The Bible: A new context and a new outcome
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
24 October 2010, 10:30 (Bible SUnday)
Today is Bible Sunday – but what on earth can that have to do with our lives and the news which dominates it?
Last week our minds had focused on the darkness of the Chilean mine; this week a different kind of darkness has overshadowed the news in this land: the government’s spending review and the cuts which everyone is talking about.
Alongside this, lives continue to be lost in Afghanistan and poverty, injustice and pain are just as real and universal.
But is there an answer?
And can religious faith provide it or is it a distraction, some sort of reality denying fantasy of make believe?
Well that is what millions of people today really do think about religion.
And as for the Bible, all they know is that it is for them utterly irrelevant – a book or books closed, ancient, incomprehensible and worst of all of no use or importance to lives lived in 2010.
So why do some of us listen to the Bible and found our lives on its teaching and proclamation?
Because the bible is a radical, unique revelation that engages with every age and generation of humanity and provides a perspective and a story that remakes the past, the present and the future in an extraordinary and exciting way.
Whoever we may be, the Bible enables us to see and know more clearly than anything else that we can rely on.
Now that is some claim.
And that is also why I asked you to put down your service sheets before the reading of the Gospel - so as to give it your complete and undivided attention as a hearer.
When Jesus spoke to the people around him they did not follow what he said in a book but engaged with him in an encounter in which they played a significant part.
The Gospel isn’t mere words, it is relationship: and it is good news because God listens to us and speaks to us in a dynamic way.
The life of faith into which we are invited is a drama and a dimension in which all our certainties and assumptions are transformed.
As we gather in worship today we enter God’s story, his sacred space and time, and this enables us to see our lives and the world anew within the context of his life and love.
Yes, the Bible takes us on a journey in the present moment, and the stories it tells from the past are an inherent part of what it is to be human and free because we are made in the image of God.
So, the Bible is so much more than a collection of 66 ancient books of great variety and uneven power.
It may be a book we can put on a bookshelf and forget.
Some may see it only as an instruction manual – as some kind of wisdom and guide to help contemporary humanity live a better life.
But the Bible offers something quite different from our natural self-centred and self-obsessed understanding and perspective.
The Bible offers a new language in which God re-orientates our lives and engages us as inheritors of eternity.
This new language is a real challenge.
Just think of how it feels to live in a land where you do not speak the language.
Everything is a struggle and it is so hard to be yourself without the language to express character, experience, history and identity.
In a foreign land without the lingua franca we are diminished and reduced often to silence and we become turned in on our ourselves.
So too with the Bible but it is more than just a language, it is another dimension, God’s dimension in our world and it invites us to see ourselves in its pages.
The Bible is not about other people: it is about you and me.
But it has to be read and listened to; it has to be learnt and valued as the key to unlocking all the languages of humankind.
It does not offer an easy and simple answer to the mystery of pain and suffering that afflicts the human condition but it does address it and goes further to say that God himself shares in it and ultimately conquers and redeems it.
And for God there are no barriers save that of our wilfulness. Time is merely a dimension of relativity.
In fact, time as we know it is telescoped and bridged so that we in 2010 are participants in the Bible. Now how can this possibly be?
Well, history and our sense of meaning and interpretation in time actually come from Judaism and the Bible’s perspective.
In the ancient world people saw life as cyclical and god or gods as geographic living on a mountain like Olympus or just ‘out there’. By contrast, Judaism uniquely saw human events unfolding in time as the locomotive of God’s revelation.
That is what the Bible is about: God revealing his presence and his purposes in time and fulfilling them there and leading humanity beyond mortality and the restraints and limitations of our creatureliness through death into a greater dimension which we have called eternity.
History as a quasi ‘science’ full of ‘objective’ facts is a 19th century development: up until then the stories that gave meaning to individuals, families, tribes, dynasties, princedoms, nations and so on were always a narrative based on victory and a prevailing regime’s dominance.
But history is in fact never neutral or impartial and there is no objective interpretation or viewpoint. In history you literally pay your money and take your choice.
Certainly the tools of science and technology can be brought to bear on description and analysis but that is not history.
History is synthesis: bringing people and events together in a pattern of value and interpretation that brings meaning and insight to those who hear it or read it.
It is never exhaustive or complete; it can never claim to be the whole truth.
Just recently another extraordinary bit of scientific history came to light: scientists have discovered the most distant galaxy yet observed from Earth.
The galaxy is so far away that we are observing light 13.1 billion years old. When the light photons detected by astronomers began their journey, the universe was only 4% of its present age.
That shows you how time puts us in our place and how our point of view and our understanding of the creation around us is so small and partial.
But as a society we rely much more on the supposed certitudes of modern learning than on the Bible’s perspective of truth and revelation. We think the Bible primitive and incredible: its message and information just doesn’t make sense to our 21st century minds.
And so we have to risk and to change; only then we can we walk into the Biblical dimension of living by faith.
In the Gospel passage from St Luke this morning this is precisely what Jesus invites us to do.
Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah in his local synagogue. The passage speaks of the Messiah, God’s
anointed one and he says: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Here is the challenge made by God: can you accept this relationship that the Bible people have struggled to understand and at the same yearned for over thousands of years?
Everything we know and enjoy and fear is now put in a new context with a new outcome: God’s freedom is met and fulfilled in Jesus.
And all that we know and dread most: wars, pain, insecurity, poverty, tyranny – all these and more have been conquered by what Jesus has done and we have all been set free.
Jesus is unequivocal as to what the divine freedom does – it brings:
release for the captives;
sight for the blind and
freedom for the oppressed.
We hear a lot about fairness in the debate about the cuts but the biblical justice of God is quite other.
God isn’t fair in our relative way: God is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed.
God’s kingdom has a moral vitality and urgency that we must live.
Yes, we have to make the Bible live - it is your responsibility and mine: it is the most exciting way to live and we need to share this adventure with the world.
Here are stories and narrative not made up by us to explain ourselves and make us important and the prime focus of the universe and beyond.
No, here is a story that love lies at the centre of the universe and must lie at the centre of our lives. Thank God that he shares this truth in Jesus and in the Bible.