It's been a busy day, and now I am bunking the evening service after morning worship and two lots of visiting. All of it has been good, but I am tired, and need to rest (yes, I am FINALLY learning :-) )
After some serious wrangling, this morning's sermon came together pretty well, and seemed to engage people - just as well as it ended up being a tad on the long side. A sermon - or more properly reflection - on reading the Bible, on the place for diversity of interpretation and difference of opinion, on the inherently partial and contextual nature of Bible reading, a bit of a plea for more group Bible study and some cheeky references to assorted bits of popular theology.
I chose the hymns carefully, with one exception coming from dissenting traditions, and expressing ideas that seem important. So we had Caryl Micklem's "Give to me, Lord, a thankful heart", Bonhoeffer's "By Gracious Powers", George Rawson's "We Limit not the truth of God", Doddridge's "great God we sing your guiding hand" and Sydney Carter's "One more step"... but not in that order!
All in all, it seems to have been a good day. And, just in case anyone is daft enough to read it, here is the first bit of the sermon, before it morphed into pure prose...
Before the beginning, God:
Before the Word.
In the beginning, into chaos, darkness and void
God's Wisdom came forth from the mouth of God
God's Word announced, "let there be light…"
God's Spirit hovering over the yet formless creation
God's Christ proclaiming eternal truth before time began
The Word became flesh and lived among us
The source of all life, bearing light into the continuing chaos, darkness and emptiness of creation
The inextinguishable Light, penetrating, dispersing, absorbing the darkness
Bringing enlightenment and lightness, order, meaning and purpose
Scripture is rich in metaphor and symbol, human writers inspired by the very wisdom of which they speak employ inadequate human words to express mystery beyond comprehension, sometimes in parable and prose, sometimes in poetry and prophecy; always attuned to listen for the word of the God, always aspiring to express the inexpressible, to fathom the unfathomable and to share the story of the God who is love..
A library of wonder
A treasure trove of stories
A window into things beyond
Sometimes viewed as an example of ancient literature
To be dissected and analysed
Critiqued and commented upon
An interesting but ultimately largely irrelevant enterprise
Oftentimes reduced to little more than a text book
A rule book
An instruction manual for those heaven-bound
(Who has not heard the contrived, late C20 'acronym' Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)
Among believers, a sacred text,
Exalted above all others
Used, misused, abused
Deemed infallible by some
Source of proof-text to prohibit or permit
Silences employed inconsistently
To prohibit "that which scripture does not explicitly permit" or
To permit "that which scripture does not explicitly prohibit"
Or any variant upon this theme
Other believers recognise
Internal errors (incorrect references to Hebrew scriptures from the New Testament)
Discrepancies, inconsistencies and contradictions
Seeking not for detailed rules and precise instructions
But searching for principles and patterns
So many ways to approach it
So many alternative readings and understandings
None intrinsically definitive
Even if some are clearly wrong-headed
Most, if not all, sincere
In their quest for truth and light
The Bible is a wonderful, complicated, easily ridiculed, and aggressively critiqued set of writings…
And yet for half the world's population this quirky, bewildering, frustrating collection of ancient religious writing continues to be regarded as a source of truth; that contained within it is something that will help dispel the darkness, and order the chaos. That here may be found wise words, helpful principles, comforting and encouraging thoughts. That there is still "more light and truth" to be released from this book of books which enables us to seek the word of God as, guided by God's wisdom, we read, reflect, study, discuss its contents.