The Inspired Word (8:30am)
Topic: The importance of Scripture Scripture: Psalm 121–121, 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5
The Church of Scotland has a ceremonial officer known as a beadle. The beadle’s job is to carry the Bible into the sanctuary at the start of worship, and place it on the pulpit. Then, following the benediction, the beadle carries the Bible out again. This ceremony is meant to emphasize the central importance of the Bible in worship. I thought it odd to carry the Bible out of the sanctuary each week that way—until it was explained to me that it symbolized the Bible going out into the world, in the lives of the people.
We’re thinking about the scriptures this morning, and their role in our lives. Bible reading is for some a daily practice, very much a part of their faith. For others, it’s not so significant. In worship each week, we are in essence gathering around the word. It’s at the heart of our faith.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, there was no Bible as we know it today. Any Christian congregation would have been blessed to have a couple of Jewish scrolls and perhaps a part of Paul’s letters, if even that much. The Jewish bible or Old Testament was the only scripture. The people mostly could not read, so they depended on trained teachers. Their situation calls to mind the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” in which Tevye dreams of discussing “the learned books with the holy men, seven hours every day…and that would be the sweetest thing of all.”
Although those early churches never had full Old and New Testaments, they had what they needed.
What does it mean when Paul tells Timothy, “All scripture is inspired…and useful for instruction”? It’s inspired in the sense that God prompted and guided its writing, and also that it continues to be a vehicle for communicating and applying the message in our lives. It is useful, not when it sits on a shelf, but when it comes alive in people. St Augustine heard an odd children’s song being sung in the garden as he walked: “Take up and read! Take up and read!” He opened his bible to Romans, and turned to a passage that spoke directly to him, and it changed his life. It was an “Aha!” moment. The word came alive for him. In Colossians we read, “Let the word of God dwell in you richly.” That’s our calling too.
Whenever the church has experienced renewal, it has come through a strong love for the Word. In the Reformation, the church rediscovered scripture’s strength after centuries of neglect. It is inspired insofar as God’s people reclaim it as their book. When we allow the word to address us—critique us, correct us, call us, there’s new life and new hope. Yes, there are passages that don’t seem so vital for spiritual growth, such as Exodus 23:19… “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” But many others are essential. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” “Let justice roll down like mighty waters, and righteousness like and ever flowing stream.”
Mark Twain said, it’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that trouble me. It’s the parts that are perfectly clear that do.” Scripture comforts us, of course, but it’s also meant to make us uncomfortable sometimes. A pastor once declared he considered it the highest compliment when somebody said after the sermon, “Pastor, you stepped on my toes this morning.”
Not long ago we passed a car that was conked out on the railroad overpass on Towanda, the driver still behind the wheel, hazard lights on. A little voice from the back seat said, “Shouldn’t we stop and help somebody in trouble?” I don’t know where kids get these crazy ideas…no doubt from our children’s program. I had several good reasons not to stop: he was on the other side at the top of the bridge, a four-lane highway with traffic streaming by. Besides, didn’t he have a cell phone to call AAA? So we kept going. But what about that little voice? Maybe that was God’s word too.
The Word refers to the Bible, of course, but even more to Jesus. He’s the living Word. Many who don’t have access to the written word still have access to Him. They exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, and thus the Word is dwelling in them richly. They listen when their conscience speaks, or the Spirit. Recently a member shared that at a point of crisis in her life, she heard very vividly the words, “Fear not” in an almost audible way. It seemed to her a word from beyond, and it sustained her.
Consider this: You and I could be the only Bible someone ever sees. We are supposed to embody the message. We can make the difference between hope and despair for someone. An old poem declares:
“You are writing a gospel a chapter each day,
By deeds that you do, By words that you say.
People read what you write, whether faithless or true.
Tell me: How reads the gospel…according to YOU?”