Post Communion Prayer
God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of his life
and the word of his kingdom:
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Sermon for Bible Sunday preached by Rev’d Brian Shillingford
I heard recently of a church in one of the southern states of the USA which has a notice board outside that proclaims something to the effect that only the true Bible was used in this church, namely the King James version of the Bible. Apparently the people of that church reverenced that version of the Bible as divinely inspired; in fact the only truly divinely inspired Bible. Never mind your Greek and Hebrew and various translations of a text. This is it, the one true Bible. Well, yes, it is to be greatly admired for its beautiful language, but it is not the most accurate translation and in some passages it is difficult to comprehend. And certainly it’s not to be treated as a kind of religious object.
I have just read an inspiring book, the recently published, A History of the Bible, by John Barton. I was reminded of the rich tapestry of narratives, laws, proverbs, prophecies, poems and letters to be found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which Christians have brought together and called, The Bible. How these disparate writings came to be written, the sources and traditions behind them, and the relation between them. The Bible is truly a magnificent and complex piece of literature.
But the Bible is also a bed-rock of our faith and has given enlightenment, strength, comfort and understanding to generations of its readers. Sadly, It has also been used to engender hatred, it still is. It has been used as a weapon to beat and scare people into submission and obedience and an excuse for bigotry and hatefulness.
I believe that to some extent it is true that what folk find in the Bible depends on their spiritual and emotional development. curmudgeonly people are likely to interpret what they read in a stingy and gloomy way – because that’s the way they do life. Thankful people will always find something in the Bible to give thanks for – because that’s how they are.
So the Bible should, for a variety reasons, be approached with reverence, care and with intelligent thought.
On this Bible Sunday we are given a passage from the book of Nehemiah, which tells of the restoration of Jerusalem after the return of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon The people are brought together to hear a public reading of the Law of Moses. Our passage tells us that the scribe Ezra opened the book; well, of course it wasn’t a book, books were not about for six hundred years. Ezra would have unrolled a scroll, which would have contained the Law, part of the Pentateuch, as we know it, contained in the first five books of the Bible.
It was great occasion. It would surely have had the effect of re-creating and drawing together the people brought into being and sustained by the God of Israel. No wonder the reading was greeted with tears. For the Jews then and now, the writings of the Law and the prophets is the Word of God
So it is for Christians, you may say; but is it? We may call the Bible the word of God, but the only Word of God unequivocally endorsed in the Bible’s pages is Christ, the eternal Logos, the eternal Word. St. John’s gospel starts, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and then later, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
For Christians, the Word is not a book but the living Word, Christ himself.
Jesus spoke some words, many words, and some of them are recorded for us in the gospels; today’s gospel reading has Jesus saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” But what we have in the Bible is apparently not all there is to say. In John’s gospel we hear Jesus telling his disciples, “There is still much that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However , when he comes who is the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will tell only what he hears …”
And so today we continue to receive the Word of God in so many ways, Christ, the living Word, speaks to us today through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, certainly through reading the Bible.
But I wonder how you first responded to the Word of God? Through reading the Bible, or was it through the faith of family or friends, or the local church congregation. I really came to faith because of an inspired preaching of the vicar of church of a church I attended, who used to talk about the oomph of the Holy Spirit, as he slapped the pulpit and woke us all up.
Some people will speak of a direct experience of God through a personal or spiritual crisis; or in the breaking in of a divine sense of beauty, or of overpowering love. Or in hearing a beautiful piece of music, sacred or otherwise.
The Spirit blows where it wills to show us Christ, the Word of God, through the Bible and in many other ways. The Word is not locked up in a book, whether the King James’ version or any other. It is vibrant living presence and we can expect to be moved and inspired when we read that Word in the Bible, hear it preached, sing about it about or see it lived in the lives of our fellow women and men.
I think the Bible is to be seen as a tool, to be used, not treated as a divine object. A tool to help us fathom the meaning of it all. To seek the Truth and to learn to live in love with God, one another and the world.
I use several translations of the Bible, yes, including King James’s – I was given one at my ordination. But the modern translation of the Bible I use mostly is held together with sellotape, because it is somewhat dilapidated after forty years of use of everyday use.
My take on the Bible might be demonstrated by an incident that occurred during the time I was living in a Kibbutz in Israel many years ago.
My companion and I had made friends with a young Jewish student from the USA. She was horrified one day because my copy of the Bible was laid was on the floor. It was there as I had been sitting on my bed reading it and furniture was sparse in our accommodation . There seemed to me no disrespect since I was using it for the purpose I had it for – receiving the word of God. However, since the Christian Bible does contain the |Jewish scriptures I made sure is was placed above floor level for the rest of my stay in the Kibbutz out of respect for the young lady’s faith.
So let’s treasure the gift we have in the Bible, may we be guided by the Holy Spirit in out reading of it, or hearing it proclaimed in speech of in song. And perhaps in seeking to understand what we are reading it we might try using the Bible Reading Fellowship notes available in this church.
And let’s be alert to the Word of God in whatever way he is revealed to us by the Spirit. That our lives might be a witness to love of God given to us in the life of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.
