Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:2-8
This passage has long been one of my favorites, since I memorized it in Sunday School so, so long ago. I don’t think children are taught to memorize Scripture much anymore, and I do think that is something in which we have shortchanged our children. There are times in life when any of us feel discouraged, or maybe overwhelmed with thoughts about things that are not necessarily all that honorable, just and pleasing. There are days when we get overcome with worry and do not feel much like rejoicing. In those times, words like these from Scripture can rise up out of the depths of our memory to comfort and instruct us.
We, as Christians, are people of The Book. Well, as United Methodist Christians we may be indeed People of Three Books: The Bible (first and most important), the Book of Discipline, and the United Methodist Hymnal. However, the second and third of these are deeply rooted in the first!
We take our comfort, our challenges, our instruction from the Old and New Testaments. Our Bibles, I expect, are tattered and worn from much reading. I love to hold in my hands the Bible that my Grandma Rachels read, with its thin pages falling out, and notes written in the margins. I remember dear Dr. James M. Efird saying about a Bible study that he led, “Bring a Bible you can write in. If you don’t have one you can write in, go get one!”
That is why I found it so exciting this week to read that archaeologists in Israel had discovered new Dead Sea Scrolls…well fragments of scrolls. These pieces of parchment contain parts of the Greek text of Zechariah and Nahum (you know, there are days -weeks even – that go by when I do not even think about the prophet Nahum) that carbon dating tell us date from the second century CE (or AD). Imagine! These words have been waiting in caves above the Dead Sea for nearly 2000 years for someone to find them. They also found other things, one of which is a complete, large basket believed to be more than 10,000 years old. These are the first such items found since the first discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s and 1960s.
Before the days of Covid, a team of young Israelis rappelled down into crevices, and dug in the thick dust of the Judean desert to seek and find these precious gifts, hidden probably in the 130s CE. They were trying to find and save them from looters who would steal them and sell to the highest bidder. These are treasures for all people. These fragments hold the words of truth and beauty and honor that we cling to in troubled times. It is amazing how the words we read so casually from our Bibles have come to us through centuries of word of mouth, words written by hand, carefully copied by monks (who often made notes in the margins of their copies).
When we read these wonderful words of life and love and grace, let’s take a moment to whisper a prayer of thanks for all those who wrote them down, or coped them, or hid them when necessary so that we might have them. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Look for the beautiful, look for the true;
Look for the beautiful, life’s journey through.
Seeking true loveliness, joy you will know,
As to the home above onward you go.
Speak of the beautiful, speak of the pure;
these to eternity fadeless endure.
Error shall vanish soon, evil decay;
God and the beautiful pass not away.
Pastor Rachel Moser