Biblical Soul Morning - Bible Sunday

Barry Lupton
Sunday 26th October, 2014

As we stand, let us pray. ‘Heavenly Father, may we see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.’ Please set down.
‘The word of the Lord came to me’. This is how the prophet Ezekiel introduces what he knew to be God’s message to His People. Today, on Bible Sunday, we’re going to talk about how the word of God can come to us through reading the Bible, how the Bible informs our understanding of God and how it connects us with the narrative of God’s involvement with his people. We’ll start first with a look at the anatomy of the Bible, and then we can explore some of the ways we might read it.
Whilst today is designated Bible Sunday, it won’t have escaped your notice that, at this church, every Sunday is Bible Sunday. Each Sunday we are treated to two readings from the Bible, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New. The Bible is a book of two halves, corresponding to the fold in Time just 2,000 years ago marking the moment Jesus was born. The Old Testament relates to the world before Jesus came and the New Testament to the world after it had been impacted by Jesus.
In fact, our readings from the New Testament are taken from a subset of books called the Gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life. The remainder of the New Testament is taken up largely with letters (sometimes called epistles) from various apostles to people and churches. Time constraints usually mean that this part of the Bible is excluded from our weekly selection of readings.
In the Old Testament we also have two sub divisions: the Law and the Prophets. So there we have a skeleton of the Bible: the Law, the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles. 66 books in all written by 35 authors or author sets.
If you look down the list of authors’ names, the first thing you might notice is that God isn’t one of them. And the second thing to notice is that Jesus isn’t one either. God never put chisel to stone nor pen to paper. And Jesus never wrote a book. We can be sure that if we needed a book from Jesus he would have written one for us, because everything Jesus did and does is the right and sufficient thing for us. So what do we make of Jesus’ saying recorded in the gospels (Mark 13:31) ‘Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will remain forever’. How can we square that circle? Part of the answer is that God used people to do part of the job for him. Thirty five people were pressed into service by God for the task of writing his word.
A question for you: two books in the Bible start with the same three words. What are the words and which are the books? The answer is ‘In the beginning…’ and those words start the books of Genesis and the gospel of John. Genesis goes on to say ‘In the beginning, God created…’ In John we read ‘In the beginning, was the Word.’ At this point we start to pick up the hint of a message. The spoken word is far, far, more powerful than the written word. Jesus spoke, but he didn’t write. Consequently, essential though the Bible is for us to comprehend God, we don’t worship a book; we worship a loving and righteous God, who calls us by name and speaks directly to us.
But back to the Bible. It’s interesting to notice that if the people responsible for putting the Bible together – and we’ve little idea about who they were – had put John’s gospel before the other three gospels, then both testaments, old and new, would start with the same three words ‘In the beginning…’, which sort of underscores the fact that though the two testaments were written in different periods of time, in two folds of Time, the timeline of their subject matter is the same. They start at the beginning, the Alpha, and they continue, well, they both continue looking forward to the endless time that we will spend in the glory of God, the Omega. Quite a span.
When checking out the Bible for ourselves there’s good reason to approach it like any other book we think might be of interest to us. First of all we look at the standing of the author, then we might read a review or two by a trusted critic, and finally, there’s no substitute for reading it ourselves and coming to our own view.
The Old Testament is written by patriarchs and prophets, towering figures in the history of the Jewish people. Men like Moses, Kings David and Solomon, Nehemiah, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. In the New Testament there are books by a further range of impressive authors, people who knew Jesus in the flesh, plus Paul, the late comer. Their words are not written by God; most of these men, for they are all men, write about God. One, at least, writes to God. Can we share the hope that their words are of God?
Now for the reviewers. In his book of praise and pleas, David, the shepherd boy King, reviewer number 1, wrote (Psalm 19:10): ‘how sweet are your words to my mouth… they are more desirable than gold… sweeter than honey’. And David was probably referring to God’s word in just the first five books of the Old Testament. Little did he know that his own writings would be included as one of the God inspired books in the Bible we have today.
The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews, reviewer number 2, wrote (Hebrews 4:12) ‘The word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we are.’ Again, the writer is unaware that their own writing will become subsumed within the canon of books counted by Christians today to be the Word of God.
Then we have an endorsement from Jesus himself, reviewer number 3, who says (Matthew 5:17) ‘don’t think I have come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets’. And then he adds this remarkable statement ‘No, I came to fulfil them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God’s law will remain until its purpose is achieved’. Jesus wasn’t in the business of throwing out what God had done before; he was to be its embodiment. Through this statement we gain further insight into the intriguing entwining of the Word of God and the person of Jesus, a connection amplified further when Jesus defends himself against the Devil (Luke 4:4), saying ‘humans cannot live by bread alone but by every word uttered by God’. Jesus is revealed as the Word made flesh. ‘I am the true bread from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever’, he said.
So, we’ve looked at the authors, we’ve seen a bit of the critics and been awakened to the fact that there is something mightily mystical about how the Bible, God’s word, becomes entwined with Jesus.
Now comes our own reading of the Bible. As we read we test the way. What is our reaction to it? Are we like David finding it can be as sweet as honey? Does it sometimes expose us for what we are? Can we recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking to us? Or, as the Bible recognises can happen, is our heart hardened? Does the Bible simply appear so much babble, or does it dawn that the Bible is our best chance of coming close to God?
Perhaps our reaction is the result of how we read the Bible. Our first step should be to ensure we have a copy written in an everyday language we can understand and preferably one that’s wrapped round with all sorts of helpful notes. This idea, the Bible in a wrapper, has given rise to multiple publishing ventures to make the Bible more accessible. It certainly makes the task of choosing our own copy a very interesting and enjoyable experience.
One way of reading our chosen copy of the Bible is to treat it as a project. The most obvious project is to read it from start to finish, but there are many different projects you could devise; we are limited solely by our imagination. Alexander Cruden born in 1699 without a computer to his name, set about indexing the principal words in the Bible and published the first concordance in 1737. That’s the sort of thing you can achieve with tenacity. And we can take advantage of his work by simply buying his book.
Doing this kind of reading, what you might call a frontal attack, with fingers in many pages at once, flicking back from one page to another, is very helpful in getting to know the territory, but it contrasts markedly with the sort of Bible reading advocated by St Benedict. In his way, a single passage is selected, read slowly, reflectively and repeatedly without reference to any other passage or book, the reader patiently waiting for God to speak to them directly. This method, given the Latin term Lectio Divina or Reading with God, is the subject of this book by David Forster (1), available from the Church library. Could there possibly be a better way of reading the Bible?
Well the answer to this question is, ‘Yes, there could’. And the even better way is to practice Lectio Divina with a group of people. This form of reading the Bible is a fundamental building block of Pilgrim, a course for the Christian journey designed and promoted by the Church of England (2). If you haven’t heard of Pilgrim before and want to discover more about it, then may I suggest you check it out on line or speak to Mark. Alternatively, come along to the house group that meets at Karen and Paul Morris’s house, where we are trialling its use, at Mark’s request.
Jesus said ‘I am the vine, you are the branches… remain in me and I will remain in you (John 15:1-8). Stay connected: read the Bible, listen to Jesus. Amen.

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