This is a transcript from the February 17, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
This morning I want to talk about this series Reasons To Believe, and talk about the Bible. We just sang a song, Jesus loves me this I know. Why? Because the Bible tells me so. That is how we know about God. That is how we know that Jesus loves us. That is how we function. It is also something that increasingly over the years more and more people feel like they have to cross their fingers behind their back when they say that, "That the Bible tells me so."
It's not that they doubt that Jesus loves them.
It is, "How do I understand and read the Bible today?" In the midst of today, in the midst of with all the things that are going on, in the midst of the anachronisms that are in the Bible. In the midst of things that just aren't true, how do I say that this is God's word?
In the midst of this series of Reason To Believe, I knew that when we got to this one that this was probably going to be one of the two or three of the hardest ones to turn a corner on, one of the hardest things to get our mind around because this is one of those things that we have fret over for years and years and years. We have made the Bible a battleground rather than a gathering place.
It's one of the reasons I decided to do a Q&A after each service. Today, you may want to stick around because I'm likely to say some things that either will pique your interest, or maybe even be dissonant to what you've done before. I think it's important because as we move forward, as we try to talk about, "How do we believe and why is there a reason to believe?" I think it's important to wrestle with these things honestly.
It's important to say, as we read the Bible, "How do I read the Bible when I don't believe that the account in Genesis is a good count anymore?" It's not scientific to say that the world was created in seven days. Yet there are some places you will go where they will say, "If you don't believe that, then you don't believe the Bible. If it's not true there, the whole things untrue."
When the Bible tells stories like Jonah and the Whale, and you go and you scratch your head and you think, "Well, good grief. That can't really be true, right?" Then there are people who still today would write books and write sermons and do whole classes around why it has to be true, because if that part isn't true then the whole thing is false. There are parts in the Bible where you read in Ephesians 5 and 6, for instance, in the New Testament, "Wives obey your husbands?" We think, "Well, that seemed a little out of date."
"Slaves obey your masters." Well, that just seems obscene. How am I supposed to read the Bible, and how am I supposed to read it in such a way that it still makes sense and it still informs my faith that I still get something out of it. Without it somehow-- I mean to just cross my fingers behind my back and say, "Well, there's some parts I just don't quite get."
That's what I want to do today. We're going to tackle all that in the next few minutes. That should be pretty simple, right?
As with the whole series, my point is not to prove anything to you. I'm not trying to prove that my way of thinking about this is the right way. I wanted to actually just point away through this. Here's how I put this together. The whole point of this series is not to prove or disprove something. It is to say, "Here's how I make sense of this and to the degree that it makes sense I commend it to you."
The first thing is probably going to be, catch your attention on this one. It's meant to when I say, Here's one way...
Don't let the Bible get in the way of the word of God.
What do I mean by that for crying out loud? What I mean by that is that there is the Bible that we have and then there is the word of God. They're not necessarily one and the same. In fact, we know they are. We know that because the Bible tells me so. It tells me so in the book of John 1, "In the beginning was the word."
Before there were words, before there were scriptures there was the word. "The word was with God and the word was God." It is a Greek word Logos. It is a Greek word that stands for essence soul. It has to do with the expression. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about one of the interpretations. It has to do with the word wisdom. There is this logic, this wisdom. It was not only with God. It was God. It was before any words were even uttered.
Then 13 verses later it says, "And that word became flesh and dwelt among us." That word is Christ. Do you want to know what the word of God is? According to the Bible, it's not the words on the page, it is, first and foremost, ultimately it is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the word. Jesus Christ is the clearest expression of who God is. Jesus said so. "If you want to know God, look at me," He said. "The Father and I are one." "Do you want to know what the Father is saying? Listen to me. My words are his words."
Sometimes, we go and we say, but all these other words about it, yes, those are important, but they are important only as they point to Christ. How do we know that? The Bible tells us so. In Matthew 28, the final words of Jesus was given to his disciples. He says, "All authority on heaven and on earth belong to me."
