24 October 2010

Bible Sunday - Scripture, Reason & Tradition

Sun 24 Oct 2010 Bible Sunday
Luke 4 16-24

[A bit of a thumbnail portrait, but in the hope of encouraging people to think a little more deeply.]

I have to admit that I was really pleased when I saw our reading for today – one of the readings set for Bible Sunday. It has to be one of my very favourite Bible passages! It’s a wonderful story – the sort of story we would recognise: Jesus going to the synagogue. And in his own home town too!

• It's interesting that though the Bible was written at least 2,000 years ago – and most of it much longer ago than that – it’s still important to us; it still speaks to us; we still learn things from it.

• Interesting too that there are so many different sorts of writing in the Bible:

[History; stories (parables); rules and instructions; letters; poetry; anything else?]

All different types of writing which help us to understand God better; which describe people getting to grips with God.

I want to think a little about how we use the Bible – how we hear it “speak”.

Throughout the history of the Church of England, people have recognised three ways of understanding God (sometimes called the 3-legged-stool)

• Scripture
• Reason, and
• Tradition

– the Bible – is a very important way in which we understand God: not least, of course, because of what it tells us about Jesus, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection.

But as we’ve seen, there is a lot in the Bible. And different parts of it often say different things.

It’s worth noticing that in our story of Jesus in the synagogue,

• although as Luke says, Jesus reads from scroll of the prophet Isaiah,

• he actually reads from 2 different parts (Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 42),

• and then goes on to teach from them.

By putting these 2 passages together, Jesus described more fully what his life and work were all about. He didn’t just pick one single passage or one single quote, but used different parts of the Bible to teach truths about himself, and about God.

We all have our own favourite passages and stories in the Bible, but especially on Bible Sunday, it’s good to remember that we can always learn from reading more and hearing more of the Bible – it’s an amazing book!

The second leg of the 3-legged-stool is Reason: the God-given ability to think and reflect about things – to grow in our own understanding.

Human beings are always learning more and finding out more! Our son [A] is studying Physics and Chemistry for A-level. Now, I’ve always been interested in science – and especially about anything to do with space [I grew up during the Apollo flights to the Moon]. But I’m learning so much more now. Whenever we watch a TV programme by Stephen Hawking or Brian Cox or Jim Al-Khalili, it always finishes up with [A] getting a pen and paper and trying to explain things to me in more detail! The trouble is, I’m sure I keep on asking him the same questions!

God gave us our minds – and he expects us to use them! And just as we can discover things about the world and the universe around us, we can discover more about the Bible:

when the different books were written,
what kind of people they were written to,
• and the sorts of things people thought and believed about God at the time.

Sometimes we have to read things in the Bible (say for instance about slavery or women)

• remembering the way the world was at the time,
• and most of all remembering what the whole of the Bible, and what Jesus himself shows us about God and his love for all people.

And we can’t expect the Bible to say anything directly about climate change, for example, but we can notice that in the stories in the Bible about creation – which have been told and re-told for thousands of years – people very clearly understood that God wants us to take care of the earth and of all he had created.

So, we’ve talked about the Bible and about our own intelligence as ways of knowing and understanding God better. The third leg of our stool is Tradition.

By tradition we don’t mean the types of seats we have in church or even the different hymns we sing! We mean the things that the Church and Christian people have come to believe and understand over the years about God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we remember our Christian tradition, we learn from people in the past – and also from those in different Christian churches today, in our own country and throughout the world. And we learn from different traditions within the Church of England.

• We remember that, though we ourselves are part of Christian tradition – we are only a part.

• We recognise that no one person, no one church or tradition can completely understand God

• We realise that we need each other and the insights we each can bring to have the fullest possible picture of God, and of God’s purposes for his creation.

As I said at the beginning, that story of Jesus reading from Isaiah is one of my favourite stories in the whole of the Bible.

It’s so wonderful that Jesus was reading and teaching about words which have been passed down, over thousands of years, to us, today.

It’s so dramatic when they all turn to him and he says, very simply, that Isaiah was speaking about him.

But most of all, it’s truly amazing that everything Jesus teaches us about God – both in his words and in his actions – speaks of love and freedom and fullness of life.

May our Lord Jesus help us to play our part, as the message of the Bible, the message of God’s love is fulfilled.


For Jesus’ use of Isaiah, see Sarah Dylan Breuer here.

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