Today we begin our series “Taking the Bible Seriously.”
I talked about changing how do we do church last week? So we begin this week by talking about changing how we think about the bible. I remembering Rev Dr Jeffery Kuan’s challenge to us in our Old Testament / New Testament class – to bring the congregations we serve to the level of first year seminary students.
So instead of giving you fish (and interpreting it verse by verse for you), we should be teaching you how fish – which is to interpret the Bible for yourself. This is what Bishop Yvette Flunder mentioned in the class I sat in when I was back in Pacific School of Religion almost 2 weeks ago. We need to teach the people Biblical literacy and theological literacy.
So, after discussing in our staff meeting, we are stretching this series to 8 weeks, and it would be a little different from our usual. Think of it like an 8-week course. I will also be doing majority of the preaching, and Pauline would be covering the rest.
We would give room for engagement / feedback and Q&A at each session.
1. Prepare Our Hearts
2. Open Our Eyes
5. Law & Prophets
How do we read the bible?
How do you read the bible? What attitude do you bring to it? You certainly don’t read it like you read a Harry potter book, or 8 days magazine, or men’s health. You don’t read it like a textbook, or an encyclopedia.
This Bible is a sacred text. But we are often not taught how to read it. It is not just a matter of reading the words. It is also about interpreting the words and what they mean, what they allude to, what they point towards.
How do you approach the Bible? How do you feel when you read the bible?
I realized that I never quite talked about how I approach the bible. I approach the bible joyfully. It was like an adventure, and I would be joyful about the discoveries I make as I read and studied it. I think our approach makes a huge difference. Living Water, I didn’t read the Bible much,
But how can I be joyful when the Bible has so “much” to say about homosexuality? Every one of the clobber passages might as well be a whole book in the Bible back then.
The Bible is supposed to liberate, set us free. It is meant to be life-giving. It is not meant (at least by God) to oppress, dehumanize, take life away from. This is supposed to bring us the good news about God’s love for us, not bad news! That’s what Gospel means – good news!
Jesus says “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly”
How do we find life and find it abundantly in the Bible?
We need to become more biblically and theologically literate, so we would be able to articulate what our faith is, and what the Gospel, the good news really is. Maybe that’s why many of you are hesitant bringing friends to church – we are not at that level of biblical and theological literacy.
Father Bruno, from Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, said in his introduction to Christianity for a group of interfaith facilitators that the Bible is the love story between humankind and God.
Marcus Borg writes in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, that the Christian life is not primarily about believing the right things or even being good. The Christian life is about being in a relationship with God which transforms us into more and more compassionate beings, ‘into the likeness of Christ.’”
In Living the Questions, David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy writes:
“Likewise, having a relationship with the biblical text, a serious relationship that grows and evolves, has the potential to be transformative as well. Such a relationship might be said to have more spiritual and intellectual integrity than performing the mental gymnastics necessary to cling to the notion of the Bible as a literal, perfect document unaffected by human influence.”
So we start this series, just like we start prayer, or worship – we prepare our hearts.
When our hearts are open, and ready, then they can be seedbeds to receive the word that will inspire and transform us.
If we approach the Bible with fear, that if we read it wrongly we would be punished, we would get in trouble, what kind of relationship are we having with God? What kind of relationship are we having with the Bible?
It is with prepared hearts that we can see encounter the Bible.
This is what I have been taught in seminary – and I don’t think it is any different from what folks are taught in Trinity Theological College.
The Council of Hippo in 393 drew up the canon – a collection of texts, which is now the Catholic Bible (which includes the Apocrypha). Bishop Flunder said they made a mistake then. They closed the canon as though God has stopped speaking. And as though Christ has stopped working in the world.
The Bible is a human product that comes of God’s inspiration in the lives of the people who wrote the different books. As a human product, it is flawed. Human bias, prejudice and ignorance seeps into the book. I mean, the Bible does say the world is flat.
Hebrew scripture scholar Harrell Beck used to stir people up with the exclamation: The Bible is not the Word of God – but the Word of God is in the Bible.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We need to be able to find a good lens through which to read and interpret the Bible. What is that lens? That the Bible is an instruction manual? That the Bible has all the answers?
I read the Bible through Christ as the lens. Christ as the one who revealed the depth, breadth and length of God’s love (which is infinite). I read the Bible through love.
It is that love that makes me joyful. It is in that love that I find strength and hope. It is in that love that I find courage. It is that love that pushes me to stand up against injustice. It is that love that makes me weep at the senseless violence and hate that plague our world today.
When I came to the realization that I cannot take the Bible literally if I want to take it seriously was liberating and strangely full of joy. It is as though the shackles of bondage have fallen away, and I am free.
Jesus said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Free to find God in the passages that are life-giving, free to leave behind the passages that are used to dehumanize, oppress and harm me.
In so doing, it opened my eyes to how the Bible has been used to justify so many injustices – other people on the margins who have suffered when the Bible was / is used to justify their oppression.
And I continue to read the Bible joyfully – like an adventure, a deep conversation with spiritual companion with whom I may not always agree with – and it is through this conversation that God reveals God’s heart. There are times I stand corrected, and there are times I know I am vindicated.
Do not be afraid of the Bible. Engage in a conversation with it – not just with the passages that are your favourites, the ones that keep you grounded, the ones that lift you up when you are down – but also with those passages you disagree with. Because in that wrestling, you will emerge with a deeper understanding of God.
Bishop Flunder said she had not, in all her years, preached from the Epistle to Philemon. There is nothing helpful to Black people there. It had been used to justify their slavery and it continues to be painful to them.
Today I read the clobber passages – the six passages that many use to condemn homosexuality – not with dread or fear or sadness.
Today, i feel joy. Because those were the passages that started my serious relationship with the Bible.
May we prepare our hearts – and be joyful to encounter God once again through the Bible, and enter into conversation with the Words about God so we may find Christ, the Word of God.