To hear some people talk about it, they would say that, "All authority on heaven and on earth," Jesus is saying what some of you were going to write about me a few years from now. That's not what He said. When we talk about the authority, "All authority on heaven and on earth is mine," Jesus says. "All that stuff that you're going to write, some of you, about me in the years to come is authoritative as it points to me."
That's why the Bible becomes authoritative. That's why, by the way, we can read the words of the Old Testament and say, "You know that stuff about Kosher laws? That was so important that could get you ostracized." We can ignore them. Why? Because we don't believe it points to Christ in a way that it did in the Old Testament. We can even say things like in the Ten Commandments. We see those differently only as they point to Christ.
Why don't we keep the Sabbath the way that it was meant to be kept, and that you could get stoned and thrown out of the community for? Why don't we do that on Saturdays? Because Jesus rose on Sunday. The place of rest and the place of gathering is not a day now, it is in the event. It is authoritative as it points to Christ. This is where Jesus got in trouble all the time, where the Pharisees and the Sadducees would say, "Here are the words of scripture."
He would say, "Yes, but let me tell you what they really mean. This is how we're going to move forward." The battle that Jesus had back then was to fill out the words of the Bible, the scriptures, the Old Testament, they got in the way of the word. The first thing we have to do is to establish that, what do we mean when we read the Bible? The Bible is authoritative as it points to Jesus. When we ordain elders, deacons and ministers we ask them a couple of questions.
The first question is, "Is Jesus your Lord and savior?" The second question is this one,
"Do you accept the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments be, by the Holy Spirit, unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ? Do you believe they point to Jesus Christ? As they do, will they also be God's word to you?"
This may seem strange to you, but we do this all the time. This is just what the church has done throughout time.
There are times when we decide and people want to make a battle over it. They decide, "No, it has to be this word and this word. They're all literally true and they're all equally true." That may make sense in some logical system, but it doesn't make sense into the Bible and it doesn't make sense to what Jesus is saying. I know some people think that this is sloppy liberal thinking. I will just point you to C.S. Lewis that flaming liberal, who gives voice to what the church has always said at it's best when he says, "It's Christ himself and not the Bible who's the true word of God." The Bible read in the right spirit and guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of an encyclopedia out of which text can be taken for use as weapons. How many times have we had people take the text of the Bible, the words of the Bible and use them as weapons to clobber one another, to ostracize one another, to hurt one another?
How much different it would be if we said, "You know what, it's Christ that's the word of God." It's authoritative. Anything we read, anything we do stands only to the degree to which it points to the authority of Christ in our lives. When it comes to creation stories, sure. It is of no matter or merit to me whether a person wants to believe that the world was created in seven days, literal days or not. It doesn't really change me. I don't lose sleep over that.
There's really something else that's going on that really isn't trying to argue with science that hadn't been invented yet. It's arguing with and standing in contrast to the stories, the assumed and accepted stories of how the world came to be of its day.
Which was the world came to be through violence and power. As opposed to that there's this word that comes in and God speaks and out of this creative, and beauty, and love, and meaning, there's two narratives for why this world is where it is, and there still are and we know that. We know that because of who Christ is. We don't let the Bible get in the way of the word. Which gets us to the second part, as when we read scriptures like Genesis,
we let the Bible say what it's trying to say
not what we want it to say.
You and I live in a day where we have decided this is what's true and what's not true. It has to look like this and it can't look like that. We have a Bible and we think it has to be verifiable fact because that's the only kind of truth. I hear people and they say, "The Bible was, every word in there was dictated by God," but that's not what the Bible says. That's what the Book of Mormon says, by the way. That's how the Book of Mormon is reputed to be true because it was dictated and written down, but that's not the Bible.
Neither did it come all at once. Neither did it come just down to us complete in this form, as if people didn't need to be involved with it. That'd be the Quran, because that's how the Quran came. Supposedly, it came complete. It didn't need anybody to interpret. It didn't come through any human experience. It just came. We get in trouble when we think that the Bible of the Old and New Testament, the Jewish and the Christian scriptures are the same. The Jewish and Christian scriptures did not come that way.
