24 October 2009

Sermon for Bible Sunday - How we use the Bible

Isaiah 55 1-11 [12 -13]

Today is Bible Sunday – the day set aside in the Church’s calendar to give thanks for the Bible and for our access to it. If I’m honest, I sometimes wonder how many people outside of the Church know the Bible, or even just a few Bible stories? It’s often said that the Bible is widely owned, but not very widely read; I wonder if it is even widely owned these days?

But – like most things – I suppose it rather depends how you look at it! If I asked those of you still at school if you use the Bible in school, I wonder what sort of answer I’d get?

The school where I am a governor isn’t a Church school and (as far as I know) they don’t use the Bible much, if at all. But I do know that the school teaches the values and principles that I understand the Bible to be about!

· The children are taught to respect other people and to respect themselves.
· They are encouraged to live as part of a caring community where everyone matters,
· and to be the best they can be.

· The Bible isn’t obvious there, but Bible-living is!

And the Bible is familiar to us in other ways too, outside of it’s obvious use in our Church worship. There are all sorts of phrases which are part of our daily language and which originate in the Bible.

A few examples:

· In football every year, the FA Cup features “giant-killers” in “David and Goliath” matches;

· you often hear talk of an “Exodus”;

· people are sometimes said to have had a “Damascus-road experience”, when, like St Paul, they change their outlook completely.

Can you think of any others? …

See if you can notice them in the week ahead.

I thought there were some very familiar phrases in our reading from Isaiah 55 this morning. Did you remember any? …

Perhaps the most striking thing about our reading today is the imagery it uses:

· Thirst and hunger being satisfied by rich food;

· the height of the heavens above the earth;

· God’s word like rain and snow, watering the earth and bringing forth growth;

· and of course, those trees of the field clapping their hands in joy!

There is so much in the Bible – it is tremendously rich in so many ways!

And that set me thinking about how we use the Bible – and I’m thinking here more about those of us in the Church, those who follow Jesus.

It seems to me that some people use the Bible like a rule book – and a strict one at that. In a way, you can understand that. There are plenty of rules in there! And God’s people through the ages have rightly attached great importance to (for example) the Ten Commandments.

But I think there is a danger if we use that approach too readily. We can pick out particular verses from the Bible and apply them quite narrowly and rigidly to our lives and situations today. But we risk becoming narrow and rigid people – people who respect the letter of the law, but who completely miss the spirit behind it!

You see, the Bible is so much more than a narrow rule book.

· It’s a broad, expansive, rich story of God’s dealings with his people, from the very earliest times.
· It’s the story of people trying to get to grips with God;
· it’s part of the way God has chosen to reveal himself to us – to make himself known to us.

· Most wonderfully, of course, it tells the story of Jesus and how he came to begin the transformation of the world, and of the lives of ordinary people like us!

One of the other readings set for Bible Sunday is from the 2nd Letter to Timothy, where there’s another very familiar verse:

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

· We do well to use the Bible to teach us, to guide us and on occasion to correct us.

· But because it is indeed inspired by God, it will never be a simple rule book, a dry text just to be learnt and quoted.

· In a very real sense, the Bible is an inspiration, given to us by God to teach us more of Jesus, to teach us more of God himself.

We are so very blessed to have Bibles so easily available to us in this country, and in our own language. Bible Sunday reminds us of those people who are not as fortunate as we are, who do not have access to the scriptures we sometimes take for granted. It’s an opportunity too to support and to give thanks for the Bible Society and their work:

“translating and publishing the Bible in a language people can understand, in a form they can use and at a price they can afford.”

[Quote from Bible Society website]

The Bible is a blessing and an inspiration – but it’s a blessing and an inspiration most of all because it helps us

· to get to know God better

· to know and appreciate and come to trust his wonderful love for us, and for all people;

· so that we may hear again those wonderful words God spoke through Isaiah:

“Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.”


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22 October 2009

The BBC, the BNP and politics as entertainment

This evening, the BBC will allow the leader of Britain's racist, fascist party, the BNP, to appear on its "Question Time" programme. Whilst I appreciate that this is a deeply controversial move, I have tended to agree with those who have argued that the best way to combat this objectionable party is to expose its representatives to public scrutiny. That way - the argument goes - they will be shown in their true light and people will be able to make an informed decision as to whether to vote for them.

I was therefore particularly struck this morning by the comments of Diane Abbott. Ms Abbott is a current Labour MP and the first black woman to be elected to parliament in the UK. Moreover she is an insider in world of BBC political journalism, appearing regularly on the Corporation's "Daily Politics" programme (fronted by arch-Conservative Andrew Neil - hardly a poster-boy for balanced, impartial journalism).

Ms Abbott says that "Question Time" is the wrong platform for the BNP. She goes on (my emphases):

"If you are a black or Asian viewer tonight and you switch on the television and you see Nick Griffin on Question Time - it's not a programme that's going to scrutinise his views, it's not that sort of programme, it's politics as entertainment.

"The first time I went on Question Time was 22 years ago. People were really pleased - they didn't remember what I said but they saw a young black woman on Question Time and they thought 'Now black people are part of the mainstream'. That is the effect the BNP will get tonight, that's what they want from it, that's why they're so thrilled"

Ms Abbott's view deserves serious attention, not least of course because, as a black woman, she understands the issues at stake infinitely better than I ever could.

I suppose one might ask whether the BNP is actually elevated to the British political mainstream by its success in elections, rather than by the appearence of its representatives on the media. But the role of the BBC is more complex than that. By trivialising politics - treating it as entertainment - by directing attention to its own presenters as personalities, and by its relentless cynicism about "mainstream" politicians, the Corporation has done a great deal to create a climate which the loathsome BNP can exploit for its own malicious ends.

Politics as entertainment will not do - especially from a "public service broadcaster", funded by public money. Only mature, informed debate and scrutiny of all parties will serve the public and enhance the life of our diverse community.

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21 October 2009

Welcome home Brett?!

Another story to produce a (this time wry) smile is the request by the mayor of Green Bay, Wisconsin for appropriate ways to mark the "homecoming" of former Packers' great Brett Favre.

Having said (many times) that he would never play for anyone else but the Pack, having said (many times) that he was retiring, Favre is due to QB the Pack's despised rivals the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field in a fortnight.

Two early suggestions are reported on the NFL's website (full story here):

"One suggestion calls for making the world's largest waffle in the shape of No. 4, Favre's jersey number. It's a playful jab at Favre's indecisive approach to retirement.

"One Packers site, cheeseheadtv.com, already has weighed in with a list of suggestions to mark the occasion. Among them: creating a video montage of Favre's interceptions and showing it before the game."

I want to be able to say the Packer Nation responded to Favre's return with class, but the temptation is certainly there ...

"We miss you, Brent!"

I hope the Packers' Defense is preparing its own special welcome!

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You couldn't make up!

Here is a super story about Usain Bolt - Olympic and World Champion sprinter and the fastest man in the world. It seems he is also an accomplished cricketer.

Bolt distinguished himself in a recent charity game in Jamaica, but his innings came to a very unlikely end - he was run out!! (The story is here).

Then there's the story about the new Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, who apparently failed his driving test first time - for going too fast!

His driving instructor says: "He failed his test because he got into racing mode and nipped through a small gap on a notoriously narrow road without blinking an eyelid." (Full story here).

Bolt's run out seems very unlikely, but Button's early oversight rather more predictable!