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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