They came through the God-breathed word. Our passage today talks about all scripture is inspired as God-breathed. It's the same word, by the way, the same phrase that has to do with you and me. You and I, as humans we are God-breathed. That's how we become human. It doesn't mean we're perfect. In fact, it is in the variations of who we are and how we live our lives that God is known.
It is through the variations of language that the presence of God is found in the language but the language doesn't contain it. How could it? How could human language contain all the things about God? The language becomes the place where we encounter and we don't have to worry about whether or not it matches up to what we think it has to be. In the 21st century, the 20th century we have this idea of what scripture has to look like in order to be true, but that's us.
That's not what the Bible's worried about. The Bible's worried about trying to convey truth in the ways that it conveyed truth. Because of that, it often comes through people and not just through verifiable data that we would call science. Then it comes through things like revelation it comes through things like dreams, it comes through things like metaphor, like symbol, like story, because that's how it conveys the truth.
When it comes to reading the book of Jonah, it's possible, if you would like to, if you want to read the Bible in such a way that is literal and that there's this big fish that swallows Jonah you may want to double down on because if it's not true then the whole thing's not true. 100 years ago almost now, when they were doing the trial, the Scopes Monkey Trial around evolution and William Jennings Bryan was quizzed on this, "Do you really believe that there is a fish God created, this fish to swallow up a human?"
He said, "Not only that, I believe that the Bible told me so that." Okay, if you want to do that that's fine. I'm not trying to disprove that but I would also say don't miss the deeper point of Jonah. That Jonah is a word that stands for dove. Dove is a word which is the symbol of Israel. Jonah was swallowed not so much by a big fish, Jonah was swallowed by his own anger and his fear and his resentment.
The very people that are in this story, this isn't so much about the science of a fish. This is about a big God. It is more satire than it is science, as it's pointing to a people whose very existence depends upon the grace of God, and the one thing that Jonah the nation of Israel at that time was being chastised for was because they were angry about the grace of God extending to other people.
That's what the Bible tells me and that's what the Bible is open for because that's how the Bible becomes, as our passage says, inspired, God-breathed. It's useful not for science, not for beating somebody up. It's useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction. It's useful for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient and equipped for every good work.
What I want to do right now is pause I want to just ask you where are you being encouraged, nudged? Where are you needing God's good work and being equipped? If all we do is keep this in our brains, if all this does is become just this intellectual, conceptual sermon, there may be a place for it, but it doesn't do what Scripture is supposed to do.
One more thing, one more thing in all this because the first two weren't confusing enough.
I want to say this, how do we read the Bible, and how do I find my way through? Here's the things that I have found. One is, don't let the Bible get in the way of the word. The word, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the template as the truest revelation of God. The words have authority.
Second, try to let the Bible say what it is trying to say not what we needed to say or want it to say in the form that we think it should be. The third thing is this, the third thing is that
the Bible isn't meant to establish what was
but point to what will be.
What do I mean by that? Ephesians 5 and six. Sometimes we get to talking about Ephesians 5 and people go, "Oh, you're gonna go there?" Well, of course, we're going to go there. Why wouldn't you go there?
I think for a long time, people felt like they had to cross their fingers and walk around that way, but that's only if we believe that that passage is trying to establish something that was going on, rather than pointing to the future, what is yet to be. What I mean by that is this. In Ephesians 5, it says, it does say, "No matter how you parse the words, wives, obey your husband." It also says, "Slaves, obey your master." It also says, "Children obey your parents." Most of us go, "Well, at least one out of three."
What's Paul saying in this? Paul doesn't need to say those things. Those are already the law, by the way. Paul doesn't need to say what everybody else has already been saying that slaves have to obey their masters, that wives have to obey their husbands, and children have to-- That's not what Paul is saying. What Paul is saying that's new is saying, "And by the way, husbands be subject to your wives. Parents, don't antagonize your children, and masters you have the same-- you have to subject yourself to your slaves as you would to Christ."
