7/28/2019 Half-Truths: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019 in Sunday Message | Comments Off on 7/28/2019 Half-Truths: God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Season    7th Sunday of Pentecost

Date        07282019

Scripture:    Colossians 2:6-15                           

        Luke 11: 1-13

Prayer:     Loving Spirit, Wondrous Creator, may we be people of your             Word in the world.  May the word I utter and the disposition of             our hearts please you.  In Jesus’ most precious name.

God said it, I believe it, that settles it.  This is the topic of today’s sermon in the series we have dubbed, “Half Truths of the Bible.”  So, what could possibly be wrong with this statement? If God said it, then we should certainly follow it.  I have no quarrel with that.  

When people say God said it, the presumption is that they read it in the Bible.  And the assumption that goes along with this idea is that the Bible is the word of God.  So, let’s consider that for a moment.

What, indeed is the Bible?  From a purely practical perspective, the Bible is a collection of 66 books, most of them written by different authors, and edited by even more authors.  For example, the book of Genesis is written by at least three groups of authors, and this is illustrated perhaps most clearly in the two creation stories.  The one that appears first is the story of 7 days and 7 nights, and that is the youngest of the stories, written after the Adam and Eve story. Or the four gospel writers who tell the same story, but differently to different audiences.  

Then we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of the Bible?  Is it a book of history told chronologically to tell a story of humanity?  Is it a book of fables told to relate moral lessons? Is it a book of science to teach us how to light a fire on a bull doused in water, or a book of health teaching us how to live as long as Methuselah?  

What is the Bible to you?  

For me the Bible is a spiritual book that attempts to tell us about the nature of God seen through the eyes, the often flawed eyes, of humanity.

For United Methodists, John Wesley taught that we should keep scripture primary but also rely on three other elements of our human experience: tradition, reason, and Christian experience.  All of these come together to illuminate God’s message in this world.

I recently had a friend tell me that he tries to live his life as closely to what the Bible tells him as he can.  Now, I love this friend, but REALLY?

Are you willing to 

  • Give up eating pork and shrimp, even if you aren’t a vegetarian or allergic to shell fish 
  • Give up wearing blended fabrics 
  • Men, you mustn’t ever trim the edges of your beard.  (Some of you will be grateful for this one!)
  • Women, if you are not a virgin when you marry, the men of your town are ordered to stone you to death.
  • If your children curse or strike you, or are rebellious, parents, it is your duty to put them to death.
  • Be sure you don’t mow your lawn, clean your house, cook, wash the dishes, or do much of anything except read on Saturday.

There are lots of other things I can mention, but we would be here all morning, and there are other things I imagine you want to do on your, ugh, Sabbath!  

What I would suggest is a book by a wonderful author, Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master.  Enough said.  

Maybe you don’t need to read the book.

So far, we’ve talked about the fact that the Bible is not written by God, or Moses or Jesus, but by many, many authors whose compiled observations help us to have a theology, an understanding of who God is.  Let me add to that observation that theology continues to evolve today in the writings of Tillich and Barth, and more recently, the writing of Katie Canon, Patrick Cheng, Marjorie Suhocki, Joerg Rieger, Wendy Farley, John Shelby Spong, Jennifer Knust, NT Wright, Shelly Rambo, Victor Furnish, Emilie Townes and so many more!

That’s plenty of reading to keep you busy.  If you would like more, I’m happy to comply.

The first church I was appointed to was a new church start.  There was a fair amount of diversity in the church, and I was interested in celebrating it.  We had a family that spoke Spanish, one that spoke Mandarin, and another that spoke Portuguese.  If you ever have been far from home, it is a delight to hear your own language spoken. So, I began printing what we know as “the Lord’s Prayer” or the prayer Jesus taught, in those particularly languages.  The goal was to encourage everyone to speak the prayer in the way that was most comfortable for them, even in another language.

One of my congregants, a beloved member in her late 80s, came to me after worship.  She was very annoyed with me. When I asked her why, she said, “Don’t you think if God had wanted us to pray the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, he would have given it to us in Spanish.”

Wow.  I was really taken aback.  So, the Lord’s Prayer, the one we read in the scriptures this morning, was probably spoken by Jesus for the first time in Aramaic or Hebrew.  We really aren’t sure. However, this illustration brings up a third difficulty in the God said it, I believe it, argument. Every single English version of the Bible is a translation.  Every one. And every translation is an interpretation.

Currently, there are 120 English translations of the Bible.  That means that the bible has been interpreted at lease 120 ways into English.  That does not even include those who are trying to work directly with the oldest manuscripts.  That’s a lot of different opinions.  

Furthermore, it has been translated into 670 languages, and the Christian Scriptures, which some of you know as the New Testament, into 1521 languages.  

So, God said it, I believe it, that settles it, is even harder to comprehend.  To which version of what God said are you referring, which writer are you referencing, which language are you using?

If we are going to read the Bible as literal truth, then we, at some point, will experience a crisis of belief.  Even the scriptures themselves tell us that the Word of God is the person of Jesus Christ, and you will find that in the first chapter of the Gospel of John.  Even when Jesus taught us to pray, he was not suggesting that we memorize a prayer, although the prayer in Luke is a good one to start with. Jesus gave us a model, which begins with 

    Praise

    Request

    Confession

    Request redemption

    Praise

This is a model, not a rote prayer, although many of us find great comfort in it. 

What Jesus taught is that we should pray persistently, we should ask and search and knock. That we should even yell, and scream and cry if that helps. Then and only then will be able to take the spiritual journey that is before us. Then and only then will be able to ask the questions, explore the possibilities, and consider what a loving God has set before us in this creation.  

I wonder if some of the church’s insistence on literalism is why so many have turned away from the community of church.  There are so many reasons why a person who takes the bible literally can be easily disappointed:

    The fertility treatments don’t work

    The economy turns and they are left owing more than their     house is worth

    A life partner begins losing their ability to remember

    The prognosis is bad, 

    A child dies of natural causes that just don’t seem natural

    Planes fly into buildings 

    And it seems a prayer wasn’t answered.

Friends, it is a half-truth to say “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” although it makes a nice bumper sticker.  However, the only eternal truths I can think of that fits on a bumper sticker is “God is love” or “Jesus love me.”  

Here is what I might offer this morning: 

Human faith in a divine God influenced the writing of scripture.  I read those passages considering them using reason, tradition, Christian experience and a bit of imagination too.  I also read them understanding that God is love, the most loving think in all the cosmos. Then I try, very hard to understand.  I even imagine myself before the most loving one in all of creation, explaining myself.  

And I know that always and everywhere, I will worship and praise a God of love.

AMEN.