Sermon from 9/15/13

2 Timothy 3:14-17

My journey with the Bible

This passage stirred me because it was a passage that brought up various memories throughout my life.  I spent some time reflecting on my own journey with the Bible, what it has meant to me and the growing pains I experienced raised as a Christian.

So I thought before telling my own story through my interaction with the Bible as a whole, I would go to facebook to see if anyone was willing to join me in this conversation.  I just posed the question, “What is the Bible?”  I am grateful, for those brave souls who were willing to answer in a brief statement.  Here are some of the responses:

The Bible is:

-the story of God’s people.

-God’s love story.

-the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

-an essential tool to guide us in our journey of understanding God.

-the Word of God for the people of God.

-the continuing story of God’s love and saving grace for the world.

-the story of an unrelenting God who never gives up on His creation.

-a book of truths.

I’ve known the second part of this passage for a long time.  I attended public school up through sixth grade.  Knowing that I wanted to go to Lancaster Mennonite for high school, my family decided it was a goo idea for me to attend the local Mennonite primary school for Jr. High.  So I moved to a new school in 7th grade.  On the second day, the guidance counselor came into our classroom dressed up like a very proper lady that would have been a little out of place in our little school.  She introduced herself with a different name than her own and explained that she was driving through, but got a flat tire and was waiting for AAA to come.  She asked if it was all right to stay in our class for a bit until help arrived.  A few of us played along and nodded, our teacher saying, “of course you can stay here.”  The stranded woman thanked us for our hospitality then asked what this place was.  She could tell it was a school, but what type of school?  Being good 7th graders, a few kids raised their hand and the one who was called on said Mennonite.  The visitor asked some deeper questions, what does that mean?  Why are you Mennonite?  What do you believe?  When we began talking about the Bible I remember her asking why it really matters; Why should she care what the Bible says?  Up until this point I had remained silent, not wanting to stick out on the second day in a new school.  But at her question, something clicked in my memory and I quickly opened the new Bible we had each been given the previous day and looked up 2 Timothy 3.  After a brief pause in which nobody answered her question, I slowly raised my sweaty hand.  When she called on me, I swallowed hard so my heart could go back down into my chest and I began to read, “all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”  Our classroom visitor tilted her head and said, “oh, thank you, that is helpful.”  With that she thanked us for our time and left the room.  The guidance counselor’s goal was obviously to get us thinking and to name who we were and why we believed what we believed.  I felt pretty good about my response, as if I had passed the test.

As many do, I came upon the deeper and more challenging questions about my faith and the Bible.  I was a little frustrated by this passage in particular when I thought to myself, wait a minute, how can something justify its own authority?  Normally something is named as useful or authoritative by outside sources.  The President of the United States can’t just name him or herself, it takes the votes of the people.  We’re usually skeptical of products that claim to do something until we see it with our own eyes.  How could I be so naïve as a 7th grader to use an internal argument like that?  What does that mean for my understanding for the scriptures now?  I was frustrated and confused, yet not fully discouraged.  The people I respected the most were followers of Jesus and had placed their faith and trust in the bible.  It was during this time that I experienced a really meaningful practice of naming my frustrations.  In a class at EMU, the professor had a Bible in the front of the classroom on a table.  She explained that we were being given an opportunity to talk to the Bible as if it were a living entity, naming our feelings about it.  “Don’t’ worry” she said, “it can take whatever you throw at it.”  There were wide ranging comments to the Bible, from very positive to very negative.  It was a freeing experience.  I was able to articulate some of my frustrations at the time, which helped me, in fact, to gain a new appreciation for the Bible as a living entity that could be engaged in my own context.  Questions still remained, but I was able to be honest about those questions.  At that point in my life, the questions reigned supreme.  I would say I was generally trusting of the Bible, especially as it related specifically to Jesus, but the other parts ended up bringing up question after question.  I lived in this place of touchy balance somewhere between trust and questions, tipping one way or the other depending on who I was hang out with.

When I got to seminary, I met people who lived as if the see-sawing that I was doing wasn’t necessary.  They were and are firmly trusting and respecting of the Bible, while continually asking the questions that arise from thorough engagement with the texts.  They have shown me the depth of beauty, ugliness, hope, and despair that is present in the Bible.  I have been inspired by those who actively trudge through the depths of meaning and maintain an attitude of submission to the texts.  George Brunk III loved to quote 1Thessalonians 5:21 “test everything,” which I believe wasn’t an encouragement to be skeptical, but to continue digging deeper and deeper into the scriptures to get the full scope of God’s word for us today.  So I came to place in which I trust the Bible as the fully reliable standard for faith and life, as the Mennonite Confession of Faith states.  And I am challenging myself to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the text in new and exciting ways.

