Spiritual Disciplines – reading the Bible from Matthew 5:13-20
What do you do with an old Bible? Not too long after becoming a preacher I was asked this question. My mother asked me on the phone that day. Keep in mind this is the person who taught me not to write in it lest the curses within be added to my life! This is the one who told me not to put it on the ground, but to treat it with respect. This is the one who told me that I should avoid putting other books on top of it. In her words I heard the desire to offer respect and honor in the same way we do when it comes to the American flag. And now she asked me, “what do you do with an old Bible?” She had a used bible, pages falling out, binding unwound, cover tattered. This wasn’t something that you would want to hand off in charity. What do you do with an old Bible? So I answered, “You very gently, and very respectfully put it in the recycling bin.”
The Bible is just a book. There is no magic in the words themselves. There is no secret divine code that mathematicians can decipher like some episode of Numbers. Reading this book like any other book will not get you into heaven. The Bible is not a history book. The Bible is not a science book. The Bible is not an ethics book. It’s not a book of rules and morals for life. It’s not even a road map for life. It’s God’s story book for his children. The Bible is a messy book of a people struggling to understand God, God’s direction, God’s expectations, God’s hopes and dreams. The Bible is God’s story of and for his children.
The Bible is just a book, unless you read it with the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we’re called to read this with the eyes of Jesus, the heart of the Father, and the nudges of the Holy Spirit. Jesus challenges us to be a people who have salt within. This is God’s story. God wants us to take in God’s story to become our Story. The Bible is one place (among many) that we can receive salt from God.
Jesus challenges us to be a people of light. When we read the Bible, it should enlighten us. We should gain insight and hope. We should gain encouragement. Reading the Bible should be like walking out into the sunshine on a sunny day. Reading the Bible should give us light so that we can reflect that light into the world. We are who God choose to partner with to transform the world. Terrifying the thought, we are God’s hands, feet, voice, and Good News in the World.
Tragically, many of us are not salty. I once heard the story of a man who read the Bible every day. He was a scholar. He could argue all the theories and theologies. His head was filled with knowledge and verses. Yet, he never let what he read change him. He spent a great deal of time in brothels, gambling joints, and doing drugs. He had horrible relationships with his friends. He didn’t even acknowledge his family. No one felt this man was happy. He was a shell, hollow when God wanted him to be hallow.
Many Christians are really good at quoting and doing commentary on the Bible, but when it comes to being the living Word – we fail. The Incarnation was intended to be from Heaven all the way to the roots. We are a part of Christ’s continuing presence in this world. Reading the Bible as a Spiritual Discipline should cause change. First in us and then through us in the community.
Tragically many of us are in the dark. Recently, Rev. Jeux Simmons shared a story with me. She was asked, “Are you a real Christian?” To which she replied, “Yes.” The man looked at her with great suspicion. “Then you should know that women are not suppose to preach.” How horrible! What darkness. God speaks through men and women. Unfortunately, this man had been taught to read the Bible only one way. He had latched onto someone else’s interpretation instead of doing the work for himself. When we don’t read God’s story for ourselves and hear the Spirit speak to us together, we live in the dark. Reading the Bible should be a communal effort as much as a personal effort. We hear God more clearly when we are open to correction. Open to the light.
When we read it as something more than a love letter from God, we get ourselves in trouble. Pharisees of Jesus day had turned the Bible into an idol. They had lifted up the Torah and the Law as God. Obeying the Law was obeying God. They lorded over the people as experts, controllers, and masters.
We don’t do that do we church? I had a professor of the Greek Language who said, “when you read the word Pharisee in the Bible, insert Church member.” We’ve been guilty of lifting up the Bible into a magical idol. “If we could just make all the children in the school system read the Bible, all our problems would be solved.” The Bible is not a magic cure all to our society. God didn’t partner with a book. God partnered with the church to change the world.
We’ve been guilty of laziness in our reading the Bible as a law book, a science book, a history book. “The Bible says it, that settles it.” Let’s be honest. The Bible was inspired by God and written by and through people. So let’s treat it as such. To really hear God within the Bible, we have to seriously listen to the context of where God was speaking and how God is speaking today.
I confess on behalf of all the Pharisee Preachers and Pastors that I don’t have all the answers. For too long pastors and preachers have acted as though our interpretation was ‘the’ interpretation that everyone else should live by. The more I read, the more I understand how big and unimaginable God is. Mark Twain was once asked if the Bible scared him because he didn’t understand it all. He responded, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that scare me. It’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand that scare me.”
Jesus says, “your righteousness, your justice, needs to exceed that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” A disciple reads the story to hear the Father’s heart beat. A disciple reads the story to follow Jesus. A disciple reads the story to experience the Spirit’s nudge. The Bible is the most bought and least read book on the planet. Today, God is challenging us to hear God’s story, to make it a part of our story, so that we are in God’s story. Amen.
(C)2015 Nathan Decker, Worship’s Wake