I have not preached for two weeks prior to August 4. Therefore, this is the first sermon to post in almost three weeks. I gave this one on Sunday, August 4.
The preacher was Rev. Longstreth, a rather legalistic style preacher. He was known as Rev. Longstreth and no one considered calling him Pastor or using his first name. His presence just seemed to hinge on his proper title.
The sermon was about—well, I am unsure as it was in the 60’s—but it did have one question that I cannot forget: How often do you use your Bible? At least it was something like that, but remembering that part of the sermon is not the story. The story centers on my brother.
My guess is that he was about six years old, and I think Mom was sitting with us, which was unusual as she and Dad typically sang in the choir. Gary and I sat on the right side of the sanctuary about four rows back, directly in front of the pulpit.
When Rev. Longstreth asked that question, Gary raised his hand and piped up. He said Mom only picks it up when it she dusts it. He even explained where it was sitting—on a shelf in the dining room closet. If my memory is correct, Mom quickly reached over and put her white-gloved hand over his mouth!
As a kid, we were taught that the Bible was holy. We were not to sit anything on top of it. We were to be extremely careful when holding it, and we certainly were not to write in it. The Bible was often a coffee table book that had to be dusted, especially when living on a gravel road. It was sacred.
Maybe my memory of the incident is not 100% accurate, but I assure you that my brother did speak out in answer to the preacher’s question about using the Bible regularly. I also know Mom was horrified, but I knew there was that one Bible that never left the shelf.
If I asked the same question today, what would your answer be?
How dusty is your Bible?
Or maybe the question is, when was the last time you sat down with your Bible to read it? To study it? To share it?
All too often the days get busy and we struggle to get even the basic chores done. Sometimes we add in appointments, special projects, yard work, or even volunteer work at/for the church. Suddenly we are exhausted, ready to call it a day, and sit down for a little TV. The Bible remains closed and sitting on the shelf.
John Wesley considered reading and studying the Bible as one of the acts of piety. He proposed specific guidelines for reading and studying the scripture.
But Wesley was not the first one to encourage Christians to read the Bible. In fact, the first New Testament reference to scriptures is found in Matthew 4 according to the Life Application Study Bible concordance. Jesus is in the desert for 40 days and he answers the Devil’s dares with quotes from Hebrew Scripture:
- Challenged to change rocks into bread, Jesus answered: “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
- When the Devil tells him to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, he answered: “Again it is written. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
- Even the Devil’s third test is answered with the same words: “Again it is written. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
- A final test from the Devil challenging Jesus to worship him was answered: “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
And Jesus, himself, was not the first to refer to Holy Scriptures. From the beginning, God is The Word as we learn in the gospel John. The earliest Israelites knew God spoke through The Word. The earliest scriptures were recorded in Aramaic and Hebrew, the native language of the ancient tribes. As Peter began his work after the crucifixion of Christ, he wrote in Greek. The Word has been a critical element in the spiritual formation of all believers.
So how dusty is your Bible? Have you incorporated reading the Bible as part of your spiritual discipline? Have you found a translation of the Bible that speaks to you? How do you read the Bible?
Wesley had six recommendations for reading the scripture:
- Set a little time aside each morning and evening to read the scripture.
- Read some from the Old Testament and some from the New Testament during your study time—not just one or the other.
- Read to learn the will of God and reflect on how you can make it happen.
- Pay attention to the fundamental doctrines: Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness.
- Use prayer before, during, and after reading scripture.
- While reading, pause, reflect, and praise when you see the connection between scripture, self, and paradise.
These six recommendations are challenging to us in the 21st century. We have lives that race ahead of us to a point we experience a sense of hopelessness. How do we manage the time to open our Bibles? How do we know we are reading it accurately and the message we perceive is what God wants us to hear?
Reading the Bible is a discipline and it takes a commitment to follow it. As Christians we are responsible for knowing the Bible. We are responsible for listening to God sharing his wisdom through scripture. Comprehending the Bible has not been easy and has met quite a battery of tests and arguments. The Catholic Church continues to use a translation referred to as the Vulgate.
The Vulgate was translated from Latin, not the primary sources written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. With all the scholarly work done through the millenniums (thousands) of years, the Vulgate does not match other translations.
During the last few weeks, my COS study group attended a Catholic mass. The scriptures were directly from the Common Lectionary and seemed familiar until two shared a reading based on Mary’s and Martha’s story. It did not match the story I knew.
I was shocked and discussed it with the others once we got into the car. They explained the difference is due to the Vulgate translation from Latin rather than the primary Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages. Protestant churches use translations from the primary sources, not just Latin.
Back to today’s question, though: How dusty is your Bible? Are you reading it at least once daily, whether through a daily devotional or a reading plan? Have you found a translation that is easy for you to read and speaks to you? Have you used study notes or interpretative materials? Have you turned to the internet for additional help? Have you read it alone or with others?
Mom did not just dust the Bible; she read it. Now maybe she did not read it every day, but the Bible she typically used was well worn. It had been given to her when she was a child. During the months of her cancer treatment, you could often find her with a Bible close at hand.
My dad’s cousin came over one day and gave her a new Bible—the Life Application Study Bible. There was/is a note on the inside of the Bible from Merle about how valuable she found this particular version. Mom began using it. Fighting cancer, she turned to the Bible for answers.
After she died, I went through the Bible. I knew she wrote in it, but I found underlined passages, notes in the margin, and bookmarks here and there. I learned how the Bible talked to her. I also know that with that Bible she continues to share with others, too. The Bible was for her, but now it is for others.
I ended up buying my own copy, so I could keep her notes separate from mine. In fact I have many versions of the Bible in order to learn more, to hear from God in different ways. In Acts, Luke reminds us to read, to study, and to live by the word. Sometimes it is difficult, but the effort is rewarded eternally.
Thank you for your Words.
Guide us in the reading and the understanding
of the stories, the poems, the prayers, and the advice.
Help us to hear your answers to our questions.
Help us to learn how to handle life’s challenges.
Help us use the principles written in the scriptures.
Guide us in disciplining our lives
so we spend time with the Word.
Help us to read privately.
Help us with corporate study.
Help us find a covenant/small group to talk about your words.
Thank you for all the scholars
who work to share the wisdom in our languages.
Thank you for family and friends
who read, study, and discuss the scriptures.
Thank you for the Holy Spirit that dwells with us
so we may hear you speak to us.
–To the glory of God, amen.