Ah, that's pretty revolutionary. What Paul is doing is not establishing an order, he's informing an order that's already there. He's informing the structure of power that says, there's this hierarchical world and if you have the overdog and you're the underdog, there's already tons of laws about what the underdog has to do. Paul is flipping this around saying, "By the way, you know what? You are subject to Christ, you do what you are doing as if to Christ." He's informing what's already there.
Then once in a while, when he's not talking about a specific situation, he's able to step back and take and point to what is yet to be. When he says in Galatians, he says, "Listen, there is no longer any Jew or Greek, in Christ there is no longer any slave or free, there is no longer any male or female, all of you are one in Christ." That is him pointing to the future. When he's pointing to what is, he's informing it in light of Christ and then he gets to step back and say, “Let me tell you where this is going.”
Paul understands that the systems are there and we can argue and say, "Why didn't they catch it sooner? Why didn't they understand that slavery was a bad thing 2,000 years before it finally came to be? Why didn't they understand the role of women in the equality? Why didn't they do that then?" We can have that argument but we'd be missing the point, because what this points to and what this ask the question of, the real question is not why were they so slow back then to catch it but why are we?
What will people 100 years from now point back to today and say, "Why didn't they catch it? Why didn't they get on top of that? Why were they so slow?" We will be slow as long as we keep thinking the whole point of Scripture is to point back to a unique piece of time and say, "That's it, that's how it should be now and forever," as if Paul is establishing an order, rather than Paul is informing it in light of what is yet to be in pointing forward.
Last week I got to have some time with our new confirmation class. The great process that goes on here, it's really wonderful where youths are teamed up with adults. They go through the book of Luke together, they go to different churches together. They talk about faith, they share. I shared that, "I think the great challenge is not just looking back to what was but what is yet to be."
It was about 50 years ago, 60 years ago now. It was called the Confession of 1967, and the Presbyterian Church at that point was saying, "What does God have for us today?" It's not enough just to recite the Creeds of the past. What does it mean to believe today in America in the 20th Century?" I said, “What they came up with is if we're going to be relevant, if we’re going to follow Christ, if we are going to be on that same trajectory they identified four things.
They said, “We had better be speaking into the issues of our day.”
The issues of our day in the '60s was poverty, sexuality, war, and race. Thank goodness we got those ticked off, right? I said “Today, what do you think are the issues we had better be addressing?” Because under all of those issues was this umbrella of the word out of the Bible that points us forward as the word of reconciliation.
That the overarching aching need of this nation in this world it has to do with the alienation that is upon us, and how we need to be reconciled one to another as ambassadors of reconciliation. That's what the Bible tells us. Obviously we said, “Well, those four are still there.” They added environment and the way we relate to the world. They added a couple of more things, and I was stepping back and I was thinking, sometimes, we, as adults like to point to those youths and say, “Ah, this world is in trouble.”
I could just tell you, if that Confirmation class is any indication, we're the ones slowing them down. They get it. I have great hope, I have great hope for where this church is going and what it means to be a Christian if those youths are any indication. I think they set the pace for adults because they catch it that the point is not just the date that Christ was crucified and resurrected 2,000 years ago.
It has to do with the ongoing work as Christ is unfolding and becoming apparent today and the challenge is not to go backwards but also to point forwards. It's easy enough to just point back to the bible time to say, "Why didn't they get it? Why were they so slow?" The real challenge is why are we, and what is pointing for us, where is Christ pointing us? Where does it mean for us to move forward? Because this is the future that Christ is pointing us to.
In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, in Christ there is no male or female. In Christ we are all one, and I know that because the bible tells me so. The bible points me to what is yet to be done and invites us to come along. We do that when we worship, we do that when we worship with songs like today, music like today. When music crossing language boundaries and in different ways to talk about God in the ways that we are one.
We do that as we will do next week as we offer and invest in the work of people we don't even know in Zimbabwe. That's pointing us forward and so is our last song this morning. Our last song is about marching forward, marching in the light of God. I would invite you to stand and sing this together as a way we go out, because this is where God is pointing us. The bible tells us so.