“The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.”
Dwight L. Moody
We are called to live with God in our time, our century and that requires that we have a living relationship with God – not based on just a historical book, but with a book that speaks to the essential qualities of the human spirit and can go beyond tomorrow. Andrea Andress
Sermon: The Bible: Stories to Live
By Rev. Andrea Andress
Paradise Valley United Methodist Church
4455 E. Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
The Bible: Stories to live by
“Our Help is From the Lord” declares the Psalmist in poetic form – but what kind of help? How do you interpret God’s involvement in your life? We tell our children that God talks to us through prayer and our inner voice, through other people – in sermons, and through the Bible. Today we will focus on the Bible.
How do you connect with the Bible? How do you hear God in the Bible? A friend once sheepishly confessed to me – I can’t read the Bible, it seems so outdated and doesn’t relate to me! When I hear sermons I can understand that. But I can’t understand the Bible by myself.
I find that disturbing, but not unusual. First I’d say – what translation are you using? The general populace has been reading the Bible for only about 500 years. Before the printing press it had to be painstakingly copied by hand and it’s a big book. Few people could read. The general population saw it through preaching, the images of icons, stained glass windows and painted murals. Those were teaching tools. Today we are blessed to be able to read it ourselves. But we still need a guide.
What do you think of the Bible? Do you consider it a powerful book of inspiration? Is it divinely inspired? If so, does that mean for you it is literal in every way – or do you believe the words were influenced by the culture around it and it helps for us to understand that.
The Bible was written in a culture – in a specific time – that time happens to span hundreds of years, because it is actually a collection of 66 individual books by many different authors in different countries, in different languages and cultures.
We know languages change over time. You can’t pick up Chaucer in it’s original English and understand it. The King James Bible less than 100 years ago was considered a good translation to read for its day – but not any more. It was written at the time of Shakespeare. Most of us need a “Shakespeare for Dummies” book to read beside the original if we read it in the original.
So yes, the language of the Bible (which is at least 1600 years older than Shakespeare) can be challenging. Which is why we have so many translations.
The content of the Bible holds timeless truths that still speak to us today.
Cultures and languages change over time. But the essential nature of people, the desires and needs for connection, for love, for safety and security for the ability to speak your truth, these are essential elements that stay true over the generations. They will be expressed differently, but the essential quality remains–that’s where translations comes in.
The stories of the Bible are some of the oldest in history. You will find plays, books, movies and TV using those stories as background. The jealousies, betrayal in families are not just in today’s soap operas – they come straight out of the bible with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible stories were chosen because of the elemental needs they expressed.
Take the Creation story: Why am I here on this earth? Where do I come from? One of the goals of the organization known as the Wycliff Bible translators is that every people on earth should be able to read scripture in their own language. They train translators to live in a culture, at times creating the first written language for them and then translating the Bible into their spoken language. They work first with Genesis and then a Gospel. Why do they start with Genesis – which means the beginning? Because every people has a history/myth or where they came from. And the Bible does too. It tells how from the very start we are connected with God. We, like the Bible, are God breathed.
As Christians we draw our information of God in large part from the Bible. The United Methodists say we learn by the quadrilateral – meaning there are four things that form our faith – it comes from Scripture, reason, experience and tradition. When we get those four imbalanced, we tilt toward heresy or ridiculousness. Scripture has always been seen as the heavy of the four – but reason, experience and tradition also count.
If the Bible is the story of God’s people, what is the Bible not that people have tried to make it?
The Bible is not:
- A marriage manual: People who talk about having a Biblical marriage, don’t really know the Bible. Polygamy was quite the norm early on in the Old Testament. Adultery – some of our greatest Biblical heroes had this fault – King David. The wisest man was King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines – wise? There was family incest; Abraham – selling his wife into prostitution. Our biblical heroes had feet of clay, just like we do.
The Bible is not:
- A history book — We are called to live with God in our time, our century and that requires that we have a living relationship with God – not based on just a historical book, but with a book that speaks to the essential qualities of the human spirit and can go beyond tomorrow.
- The Bible is not:
- An instruction manuel on how to run a government. If you take your stand from the book of Nehemiah and Ezra which told the story of when the Israelites returned from exile – how they built a new government – one part of it was an edict to create racial purity by denouncing the children and spouses not of Israel’s pure blood. (We believe that the story of Ruth, comes out of a wisdom that shows King David was descended from Ruth – a Moabite and not racially pure.) Both of these stories are “in the Bible”. But you are called to interpret them in the grace of God’s spirit and the understanding of culture and time.
- The Bible is not:
- A science book: It describes stories in what is called, “mythical language” – that does not mean the story is not true. It does mean it may not be literal. I remember the child who went home and when asked what he learned in Sunday School that day explained that Moses had a speed boat to get across the water and he called in the heavy bombers to blast a canal through the water so people could walk across on dry land. The parents looked at him skeptically and said, “Is that really what the teacher said?” “No,” he replied, “but you wouldn’t believe what the teacher told me.”
- The Bible is not:
- A how-to book to meet every situation – not possible, they didn’t have computers, or the internet and they hadn’t seen someone walk on the moon. The world mindset was different.
So what IS the Bible?
The Bible is a book meant for transformation. Over centuries, it tells stories of how God and people interact and sometimes it’s not pretty.
The people of faith claim the entire Bible as their story. The Bible stories are our family stories just as much as the stories you tell of your parents, or grandparents when you gather for family events at holidays or weddings or funerals.
Why do I suffer? – the book of Job doesn’t truly answer that question. It causes us to search further.