Now when I look at the text for this morning again, I am open to the message Paul writes to Timothy.  I have just reflected on my time growing up in the Christians faith, who influenced me, and how I have to come to faith in the scriptures.  This passage seems very appropriate to me now.  I believe this passage has been challenging me to continue to increase my knowledge and familiarity with the Old Testament.  Paul is talking to Timothy and the Holy Scriptures he mentions must be the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament.  About it, Paul writes that it instructs for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, meaning that the Hebrew Scriptures are not meaningless now that Jesus has come, just the opposite.  They find their conclusion and fullest meaning in Jesus.  In addition, we Christians can understand the salvation that God offers through Jesus by familiarizing ourselves with the Old Testament’s accounts of God’s faithfulness to God’s people.

Then I get to the second part of the passage and I get a little hung up.  An image is presented of education.  It is as if I am sitting in a classroom, taking a course on righteousness and as a textbook I am handed the Bible.  I don’t think this is an entirely problematic image, but it is slightly confusing given the nature of the book I was just handed.  Most of the Bible isn’t a how-to book really.  It’s not mostly a list of rules and regulations.  It’s not mostly a step-by-step guide to salvation.  It is mostly stories.  There are some explicit rules in there, along with songs and poems.  So the classroom setting is a difficult image to wrap my mind around.  It would be like you taking a class on how to make pottery and the teacher started by saying, “Once upon a time…” So how is the Bible useful for all these thing, teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness?  I think this passage has been used to pull out those parts that do have specific rules and regulations out of context and apply them directly to a contemporary context.  But that isn’t faithful to the text as a whole.

I was able to find another image for the usefulness of the scriptures that has been very helpful for me and may be for you as well.  This image comes directly from NT Wright, so I will paraphrase his explanation.  Suppose someone finds the manuscript for a play by Shakespeare in which most of the ending has been lost.  The play has four acts and the very beginning of the fifth act, but no more.  Those who read the play are so moved by it and believe it must be performed.  But how do they finish it?  If someone else were to write the ending, it lock the play into an artificial ending.  What if, someone suggests, they perform the play and allow the actors, who have been so immersed in their characters and the flow of the play that is written, act out the ending on their own?  They would obviously need to remain true to the characters in the story and to the overall direction of the story.  This is the way NT Wright sees our interaction with the Bible.  God provided us with the drama and story of God’s love for the world and goal of redemption.  God even provided several vivid images of the end of the story.  The fifth act, though, being the part in which Jesus leaves his Spirit and says, “Now I send you” is in process.  So how do the scriptures teach us and train us for righteousness?  They tell us stories about who God is, what God has done and has promised for God’s people, and how God’s people have, or have not responded well to God’s involvement in their lives.  This is more than just a list of what to do and what not to do, certainly it includes that, but it also shows us who we are and whose we are, who we are to be and whose we are to be.

NT Wright talks about the effectiveness of story as an authority, allow me to quote at length: “Story authority is the authority that really works.  Throw a rule book at people’s head, or offer them a list of doctrines and they can duck and avoid it, or just disagree and go away.  Tell them a story, tough, and you can invite them to come into a different world.  That is what the parables are all about.  They offer a world-view which, as someone comes into it and finds how compelling it is, quietly shatters the world-view that they were in already.  Stories determine how people see themselves and how they see the world.  Stories determine how they experience God.  Great revolutionary movements have told stories about the past, present, and future.  They have invited people to see themselves in that light, and people’s lives have been changed.  If that happens at a merely human level, how much more when it is God the creator and redeemer, breathing into the word.”

I want to encourage us to read the Bible with the trust that just as God breathed life into Adam and Eve, God breathed life into our Holy Scriptures.  May we open ourselves to receive that life and may it empower and encourage us to live into this drama that God has set in motion and will conclude in due time.  Let’s find our place in this drama, immersing ourselves in the previous acts, so that we can faithfully and creatively work out our part in God’s dramatic play of salvation.

Amen.

 

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