Sermon for the Bible Sunday
Today is Bible Sunday when the Church celebrates the Holy Scriptures and our capacity to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.’
That is all well and good. So I’d better start with a confession, strictly between ourselves and don’t tell anyone. I don’t know what it is but sometimes when I hear the word Bible or Bible based or Bible study I want to jump on the bus which is going in the opposite direction. Somehow the word Bible has been made to sound judgemental, moralistic and very, very boring. Now I have friends who would read a Buddhist text, or any number of other spiritual writings, before breakfast. But mention to them that they might discover riches beyond measure in the Bible and they may well look at me as if I was a bit, well, odd. These same friends would also be reading challenging, mind expanding novels, but even mention that the Bible can be read as some of the very greatest literature and poetry ever written and they wouldn’t, I think, really believe me.
Here are two traps when approaching the Bible. Trap 1: The Bible used as a source of stern moral lecture. I think there is a collective sense that the word Bible or Biblical often actually means judgemental moral lecture. In this case the Bible is seen as being reached for to deliver some form of moral condemnation against modern society. Trap 2: The Bible used as history lesson. I have known passionate Bible enthusiasts turn the Bible into some sort of historical museum where we can learn about the price of bread perhaps or the shape of the temple but can offer no help or illumination from the Bible to a person suffering say from depression in the here and now, or somebody who knows a family member undergoing the break-up of a relationship. The museum approach to the Bible keeps the Bible disastrously stuck in the distant past.
All of this is extraordinarily sad. For many people the Bible is seen as a boring, aloof, moralistic museum and this might also be how some view the Church as well. And, if you think about it, this is even more sad when you consider that there are many out there, and perhaps many in here, who are spiritually starving, spiritually starving but who do not have a living, vibrant relationship with the Bible and are, for whatever reason, unable to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what it has to offer.
Let’s be clear: The Bible is a spiritual feast. Today’s quote from Isaiah gets it right. ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.’ The Bible is food richer than any we can conceive of.
So for the rest of this sermon I want to take a brief look at some spiritual riches from the Bible, riches which we may not often hear in Church. Spiritual treasure which can, if we practice it, actually transform us. And this is what is so often lost if we come to the Bible as if all it offers us are history lessons or moral lectures or worthy but dull instructions or miracles which we don’t really believe in any more, we lose the sense that the Bible is spiritual treasure which is capable of transforming us and our world.
One of the fascinating things about our relationship with the Bible is how much of it we miss or don’t notice or forget or have never read or heard. The Book of Proverbs is not widely read in Churches. And yet here are just a few sayings from the book of Proverbs. All are taken from Chapter 15. ‘A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ So already, it seems to me, this one proverb offers us some real practical spiritual gold. We can practice soft answers at home, in the office, at grim meetings, at family gatherings, and we can practice how such gentleness can actually turn away wrath. The poet then goes on to say that, ‘A gentle tongue is a tree of life.’ And again we are being taken, through poetry, towards a way of transformation, transformation, if you like, into ways of wisdom and gentleness, ways of wisdom and gentleness which we can practice and participate in. There is one last proverb which I feel I must share with you because it’s so good. ‘Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.’ Deep, wise, delightful, true.
Now let’s turn to a passage from the Psalms. Proverbs and the Psalms are just some of the rich treasury of poetry which the Bible has to offer and it’s poetry which so many are unaware of. This is more well-known. It comes from Psalm 46. ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Just take that in. ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ You could be scared in a hospital, you could be in the heat of an argument, you could be at a difficult meeting, you could be worried for whatever reason and yet that verse, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ could bring you a new dimension of peace and life and freedom right in the middle of whatever it is that you are undergoing. This is one of the secrets of the Bible. It is a very well kept secret. The Bible takes you into the presence of God. It’s a doorway into the presence of God. Just savouring that verse, saying it inwardly, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ takes you miraculously into that divine presence.
And, lastly in this short tour of spiritual treasure, I’d like to end with a saying of Jesus’. Again this is a saying which doesn’t come up often as a saying to preach on even though it’s one of the most revolutionary things he ever said. It’s from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus says, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.’ ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ Again, if you put that saying of Jesus to work in your heart and your life, what would you begin to see? What would you begin to sense? What’s a dinner like with a friend if one of the friends is carrying this knowledge of the kingdom of God within them? What is a difficult meeting like where one of the people in the difficult meeting is aware somehow that the kingdom is within them?
Like I say, the Bible is a doorway into the presence, into the reality of God. The Bible is a feast. It is, very often, buried treasure. So we need to taste it, dig it up and bring it into the light, to mix my metaphors. What the Bible isn’t is boring, moralistic, a history lesson. Yes, it is complex. But on this whistle-stop tour I have only quoted a tiny portion of it; there is so much more, so much more rich food and fine wine, so much more treasure, so much more transformation to practice in our own lives. So for all of us, this Sunday is an opportunity to look at our relationship with the Bible. Are we really reading it? Hearing it? Treasuring it? Savouring it? Are we really letting it take us into God’s presence, God’s reality? And many of us will say no, and that’s honest and in keeping with a lot of society. But, for all of, let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s, in the words from Isaiah, ‘eat what is good, and delight...in rich food. Listen, so that (we) may live.’