Weborg on Scripture: ‘You’ve Got to Read It!’

Post a Comment » Written on June 24th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

GREEN LAKE, WI (June 24, 2008) – Christians must resist the temptation to read the Bible like a series of summer romances, but instead give themselves to God’s word in a manner that transforms and enables them to make a difference in the world, John Weborg told worshipers during tonight’s opening worship service of the 123rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Weborg, who made his remarks while seated on a stool at the podium due to post-polio syndrome, showed why the professor emeritus of theology and spiritual formation at North Park Theological Seminary has long been one of the students’ favorite instructors – and a beloved teacher to the Covenant at large.

WeborgDrawing on the Annual Meeting theme of the centrality of God’s word, Weborg contrasted popular reading material one might check out of a library for recreational reading to the great works of thinkers like Aristotle. The former he characterizes as consumer quality – of no real depth or lasting value, while the latter falls into the category of capital – information that has lasting value and allows a mind to expand and grow.

“You can’t reduce it to email,” Weborg said of the Bible. “You can’t reduce it to Reader’s Digest size. Its interest grows the more you read it, but you’ve got to read it!”

When Christians immerse themselves in the Bible, the book becomes “capital” for the readers, and the readers become “capital” for others, he suggests.

Weborg looked at three “vignettes” to illustrate what it means for the Bible and Christians to be capital for “the socially separated,” “the spiritually silenced,” and people “striving for service.”

Weborg pointed to the recent arrests of nearly 400 mostly Hispanic workers on immigration charges at a meatpacking plant in a small rural town in Iowa, population 2,300. Hundreds of other Hispanics fled. Others sought refuge at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in the community settled mostly by Europeans.

Weborg posed a question: if the audience attending tonight’s service were attending a Covenant church in that small Iowa town, would they turn to the Bible to see what it says about ministering to aliens? “If the Bible is central, if we are readers, if the Bible is capital, would that have been your first thought?”

Christians formed by scripture thus become capital for those who are aliens or are otherwise socially separated from the rest of society. “What can people draw on from you because you know the Bible and you come to their assistance?”

“I’m not naïve,” Weborg said. “I know this issue is loaded with questions. It’s a legal problem. It’s a political problem. It’s an economic problem. But it’s also a theological problem. If the church doesn’t speak, who will?”

NamesWeborg referred to the spiritually silenced as those who do not turn to God out of guilt or the belief that the Bible does not speak to the pain in their lives. “Sometimes we are very much afraid of our own conscience because our conscience knows much more than we want it to,” Weborg said. “But our conscience will not shut up.”

Unfortunately, people let that insistent voice keep them from God rather than being the impetus to turn to him. “Are you spiritually silenced?” Weborg asked. “There is forgiveness with him so that he might be reverenced. Break your silence and be freed.”

“Do not let your conscience make you linger,” Weborg pleaded.

People also stay apart from God because they don’t know that the Bible is a resource that gives legitimacy and voice to their pain and questions, Weborg said. He noted the harsh accusations of the writer in Psalm 88.

“I usually tell my students, don’t read this psalm unless the sun is shining. It is absolutely the most depressing chapter in the whole Bible,” Weborg said. It’s presence, however, has encouraged people to bring their laments and pain to God – once they know such words are included in scripture.

Weborg also told of his own struggle since retiring as he strives to be of service to God. The words of Jesus enjoining his followers to pray for their enemies have struck Weborg afresh, he said.

“We read them, but the problem is we don’t do them,” he said. “I said to God, ‘You commanded me to do this, but I don’t know how. Can you teach me?’ ”

Weborg related that he was especially conscious of political enemies. “What do I do with political enemies?” he asked. ‘I started to name them. I named Al Qaeda.” Such prayer was difficult, he added.

Difficulty should not be a barrier, however. “God is not about useless commandments,” Weborg declared. “I would like for you to start praying because we might be able to change the world.”

Christians who allow the word of God to speak to them should expect to experience life differently, he said. “When you start making the word of God central, the word of God will take you places you’ve never been before.”

Weborg’s commitment to sharing the word despite difficulty was evident even before he spoke. President Glenn Palmberg introduced Weborg and asked the gathering to pray for the speaker’s grandson who was admitted to a hospital intensive care unit this morning, but whose health seemed to be improving.

Following Weborg’s sermon, superintendents from each of the conferences brought forth the names submitted by churches for “Bringing My World to Christ.” The lower photo shows Garth Bolinder (right), Midsouth Conference, and Robert Owens, Southeast Conference, presenting names from those conferences. The evening concluded with a special tribute to Palmberg and his 10 years of service as president, as well as appreciation to his wife, Sharon.

Editor’s note: the video from tonight’s service, including Weborg’s sermon in its entirety, will be posted to the Annual Meeting news section of the Covenant website for downloading and viewing. Photos above by Warren Dillaway.

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