I’ll close with words from the passage from the letter to the Colossians set for today’s epistle:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Sermon for Bible Sunday preached by Canon Peter Gilks
Trying to deliver a sermon on the Bible is a bit like trying to write an appreciation of world history, there’s just so much you could say, and so many books have been written that to attempt to say anything useful in just 10 minutes is just a bit ambitious. There’s a whole series of talks one could give about how it came to be written, how we use it, how we interpret it, the field is endless!
So I’m going to have to be a bit less ambitious and just talk about structure and inspiration.
One of my college lecturers used to illustrate Biblical lectures with a box of chocolates; partly because it was in two layers- representing OT and NT, but also that all the chocolates were in a tray, distinct from each other, each serving their purpose. The books of OT were written individually, each with its own target audience. When it came to NT (bottom layer, not to be dipped into before you had eaten the top layer) the books were again written independently, although with a few borrowings here and there.
You cannot approach the bible as if the whole thing were a novel, each book has its own history, its own authorship and its own purpose; they are distinct from one another, although there are connections.
The books were written for a readership which is not us, although we can learn and profit from their words. They were written to a culture that is not ours, but still contain words of wisdom that in some cases are ageless.
To know the Old Testament is to better understand Jesus, and to better understand the New Testament. If you only read the NT, you will have missed so much, and to have a working knowledge of the OT helps us make sense of the world into which Jesus came, and therefore comprehend how powerful his message was to the people who heard him.
The part of the Bible which is often forgotten is the Apocrypha, a section that was written in Greek and therefore a bit suspect to the collators. I am always sorry that we don’t use this more than we do, because the Book of Maccabees talks of events that were only about 150 years before Jesus lifetime. Although it makes rather grisly reading in a few places, it does help us get an idea of the mindset of a people who had been occupied, then had revolted successfully and against all the odds, gained a measure of independence, but then within another 50-100 years they had seen their liberators become their oppressors. It helps you understand the tension in the time of Jesus, the nationalist hopes he was to trigger, and so comprehend the rage and disappointment that he wasn’t quite that kind of leader.
In our services there are three possible readings, Old Testament to gives the very long view, a reading from the Epistles, which shows the church trying to grapple with the person of Jesus and the impact his gospel was having on their lives, and finally the gospel reading in which we hear the words of Jesus himself, and which are really central to our belonging together because a church is people who belong to him and believe in him.
It is against the person of Jesus that we assess the relative value of parts of the bible; how well do they sit with what we have come to know of Jesus? As the writer Marcus Borg put it – Jesus is the Norm of the bible, the person who we hold as central and so we judge the passages of the bible in the light of our understanding of his character, person and attitude.
So the gospels are particularly formative for us, they are the words and the stories that form our faith, and while Epistles help us unpack the practical application, they are secondary to the stories about the person and the life that he lived.
CS Lewis once commented that in Jesus God gives us a compass not a map. With a map each part of the journey is laid out plainly; all you have to do is follow it exactly and you’ll arrive safe and sound at the expected location, as long as you don’t misread it or hold it upside down. A compass on the other hand tells you which direction to travel, it doesn’t lay out the journey, doesn’t even tell you what to expect to find along the way; it doesn’t (unlike a sta-nav) even tell you when you’ve got there. But a compass keeps you going in the right direction, and importantly helps you get back on track when you’ve got lost.
The bible for us is less like a map but more like a compass. A regular and committed reading of it keeps us going in the right direction, to engage with it regularly helps us in our coming to know the one from whom we hear the words of life, and gives us an opportunity of realigning ourselves when we have made mistakes.
We used to live not far from Salisbury, and one of the houses with a blue plaque in the Cathedral Close shows that Richard Hooker lived there; and Richard Hooker is one of those people who helped shape the Anglican church in ways that have lasted for centuries. He taught that the church finds its way forward in the world by the joint and equal use of scripture, reason and tradition. This is very important for what makes us the church we are and goes a long way to explaining why Anglicanism just feels different in the way we go about things.
Not all churches have this way of being, but as Anglicans we look to scripture, but then also look at how the church has acted in the past, and then balance that with working out what we think now, and taking these three things together helps us to get a way forward that will work for today.
So, for example, with the debate on women in ministry all those years ago, we found that scripture alone gave us mixed messages, and church history told us it have never been done before, but the use of our rational selves when held together with those other two factors led us to understand that a change was appropriate and timely.
So the Bible is one factor in our decisions, but it is not the only one or even the overwhelming one. We balance it with Church tradition and the use of our God-given critical faculties in shaping our decisions and our beliefs.
And is it true? Well, as someone one wittily said – it is all true and a lot of it may even have happened. The bible is not Hansard, nor is it a workshop manual, it is gospel, letter, dream, archive, epic history, story, proverbs, poetry, songs, legislation, and a bit of love poetry thrown in. There’s quite a lot of war and a fair bit of sex; there’s heroes and anti-heroes, saints and sinners.
It documents the life of a people over more than 2000 years, and in the middle of this we see God acting, loving, provoking, despairing, revealing himself and hiding himself, agonizing along with his people and loving them to the end.
So as today’s collect reminded us………
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.