Bible Sunday - The Importance of the Bible in our Lives...
A man in Kansas City was severely injured in an explosion. The victim's face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He was a new Christian, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille. Much to his dismay, however, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion. One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash he thought, I can read the Bible using my tongue. I read that the man had "read" through the entire Bible four times. What an amazing achievement.
Today is Bible Sunday and it is very important to understand why the Bible is so very important in our lives. The Bible is not just some musty old book that you can just ignore because it was written ages ago. It is the Word of God, written down by people who were inspired by him.
We often refer to the Bible as the ‘book of books’, and so it is – probably the most influential collection of literature in the world’s history. But it is also literally a book of books – 66 in all, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Greek phrase from which we derive our word Bible is ta biblia, literally ‘the books’. They were composed over an extensive period of time. Probably the earliest composition in the Old Testament, the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, may date from the 12th century BC (four to five centuries earlier than Homer) and the latest is the book of Daniel from the 2nd century BC, making a total span of 1000 years. And when we add in the books of the New Testament, virtually all composed in the first Christian century or so, we extend this to as much as twelve hundred years – nearly twice as long as the entire span of the writing of English literature, from Chaucer to the present day.
The texts are about us and our lives, even though they are thousands of years old. Every time that you read the Bible, God can speak to you and touch you in a new way. The Bible’s most important message is God’s love for every person, including you and me.
On Bible Sunday, we give thanks for the bible, the word of God. The bible is a most fantastic gift to us. It is the word of God, it’s the written word of God, the inspired word of God, through which we come to encounter the living word of God, Jesus Christ.
The scriptures are so rich, that it’s very difficult for us not to underestimate them, however highly we regard them. They’re not just the text on the page, they are, as we have been reminded often, living and active. The word of God is living and active, ‘sharper than any two edged sword’, as the bible itself puts it.
And the way in which we should relate to them, is not as we would to a text, but as to a person. We’re called to develop a relationship with the scriptures. And what we need to do, is ‘let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.’
How do we do that?
The great New Testament scholar, Bishop Tom Wright, has suggested that the Christian life can be compared to taking part in an unfinished Shakespeare play. He asks us to imagine that there exists such a play whose fifth act has been lost. The first four acts provide great deal of characterisation and such excitement within the plot that it is generally agreed that the play should be staged. However, rather than leaving everyone guessing after the fourth act or asking someone to write a fifth act, it is decided to give the key parts to expert actors who would be told to immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and then work out the last act by themselves, to improvise it. This is the manner, Bishop Wright tells us, in which we might approach the Christian life. We have the scriptures and we have the Christian tradition and we have reason. Anglicanism is sometimes said to rest on the three pillars of scripture, tradition and reason. I prefer to think of it as our faith resting on the living word of God as interpreted through the Christian tradition and by our reason – it’s a sort of dynamic relationship.
Anyway, the scriptures and tradition will not necessarily tell us exactly what we ought to do in any given instance, but they will be the bedrock upon which we are called to improvise. This improvisation will be both conscious and unconscious since some of the most important moral decisions we make are ones about which we don’t have to stop and think. For example, if someone is run over on the road outside we don’t sit down to think about whether we should help them – we just run out to do what we can.
Shouldn’t ethics,(i.e) doing what’s right and wrong, be concerned with laying down clear guidelines about what is right and what is wrong, you might ask? There is a place for this, as the Ten Commandments make clear, but not every eventuality will be covered by the commandments in a straightforward manner. We should remember, too, that Jesus himself, as well as telling stories and allowing people to draw their own conclusions from them, was forever asking questions and hardly ever answered them.
In the gospels he asks three hundred and seven questions. Jesus is also asked one hundred and eighty-three questions himself, directly or indirectly and only answers three of them straightforwardly. To the others he either gives no response, changes the subject, asks another question, tells a story or says that it is the wrong question. The only thing on which he concentrates insistently is the goodness and reliability of God. And perhaps that’s what we need to do, concentrate on the goodness and reliability of God.
Because that, of course, is what the scriptures are for, first and foremost. They are about God, and about God as revealed in Jesus; about his goodness and his reliability. So that’s where we need to start and maybe that’s where we need to finish as well. And in the meantime, we need to improvise on how to lead our lives, using the living word of God as our guide.
I have to say that reading the bible is not always without its challenges – there are bits that are difficult or a bit boring or hard to understand. But we are not living an underground faith – there are thousands of resources out there to help us read our bibles regularly and to help us understand them. We can read them in groups and discuss the meaning, we can use bible notes, there are many online resources to guide us and help us. The only thing we need to provide is the decision.
We can even read the bible now online through our computers, our mobiles and even listen to them. But for me, it is the actual book which is important as I like to physically hold it in my arms and read it.
Did you know that it is possible to read the whole bible in a year taking about 20 minutes a day? You can even get special bibles in one year that give us a chunk of old testament, new testament, proverbs or psalm every day so all the hard work is done for you. You only need to decide to do it and you can do it.
Of course this does not mean that you can only be a good Christian if you read your bible regularly. Far from it. I know some people who can quote chapter and verse and yet seem to miss the heart of the faith and I have known others who are barely literate but who really live it.
A faith that consists only of words is powerless and we are privileged to be able to encounter God not only between the covers of a book but also in our hearts by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and in the sharing of our sacraments. But that is not to downplay the importance of the gift that God gives us in his written word – I would love everyone here to re-approach the bible like the Israelites hearing it again for the first time in generations and be prepared to receive that word with tears of joy and repentance and with a heart quickened by a deepening of your relationship with God.
The Bible is one of God’s gifts to us – rediscover it, enter into it, and learn to feed daily on every word that comes from the mouth of God.