|The Churches of||Fenny Bentley||Parwich||Thorpe||Tissington|
Last after Trinity Year A, 23rd October 2005:
"What can the Bible do for me?"
back to sermons year A
Today is the Sunday which, in the calendar of the Anglican Church, has been designated "Bible Sunday". It is the Sunday when we give thanks for the Bible; a day on which we should remember how much blood was spilt and how many lives lost during the Reformation period, five or six hundred years ago, when the Bible was first translated into English. On Bible Sunday the Church also asks us to remember the work of Bible translators today, and all those who involved in spreading the gospel in remote parts of the world as well as those who are involved in preaching and teaching in our own land.
But what does the Bible mean to you? If I were to ask you to describe the Bible in a few words, what would you say? It has been described as a 'drama in five acts'. The acts of that drama are:
- God's creation of the world;
- the fall of man - the coming of sin into the world;
- the history of the nation of Israel, including its repeated acts of rebellion against God and reconciliation with him;
- fourthly, the coming of Jesus, his teaching, his death and resurrection, bringing salvation to the world;
- and finally the beginning and spread of the Church, culminating with a glimpse of the end of all things.
That 'drama in five acts' describes what is known as 'salvation history' - the sequence of events, set out in the Bible, whereby God gradually made himself known to the world and, through Jesus, redeemed it from the domination of sin.
But hold on . we are slipping into describing the Bible as theatre - a drama - and history. Yes, of course there's both drama and history in the Bible - is that all to it? The book which consistently heads the world's best-seller lists surely must be more than a historical drama. So what is it about the Bible that makes it so popular? It would be interesting to know which the most read passages of the Bible are. I suspect that we'd probably find that it's those which comfort and uplift us - those which give us strength in times of trouble, and those which seem to provide ready-made wisdom. Passages such as Psalm 23 - the Lord's my shepherd; I Corinthians 13 - "love is patient, love is kind . " and perhaps some of the more memorable parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
Saint Augustine of Hippo called the Bible "our letters from home" - and one of its strengths is that it is a means whereby our heavenly Father communicates with us, shows his love for us, gives us hope in times of difficulty, and helps to see how to live our lives. All of which should be seen in the context of our journey towards our eternal destination, and the place in heaven he offers to all those who believe and trust in him and in his Son Jesus Christ.
There is, though, another side to the Bible. We may prefer to concentrate on the comforting passages, those which make us feel good about ourselves and about God, and about his love for us. However, the minister John Stott described the Bible in rather different terms. He said, "We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency, and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour" . (repeat) . Stott is reminding us that the Bible is much more than an ancient equivalent to the Little Book of Calm, or Chicken Soup for the Soul. For there is much in it which, if we take it seriously, is unsettling and disturbing, which presents us with uncomfortable choices. I'm not referring just to those obscure passages which come up regularly in our Sunday services, as part of the weekly cycle of readings. I'm talking about those teachings of Jesus, in particular, which call us to a very different way of behaving from that which seems natural and conventional to most people:
- not just loving those who love us, not just being nice to our friends, but loving our enemies too; which means remembering that God cares for them too, and wants them to see him more clearly and to know his ways and his love;
- not putting limits on our forgiveness; not stopping forgiving after seven times, nor even at seventy-times seven times;
- going the extra mile - in our care for others going beyond what we might initially be inclined to do;
- and having a faith and trust in God which can mature and flourish only as we learn to discard our faith in worldly things - money, possessions and so on.
These are only a few of the ways in which John Stott invites us to allow the Bible to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency, and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour. For it is all too easy and tempting to slip into secure, complacent, comfortable patterns of life, encouraged by the warm feeling that Jesus loves us because the Bible tells us so.
On this Bible Sunday, then, I invite you to think seriously about how the Word of God which the Bible embodies can impinge afresh on your life. The Bible was given to us by God not just to inform us, but to transform us. Ideally, Christians should read some of the Bible every day. The more we get into the habit of doing this, the better we understand how it all fits together, and the more chance it has to begin to transform our lives. Some people read daily Bible study notes. Some of you may still have the New Testament on tape, copies of which we sold a few years ago. Listen to them again. Or at the very least, listen carefully to the readings which we hear in church every week. Take the sheet home and re-read them. Try to do at least one of these.
I will end with a tale about two neighbours, Mr Higgins and Mr Miggins.
Old Brother Higgins built a shelf, for the family Bible to rest itself, lest a sticky finger or grimy thumb might injure the delicate pages some. He cautioned his children to touch it not, and it rested there with never a blot, though the Higgins tribe were a troublesome lot.
His neighbour, Miggins, built a shelf. "Come, children," he said, "and help yourself". His book is old and ragged and worn, with some of the choicest pages torn, where children have fingered and numbered and read. But of the Miggins tribe I've heard it said, each carries a Bible in his head".