Today we return to our full schedule with church school tucked in-between two services of worship;
Church School - a time to study the forever timely, and therefore. unchanging text book called the Bible, but the methods used to teach the Bible’s ageless truths have changed, for we now realize there are different ways to learn: hearing, seeing, repeating, drawing, dramatizing, sharing, applying.
Some people bypass learning what Robert McAfee Brown called the Bible’s “Unfolding Drama” of God’s action and man’s response.
Some decide to open the Bible, point to a line and then read, as one man did: “Judas went and hanged himself.”
Then he tried again, opening to another page, pointing and reading: “Go and do thou likewise.” Third try, another page, another line that read: “Whatever thou doest, do it quickly.” - a factitious story, meant to be a joke, yet it serves to expose using the Bible to point-pick-choose words and phrases to quote for personal counsel or public defense.
A real life example is the news reporting the arrest, short jail time, and now release of a county clerk.
The basis of the charge against her was her refusal to follow what is now the law to grant a marriage license to a same-sex couple. She contends that her religious beliefs must take precedent over her legal obligations, based on her pointing to Old Testament lines which she quotes to opposed same-sex marriages.
But she didn’t point to other Old Testament passages that have something to say to her multiple divorces and other details in her life; laws read in the straight-forward Ten Commandments, that when broken carried harsh punishments, including being sentenced to death by stoning, (with more waiting to be read in Jesus’ lessons on the Law, missed by those who only point, pick, choose what they prefer to quote.)
A misuse of the Bible that exemplifies the words read from the Book of Proverbs: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?... the simplicity of fools (who) hate knowledge?
A person who earns the title: “Simpleton.”
The same proverb singles out another person identified in the words: “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing…”
Our nation’s Civil War had two arsenals: one was ammunitions; the other was the Bible with both the South and the North hurling pieces of Scripture back and forth, to both oppose and condone slavery.
One of the worst stories is that of the Klu Klux Klan pointing, picking, choosing Bible verses to literally ignite fires of racial hatred that are still burning.
Now there is the Iran agreement that is bringing the Bible into the halls of Congress where Scripture is again being used for a dual purpose: one to predict a replay of the Book of Esther – those plotting to destroy Israel will be the ones who will be struck down; the other is to picture certain Middle East leaders as present day personifications of the devil, setting the stage for an end-of-the-world battle, with each side calling the other “the Evil One.”
An abuse of the Bible that carries the echo of Shakespeare’s lines from the “Merchant of Venice”
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
A person who earns the title: “Scoffer.”
Upon simpleton and scoffer the Book of Proverb pronounces the indictment: For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them earned by the first for misusing and the second for abusing the Bible,
while reserving a blessing for those who let the Bible be, as the Psalmist said, “A lamp to my feet and a light to my path”:
but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
The people Jesus calls, with the first to accept His “Follow Me” were named His “disciple.”
It’s a word that carries me back to Girls’ High School where English vocabulary and grammar were inescapable subjects and a frequent quip was, “Don’t be a ‘pupil’ who is required to be here by law, but a ‘disciple’ who desires to be here to learn. The charge Paul gave to his spiritual son, Timothy, (2Tim 2:15)
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” – a charge to be a person who earns the title; “Scholar.”
An individual who doesn’t misuse or abuse the Bible, who doesn’t point, pick, choose but absorbs the Bible’s every word: the confusing and the clear, the conflicting and contradictory, then probes into the setting and times, the cultures and the clashes, and works to see it all in Robert McAfee Brown’s words: “The Unfolding Drama” of God’s action and man’s response…with the most dramatic being the part of the story read in today’s Gospel synopsis:
the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, be killed, and after three days rise again.
followed by the test question addressed to all ages in every time and place: “But who do you say that I am?” with the correct answer being: “You are the Messiah.” that earns those who give it the strange gold star of Jesus ‘assignment:
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Henry Francis Lyte, who lived from 1795 to 1847, distinguished himself in school as an outstanding writer of poetry and earned prize money for a medical education, but his frail health made him decide to enter the ministry and become an assistant to the rector in a parish in Ireland.
A turning point in his life came at the deathbed of a clergy colleague who confessed he wasn’t sure of the faith he’d preached, and feared his earlier sin-filled life was beyond God’s forgiveness. Lyte shared those fears, and so, they read the Bible together; as they did they became absorbed in Christ’s cross and His sacrificial love that would not let them go.
His friend died in peace, and Henry Francis Lyte was moved to write his first hymn: “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee” in a ministry in a village described as “not favorable to morality or religion.”
There, he reached them through hymns and on his death bed he gave them his last one, “Abide with me” in which he prayed:
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
When we become absorbed in the Bible, we hear Jesus asking of us, “Who do you say I am?”
and, like Henry Francis Lyte, we know not simply to name a name but make a commitment: “Jesus, I my cross have taken”
and wonder of all wonders,
find the Christ of the Cross is with us in our cross-
bearing life, carrying us as well as our cross.
For, in the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
Paul celebrated with his, “Thanks be to God!”
Lyte with his, “How great is my condition!”
and we, what do we say? AMEN.