(given on July 27, 2008)
Since Bruce and I got the new car, we have been listening to the satellite radio. One of the stations we have tuned in is the comedy channel. We have laughed so much while driving down the roads. An interesting thing about comedy is that the most gut laughter comes from the stories that are so true to life.
Of course, Jeff Foxworthy’s blue collar humor is some of the best. Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck” definitions are some of the ones that causes me to laugh the most, but at the same time I feel a bit uncomfortable because I know that some families really do live in those circumstances.
As I began preparing for today, I was reading the parables in Matthew. I kept thinking how do you take those familiar stories and make them real for today. I thought about how Paul was trying to teach the Romans what life as a Christian should be. Then the phrase bubbled up, “You might be a Christian…” I thought how in the world could I possibly use that phrase with the parables or with Romans. But I just could not get away from that phrase: You might be a Christian…
When you hear Foxworthy’s phrase, “You might be a Redneck,” you know you are going to get a definition of some crazy life situation. For instance, you might be a redneck if you think the last words of the national anthem are “Gentlemen, start your engines.” Or you might be a redneck if you think Taco Bell is the Mexican phone company.
Foxworthy makes us laugh, but we laugh because it is true life. Do you think we would laugh if we shifted the phrase to “You might be a Christian…” I think that we should try it. The Bible is full of the stories, the lessons, the parables, and the laws that Christians are to follow in order to be a Christian. The Bible’s words tell the story of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount holds many of the lessons.
The setting was a natural amphitheater. Everybody is sitting around on the hillside. Jesus was on stage, the disciples probably were in the box seats and the other fans were all over the place. There was quiet while Jesus was speaking, but the kids were restless, the babies were crying. It was a live performance. The crowd was eager to here Jesus talk; they were searching for understanding. For some, the answers were in the words. For some, the words were just stories, even confusing words. For some, the words did not make sense and they got up and walked away.
Jesus told them that the about sowing seeds on fertile ground. He told them about the tiny mustard seed. He talked about using yeast, He compared the kingdom of heaven to pearls. One story talked about using a net to fish. Using the parables was a method of teaching. And I wonder if we have learned the lessons. Would we laugh? Would we fail to get the message? Would we feel guilty? I think we need to follow Foxworthy’s model and consider—you might be a Christian if….
∑ You might be a Christian if you know a net does not refer to seining a pond or lake.
∑ You might be a Christian if you know a mustard seed is a symbol of how large the kingdom of heaven is.
∑ You might be a Christian if you know that using yeast is a way to spread the faith of the new covenant.
∑ You might be a Christian if you know jewelers would sell all their gems in order to buy the pearl which is the kingdom of heaven.
This is tough, isn’t it. There really is not any humor in those lines like there is when Foxworthy uses his line: you might be a redneck. I wonder if we need to work on understanding our faith. When we read the Bible, we have the words, but do we get the meaning?
I told Bruce/Leona the other day that I could collect Bibles. I may read the scriptures, but when I start searching for the meaning in today’s real world, I go to the study helps. The Life Application Bible is my starting point and I have to thank an old cousin of mine for that.
When Mom was fighting cancer, my cousin Merle, gave Mom a copy of the Life Application Bible in the NIV translation. There was a note in the Bible that explained how that Bible talked to Merle and she hoped that it would help my mom in her battle with breast cancer. During the months of that battle, I saw Mom reading that Bible. She even marked in the Bible, something I thought you were not supposed to do as it was sacred.
When Mom died, I looked through the Bible. I discovered how she had worked through her pain, her fears, and strengthened her faith. After Dad became disabled through encephalitis, Gary and I had to take the house apart. I took the Bible home with me. I read the words, I read the study notes, but most importantly I read my mom’s notes. That Bible taught me so much, and it taught me how deep my mom’s faith was. It really was as big as the tiny mustard seed that grew into a tree.
Reading the Bible will give us the answers to “you might be a Christian…”, but it is a practice that we are not very good doing. The words are on the pages, but sometimes the words are confusing for us in today’s world. I also know that understanding the words means understanding the cultural setting when they were written. For me, I turn to the Archeological Bible to broaden my understanding of the culture early Christians were living in so that I can compare that to our culture today.
Unfortunately some of the Bible’s words are terribly vague and confusing. I might look for a cultural understanding, but that may not provide the understanding I need. I continue by looking at different translations like The Message. This translation is written in the language of today’s culture. It seems to break the sentences into phrases that are easier to read or the choice of words fit the connotative meanings better.
You might know you are a Christian when you discover reading the Bible is not an easy book to read.
Thank goodness we do have scholars who are working to help us understand the Holy Scriptures. Matt Gallion, the director at the university’s Wesley Foundation, is excited about reading and teaching the Bible. He likes to read the older translations, but he is also using contemporary language each day he works with the university students. He also uses contemporary music to share his faith. For Matt, you might be a Christian if you can use the old words to share faith with the newest generations.
You might be a Christian if you read the Bible.
You might be a Christian if you study the Word.
You might be a Christian if you can paraphrase a parable.
You might be a Christian if you need a small group to understand the Word for today’s world.
As we leave today, let us ask ourselves what we need to do in order that we can say, yes we are a Christian because we do read, study and share the words of God.