A day to celebrate the book that is, says the psalmist, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path
One of the four pillars on which Anglican Christianity rests
And – even today – the world's number 1 best seller
But I wonder if, just sometimes, you marvel at that and ask yourself why this collection of ancient writings, dating from times so utterly unlike our own, is still given such power, such credibility in the contemporary Church
Whether you even question its relevance.
Don't panic if you do......you wouldn't be the first – nor will you be the last.
You see, it all depends on how you look at the Bible
At a rather splendid training event I attended on Thursday, someone compared the Bible to a picture frame
When the frame is empty, you simply look through it at what is there....actual historic events – the building of Solomon's Temple, the fall of Babylon, the great Roman census
There's no denying their veracity...things that really happened, preserved for those who came after.
Or you might find a picture inside your frame...a view painted by a particular artist, standing in a particular place, with a particular perspective. Much of the Bible is written with a purpose, be it to offer the good advice of Proverbs, to create a strong national identity through the body of laws in Leviticus or, in the New Testament, to convince readers of an important truth
As John puts it
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That view is inevitably going to be partial and specific...No good looking at a picture of trees and lamenting that it doesn't show the seaside.
It's one view...with one purpose.
But most tellingly, that Bible picture frame might actually contain a mirror....for this is, famously, the book that reads us even as we read it, the book that makes us ever more aware of the reality of who we are.
Think of David, enjoying his relationship with Bathsheba, having got away, quite literally, with murder – but brought to the dock through the story of the rich man who takes the one ewe lamb of his poor neighbour.....
As David listened to the prophet Samuel telling him that story, it was easy for him to see where justice lay – and, at last, to recognise the enormity of his own sin in stealing his neighbour's wife...and realising that God's justice demanded that he should pay for his offence.
In the same way, though perhaps less dramatically, we can find ourselves again and again in the Bible's stories......Are we afraid to be known as Christians? We find ourselves allied with those disciples who forsook Jesus and fled
Are we trying hard to evade God's call on our life? We can team up with reluctant prophet, Jonah, as he takes ship for Joppa, to avoid his mission to Nineveh
Are we always jumping to the wrong conclusions, expecting God to act one way when in truth he is acting another? Simon Peter is our man....jumping in with both feet again and again,
The Bible creates a template against which we can measure ourselves, as we “delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night”
The idea is not that we should learn every word, every line of Scripture but that we should become so aware of it's overall shape that we can match our life to that template.
A good friend, preaching in another place this morning, lent me this image...which takes us right to the heart of what it should mean to read the Bible.
Imagine for a moment that, in a dream, you are attending a theatre and watching a play. The play is reaching the climax when suddenly an actor is taken ill. The director steps forward and invites not just anyone but you to play the role. What could you do? You would have to improvise in the light of all you knew about the play so far – the plot, the characters and perhaps what you had read in the programme about the end. Today, as we give thanks to God for the scriptures, we are reminded that one way to understand the Bible is that through it, God invites us to play our part in his drama, applying all we know of his plans and words to our own often unexpected situations.
If that sounds scary, then take heart.
The Bible DOES need us to live its message. ~It's words live as our lives reflect them, but that message we are called to live can be distilled so that it is straightforward, if not exactly easy, to take our part in the drama
That distillation is there in our gospel today,
This is the Scripture of the Scriptures that trumps everything else
God’s word is quite simply Love, says Jesus.
You are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And no less important, you are to love your fellow human being with the same love you have for yourself. Jesus has given us the key to understanding the Scriptures, interpreting the Bible for our time and all times. It is love, God’s love, our love, everybody’s love. If we keep love in our hearts and lives, we show the true character of God to the world we live in. Love is the fulfilment of everything that God wants to say, the ultimate truth of God’s word. That word of God, God’s word of love, is found above all in Jesus himself, who lived and taught and died a life of love, that the love of God could be a reality for everyone. And in Jesus’ rising from death, God showed that love is the greatest power in the world. This is the beginning and end of the Scriptures: it is on love, human and divine, that the future of the world, God’s world, depends.
Because our God is one who longs to communicate, words are there for God to make himself known to us,.. Each word holds an infinity of meanings, and however much we meditate on each phrase, day and night, there is still more meaning to be discerned, but the overarching meaning is, always, non negotiably, love.
Thus, whenever we approach Scripture it should be with the expectation that we will be changed by the encounter, that the story of those men and women of long ago will become our story…and that, like them, we can be swept up in God's great love story, through which he woos humanity.
That’s our task this Bible Sunday. The Bible is precious, priceless, inspired.
It deserves our best attention for behind the words on the page is the living reality of the Word made flesh.
Let’s, then, join in with the story.
Let’s not be afraid to get things wrong, for errors are part of learning.
The Bible needs us, if it is to have any existence beyond the sterility of the page.
We need the Bible, if we are to gain insights into the ways of God for it is a book that will lead us to God and help us to engage with God in bringing in His kingdom.
It is a gift, to be savoured and celebrated, for it comes laden with the love of God.
Thanks be to God!