January 15, 2023
A Note from Pastor April
I’ve had an evolving relationship with the Bible over my life. As a child, I found the stories presented to me on flannel boards mildly interesting. Aside from the story of Jonah and the whale (a favorite of mine), I wasn’t particularly drawn in by the church services or Sunday School lessons. Jesus seemed like a nice guy, but very distant from my actual life.
I did, however, read my Bible on multiple occasions. Bible drills fed the competitive spirit in me, and my bent toward achievement resulted in multiple attempts to read through the Bible from start to finish. (I never made it past Leviticus.)
When I went to college, I was relieved to finally have a break from attending church every Sunday. My Bible gathered dust on the shelf.
My first job out of college was teaching high school science in the Bible Belt of Eastern North Carolina. Jonah’s experience of being in the belly of the whale was starting to feel relevant! It was the hardest thing I had ever done. Only three years older than some of my students, I was facing my limitations daily.
At the same time, I was beginning to understand the tremendous challenges facing my students, many of whom truly wanted to learn and be successful. Suddenly, I found myself returning to some of those prayers I had learned in Sunday School.
The Impact of a Women’s Bible Study
It was during these years that I was invited to a women’s Bible study. They were studying the Gospel of Matthew. I came in with a healthy amount of skepticism, but I soon found the women in the group to be gracious, kind, and genuinely helpful.
As I started to rediscover the stories of Jesus, I realized how much I had glossed over or misunderstood as a child. Jesus was becoming more than a nice guy. In a time when I needed it most, Jesus was becoming a teacher, a guide, a friend, and even my Lord and Savior.
At first, the highly structured teaching I received in the Bible study was a lifeline. I had a LOT to learn. The leaders were patient in answering my many questions and quick to offer support, prayers, and guidance on the many things I was struggling with as a 22-year-old teacher.
Soon, I was asked to become a leader in the group, helping to teach a group of middle schoolers. I loved this group of children and could see myself in so many of them. Some were bored and disinterested, some were achievers and seeking the right answers, and some had significant questions that were thoughtful and important.
I found myself wanting to adjust the rigid curriculum to create more space for these discussions that I was never able to have as a child. Time and time again, my co-teacher reminded me to stick to the curriculum. We are here to help them understand “what the Bible really means.”
I could hear the underlying questions being asked of me: Who are we to interpret scripture? What could we possibly know?
These questions stayed with me in the years to come, even as I began to sense my own call to ministry, first as a youth pastor, then as a seminary student. I had left the Bible study by this time (they believed women should teach only children or other women, which didn’t sit right with me).
In my first theology course, I was asked to write a statement about what I believed about scripture. I floundered. Even though I had left the Bible study group, I still doubted my ability to understand the heart of scripture without significant guidance from “the experts.” I also didn’t always like what “the experts” had to say about scripture. Where did this leave me?
I’ll never forget the moment after a class session when I had been asking yet another question about how to read scripture. My professor came up to me and said gently, “April, I want to be sure you know that you can still be a Christian and have questions, confusions, doubts, and your own ideas about the Bible.” I could feel my whole body exhale.
It took some time, but I began to read the Bible with more of myself. I still had a lot to learn, but I could also allow the words to speak to me in new ways. I could push back. I could listen. I could wonder about connections. I could hear God speak through all of it.
How Jesus Read the Bible
When I returned to the Book of Matthew, I spent a lot of time in chapters 5-7, the section known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” What I discovered there was that Jesus read the Bible in this same wholehearted way. He took what had been given to him, and he brought in his own questions, insights, and connections. He interpreted it for the people in his day and time. He invited us to join him in this work. How had I missed that?
The Great Story
We had a lot of hopes when we began this series on The Great Story, in partnership with our friends at Fairmont Presbyterian. We certainly wanted to give our congregations the chance to see the stories of scripture within the context of a larger narrative of God’s work in the world. We expected that this would add even more richness to the details of each individual story.
At the same time, we deeply hoped that this series would build up more confidence within each of you — to help you engage the scriptures yourself, to ask your own questions, make your own connections, and offer your own insights. You too are capable of the interpretive work of reading scripture and wondering how we apply it in this moment of our lives.
Jesus’s Preaching Credentials
This Sunday, we are going to do some collective engagement of scripture as part of worship at 9am and 11am in the Sanctuary. The sermon this week will be the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5-7. (Jesus’s preaching credentials are pretty stellar.) Read by 6 different lay voices, we will read this passage of scripture aloud in lieu of a sermon by one of your pastors, listening for the parts of the story that speak to us and encouraging you to make your own connections.
In preparation, we encourage you to do a few things:
- Bring a Bible, or plan to use one in the pews. (We also have copies of the New Testament you can take home with you.)
- Bring something you can write on, perhaps a journal or notebook, or use an app on your phone.
- Note what you hear in the scriptures and what insights and connections you are making.
This Sunday: Warehouse 839 Worship
On Sunday evening, we will gather for another Warehouse 839 service at 5pm. In this space, you will have a chance to focus specifically on the first 12 verses of the Sermon on the Mount, known as the Beatitudes, exploring the postures and gestures that open us up to the blessings of God’s kingdom and pathway of life.
In the weeks that follow as we enter the Season of Lent, we will slowly be preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. We will also be offering LOTS of places for you to share your insights, engage in discussions, and explore scripture further. I’m excited to be leading an in-person course on Wednesday evenings at 6:30pm starting March 1, focusing entirely on the Beatitudes. Check out our website for a full list of classes (and see below).
Friends — you too can engage, ask questions, and participate in the work of interpreting scripture for this moment and season of life. I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you and look forward to a meaningful Sunday.
The Rev. April Blaine
P.S. MANY THANKS to those who shared with us your 2023 Financial Commitments online and in person this past Sunday. We have already received $278,580 in commitments for this year. We are nearly halfway toward our goal.
If you have not yet returned your financial commitment, you can do so online, through the mail, or in church this upcoming Sunday. Thank you so much for your ongoing support and commitment to this faith community.
There will be a series of classes offered for adults during the Season of Lent. It is a GREAT time to connect with others and deepen your faith journey. Feed your mind, heart, and soul as we journey together toward Easter.
In person options:
- COLORING LENT: Pray and color your way through the scripture texts of Lent with Lynn Weatherby on Sunday mornings…
- Explore history and context and THE RISKY BUSINESS OF HOLY WEEK with a DVD study led by Stephanie Harrell & Beth Palmer, also on Sunday mornings…
- PRAY THE SCRIPTURES using the LECTIO DIVINA SACRED READING PRACTICE, Wednesdays at noon with Judy Scott and Pastor Jon…
- And walk the path of Jesus with A DEEP DIVE INTO THE BEATITUDES with Pastor April on Wednesday evenings…
Online options on Zoom:
- DIG INTO MATTHEW’S HOLY WEEK STORY through study and prayer with Ginny Fisher on Monday evenings…
- Engage the stories of Lent with STORIES FOR THE SOUL with Lindsay Robinson (Godly Play for Adults) on Tuesday evenings…
- And engage your mind with Rev. Brian Maguire’s GREAT STORY BIBLE STUDY, our Fairmont Presbyterian Church partner, on Thursday evenings…