremiah and all of the future generations of Judeans and Israelites: you shall be my people, and I will be your God. God’s people, of the Book.
What, then, can I say about Books, to convince you that, besides the obvious fact that we read the Bible—a word that just means book—What can I write on you, to show how much bigger the idea of “Book” is?
Well, first, think about this: a book is a kind of technology. It is an human invention, a tool. It is an art form. So then, God is a God of inventors, craftspeople, artists, and authors. God is happy to re-orient, lift up, metaphor-ize and metamorphesize all the technology and materiality of our lives.
Don’t you think God smiles when you “scroll” through those old “text”-messages with your loved ones about when you first started at seminary? When you first thought maybe you wanted to start reading to be a leader in God’s community of book-worms?
Books show us that God touches our technology and materiality, and makes it capable of bearing the holy.
Second, about books—remember God is called the “author” of life, and that earlier in Revelation we read that our names are all written in the “Book of Life.” God wrote us into being. God wrote Jesus—God’s “Word” we say—into the story of the world. By all accounts then, this world, these bodies of ours and their attendant Spirits, are God’s Book.
We are God’s creative writing project that started with the letter Alpha, and ends with letter Omega. The people of God are written and bound together in God.
Thirdly, about books and why they are us, and we are like them: God’s own books work in a unusual way. They have a circular syntax. Those new to seminary might have heard —at least by this point—a very oft mentioned phrase, that describes Jesus’s reign in the Books of the Bible: “Already, but not yet.”
As Jeremiah hopes: Already, but Not Yet: A Prince will come to rescue Judah from harm. Already, but Not Yet: God binds up our wounds. As John writes in Revelation: Already, Jesus has come. Yet, Jesus will come again. Not yet, so we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” A funny syntax, of having come, will arrive again, and still present in the books and hearts of those who yearn.
The Third way of God’s Books is that they are cyclical and spiraling, against a cut-and-dry understanding of time. God’s Word has been written in the body of Jesus, but we are given the book to read again and again,with shifting sands of interpretation, it becomes newer and newer. Year after year, Newer and Newer, Advent after Advent. New sorrows, new hopes we add to make it our own.
We have a peculiar duty, especially as leaders, being book-bound people and binders of newly written books. Because, you know, Jesus is God’s book written for us. God’s Word written in flesh. And Jesus is God’s law of love written on our own hearts.
We have a peculiar duty, when we rummaging through ancient Hebrew texts, themselves thumbed through by slightly less ancient Mediterraneans called New Testament writers. These, then, texted to us by preachers and readers and teachers.
All these books bound up, compiled, put into our hands as preachers for us to set loose those leaves of God’s stories into the other books of God’s world.
We are God’s book-UNbinders, as well, along with Jeremiah and Revelation. You could say we’re made collage artists for God, who write and yet rip out. Poets for God, who read and stitch together new words.
What a weird and peculiar duty?
I want to conclude with a short poem. A poet named Gregory Orr wrote a book in the early 2000s called, Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved.
Jesus our Beloved, his Body our Book.
All the books you read—
You were searching
for the one Book.
All the poems you read
And what you really sought
Was the one poem.
And when you found it
Weren’t you lifted up?
Didn’t you become lighter?
Transparent even, so that
someone looking at you
Could see the world,
Could see the world inside you?
Well, the one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus, the one Book, be with all you, his books. Amen.