Families – how do they work? Jealousy – the first soap opera came from the family history of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
II Tim 3:15-17 says, “There’s nothing like the word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another–showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (The Message) This is uniquely shown through the parables.
Jesus spoke in parables – saying that people can’t hear except in parables.
Parables are genius because they make us participate in the story. Parables subvert our unconscious worldview, exposing its illusions to us. Parables makes us a bit uncomfortable or we are not really hearing them. Richard Rohr in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, warns us that a parable is supposed to change our worldview and unlock it from the inside so that we can see and hear reality correctly. Context allows us to read text truthfully. Our whole universe has to be rearranged truthfully before individual teachings can be heard correctly. What we have done for centuries in the West is give people new moral and doctrinal teaching without rearranging their mythic worldview. It does not work.
A parable calls for conversion. Richard Rohr states, “It is the things that you cannot do anything about and the things that you cannot do anything with that do something with you. We realize we cannot transform ourselves, but need interior suffering and desperate prayer to change…. There are two kinds of religion – one that says God will love you if you change and one that says God loves you so you can change.”
In the 1960s and 1970’s I remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan being rewritten to bring it up to date. The question is, “Who is the good person? The answer – is it the Lawyer, the Priest – no! It is the despised outcast foreigner who shows love and concern and acts upon it.
It was rewritten in the middle of the Cold War so that the Good Samaritan was a Russian. Today, it needs to be rewritten again. It will always need to be rewritten because it is timeless in it’s message and cultures change.
So how would we rewrite it today in 2014? Who would the Good Samaritan be?
In Arizona – put the illegal immigrant as the Good Samaritan.
In Ferguson, MI – the Good Samaritan might just be a big, burly, black teen.
This week when you go home, read the Good Samaritan with a modern day Good Samaritan of your choice – the person you would not want to trust – then wrestle over what God would call you to do and be in response to that.
There are a multitude of ways we look at and study scripture allowing it to affect and change us:
We sing it. If you look in our hymnals you will find numerous songs whose words largely come from the Bible. Music reaches our souls. Amazing Grace reaches millions each year, not just the religious.
We read it for understanding – the advent of the Protestant revolution came about with the demand for the common people to read the Bible – not just the religious orders. Up until that time, the religious orders had taken the roll of study and theological reflection. After Martin Luther, study of God’s word exploded. (So too did the number of Christian groups claiming they understood the scripture). That comes along with all of us reading the Bible. Some people try reading it through in a year –
We read it for comfort – People have often sought out particular scriptures to lift them in times of stress and distress. It’s really easy to look for these with the aid of today’s computers. The 23 Psalm has been a mainstay for centuries.
We memorize it so that it comes to us easily when we need it.
We read it to soak it into our being: Lectio Divina are the latin words for “Praying the Scripture” – and has existed since 600 AD when St. Benedict introduced it to those of his monastery. He didn’t want to just read the scriptures, he wanted people to breathe it in and out of their body with each breath. Here is how praying the scripture goes:
You read a scripture twice – let it soak in and let a word or phrase jump out at you in about 2 minutes of silence, as you think on it.
Read the scripture again – consider in a silence of 3-5 minutes of how this scripture feels to you and the emotions it evokes.
Then read the scripture again – and in the silence of 3-5 minutes you consider what is this scripture calling you to do today or tomorrow? How will you answer what God is asking of you right now.
One last time read the scripture – and if you are with a small group you pray for each other that you might be able to respond to your calling.
What will you do with your Bible? Will you read it? Will you study it? Will you pray it?
We have small groups that study the Bible, adult classes offered, maybe you could help form one to meet your needs.
Today – right now the 3rd Graders and their parents are in Fellowship Center participating in what we call the Bible Blast. They are becoming acquainted with the Bible that the church will give to the children at the 11:15 service. It’s one of the best things we do – to introduce our children to the Bible. I want us to look at our commitment to study and immerse ourselves in the word of God as a way to hear God’s voice in our life.
Bible Blessing: I ask you to hold, touch your Bible, whether it is a special one you brought, or one in the pew or on your phone. Hold it as I speak this blessing for you and the scriptures you hold.
May God plant in you a deep desire to search, to read, to understand and to live the love of God in the world. Let the Word of God be like food and water to you. Let the words of God soak into your being like the long awaited gentle rain soaks into dry ground, feeding the earth from within. Amen
Benediction and Challenge: Take a story from the Bible – one of your own or the Good Samaritan and let it speak to you in today’s language. Wrestle with it and decide what God is asking of you. And may God connect you to God’s Word, so that the thoughts you contemplate, the words you speak and the actions you perform clearly spread your love and grace to the world.
The following was used before the sermon in the service:
Call to Worship
Leader: The Word of God is alive and active;
People: It is sharper than any double-edged sword.
Leader: The Word of God divides the soul and spirit;
People: It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Leader: The Word of God does not return empty-handed;
People: It accomplishes God’s will in the world.
All: The Word of God is alive.
Almighty God, whose word is authority and power and whose way is love, grant to us today clear minds, understanding hearts and willing spirits so that we may wisely appropriate your word of truth. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen
Prayer of Confession:
God you have given me all I need: breath to live, a mind to search, a heart to feel. Forgive me when I don’t take time to read your words of wisdom and to let them sink into my heart and mind. Help me draw encouragement from the stories of my ancestors of faith. Connect me to your Word, so that the thoughts I contemplate, the words I speak and the actions I perform clearly spread your love and grace to the world.