As you can see on the communion table, we have a variety of Bibles. How many of you read the Bible regularly? Do you find it easy to understand? Do you place equal value on all parts of it? Do you read it literally? Or is it a collection of books filled with inspired stories? Stories of how ancient people sought to understand their place in the world and their relationship with God. Do we find some parts of the Bible disturbing? Or incomprehensible? Do we feel foolish when we don’t understand parts of it.
One of the sad commentaries on our life as people of faith is how this collection of books has been misused. In a method called proof texting, we can take a verse or several verses out of their wider context and story and find evidence to support our particular point of view. What I learned at theological school was to take a look at the overarching stories. To take into consideration the historical context of the time in which a particular passage was written. To take into consideration to whom it was written. One of the popular sayings or questions is: What would Jesus do? But even that is limited, because the people of Jesus time didn’t face many of the situations that we do, so his teachings do not directly address those issues. So we have to take a look at the themes of overarching stories and discover for ourselves, not ‘what would Jesus do’ but given what we know about Jesus and his nature, the question might be ‘what would Jesus have US do?’ No matter what our experience and belief about The Bible, I think we can all agree that it is the most important book of our faith, and has been for thousands of years.
There was an interesting blog post this past week entitled: Ten Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About the Bible and I could related to many of them. I will just share the first two:
John Pavlovitz wrote:
1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect, emotional, very human beings who never claim to have been fully possessed by God or robbed of their faculties as they wrote. This means that however virtuous or well-meaning or inspired they might have been, they can’t help but have brought some of themselves into the writing.
2) I don’t believe the Bible explains the time and manner of earth’s creation and population accurately. The Creation accounts in Genesis are not scientific writings designed to instruct, as much as they are poetry and song meant to inspire. They should not be read as a literal explanation of the fashion or timetable of what Science clearly tells us were the far older and more gradual evolutions of life than a literal Biblical translation contends. Genesis 1 and 2 are a who story, not a how story.
Those are just the first two, here is the link to the full article.
I encourage you to find a translation that you find easy to read and fall in love with scripture.
I have a variety of Bibles:
• The Bible in Pictures
• Revised King James
• Good News
• King James
• New Revised Standard Version
o Study Bible
o Large Print
• The Book of God
And there are a variety of them on the communion table.
In our reading from the First Testament, we hear of Nehemiah, one of the men from the Jewish community in exile in Babylon, who had done well and risen to be a senior civil servant. He has come to Jerusalem as governor, and taken over the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Under his driving spirit, the walls were completed. But something more was required. The builders had faced down the challenge of nearby rulers, but still more was needed. They needed a reminder and assurance of who they were.
So the people were gathered to a reading of Scripture. And the people wept… for the first time in many years they were allowed public proclamation of their holy words… They did not just ‘hear’ the words… but they were affected by them… they wept…. And in the last part of that reading Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Go your way… eat… and share…
This sounds much like what Jesus proclaimed centuries later…
He is filled with the Holy Spirit and uses Isaiah’s words which were echoed in Mary’s song… “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
We hear Jesus saying those words, and perhaps think, “Yes, you are Jesus, of course you can say those things.” But what if instead of hearing Jesus say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… we would say together, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us…
God’s Spirit is upon us. We are chosen to bring good news to the poor…
God’s Spirit is upon us. We are sent to proclaim liberty to the captives…
God’s Spirit is upon us. We are sent to proclaim the recovery of sight to the blind…
God’s Spirit is upon us.
On Wednesday evening the Official Board met and I was delighted that despite people feeling anxious about finances, there were motions to undertake a Lenten Project as well as maintain our Mission & Service Goal. While you may not express it in quite the same way, I felt the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ upon us as we made those decisions. And I think collectively, as a country, millions of us felt that welcoming refugees was how we experienced the Spirit or Sacred coming upon us. The overwhelming response has been heartwarming, especially the stories of how some of the Vietnamese people, the ‘boat people’ are sponsoring refugees, because they know what it is like.
I am proud of the United Church and how it works before, during and after a crisis, before, during and after any news about it. I believe that individually and collectively, we are called to proclaim Good News to the poor… release to the captive, to bind up the broken-hearted… to let the oppressed go free…
Syria and Elmsdale/Nine Mile River and a hundred other places need us to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, not just now, but every day. The Bible reminds us that abundant life is for all; that the year of the Lord’s favour is for all.
This is God’s gift to us.
Thanks be to God, amen.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
January 24, 2016 – EPC
Rev. Catherine MacDonald
© Catherine MacDonald 2016