20 Nov 2011
“… the Word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess. 2:13) (+)
I’m on the mailing list of the Massachusetts Bible Society. That’s where I stole the image printed in our bulletin of a dust covered Bible on which someone has traced the words “Read Me!” In their mailing the picture accompanies an invitation to join “The Dickinson Series.” A wealthy and biblically engaged doctor donated money to fund a 24 week course on Exploring the Bible. The motivation behind the endowment is not only to get people to read the Bible, but to read it critically, that is with the mind on. They go on to say that a serious problem that can hinder the biblical revelation is not that people don’t have a strong set of beliefs, but that the reader approaches the Bible “with a full slate of beliefs [already] in mind.” If we read it at all, we tend not to read with an open mind and let the Bible talk to us. Instead, if we read it at all, we read The Good Book with our opinions already firmly in place.
This week we have to drive up to Maine and pick Kristin up for Thanksgiving. I’m wondering if Sharon and I can fit in a quick side trip over to the Portland Museum of Art because they have a special exhibit for the next few months on the handcrafts of the Shakers. As simple and beautiful as these baskets, chairs, tables and other everyday items may be, they’re only a reflection of the deeper simple and beautiful faith of the Shakers themselves. The faith communities of the Shakers are actually dying out, and most all of what will be left behind are their baskets, weavings and carpentry. One of the last living members of this community once said to Ken Burns for his documentary, “I almost expect to be remembered as a chair or a table.” A living breathing faith, a living breathing community, reduced to only its symbols.
Now think about that picture of the dust covered Bible with the words “Read Me!” scrawled through that accumulation of years of un-use. Has the Bible become our artifact? Do we use it mainly to hold together our old family memories? If we ever open it up, do memorial cards from past funerals fall out, dried flowers from weddings, maybe a sketch of our family tree? Has the Bible become nothing more than a symbol of our faith not unlike a Shaker box or a Shaker rocking chair sitting in a museum? The first words from today’s Mass are that the Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12). First Peter proclaims that we are born anew … the next words are not about baptism … the next words are through “the living and enduring Word of God.” (1:23) The Bible as the Word of God is living and life-giving, that is if it’s not a dust covered artifact.
I had a funeral in Chicopee this past week. The funeral director is making a few closing remarks at the cemetery. He has passed out flowers to the grieving family and in reference to the flowers he says that they are part of God’s good creation. Very nice. But then he goes on to say that his Christian faith has taught him that God created the universe in six days, and he looks at me with an approving nod. I can’t nod back. I don’t believe in the six day creation story. It’s a story told for a purpose, and the purpose is what the funeral director started with: God’s good creation. It has to be a story and not science because if we blow the dust off our Bibles we see that in Genesis 1 humans are created male and female, and as the last act of creation, but in Genesis 2 the male human is created as the first act of creation, then all the rest follows, and lastly comes along the woman. There are so many problems and discrepancies with these two stories that it’s not even funny. But for all you women out there, remember that in chapter 1 the act of human creation is God’s pinnacle of creation, His final and greatest act. In chapter 2, the final act of creation is woman.
But remember when I started, I mentioned the Massachusetts Bible Society and the Dickinson Series, that we come at the Bible with our own ideas already set in stone. The six days of creation is just one such example, and how about the fact that women are too often relegated to second tier status in religious groups and yet Eve is actually the culminating act of creation. Or how about politicians. I’m absolutely amazed that social and religiously Christian conservative politicians can simultaneously embrace the philosophy of Ayn Rand. I’ve included on the web-sermon the link to an interview with her. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ukJiBZ8_4k) Ayn Rand was proudly the antagonist of the whole Christian gospel message of self-sacrifice for the good of the whole, and yet so many of our politicians can profess strict and rigid belief in the Bible with one breath and then espouse Ayn Rand in the next. They can believe one or the other, but you can’t hold on t the both of them conscientiously. They have to be reading the Bible with preconceived ideas if they can claim both Ayn Rand and Jesus. The Bible has become an artifact of the faith, not the “living and enduring” Word of God.
One of the reasons that our church created the Sacrament of the Word of God, the sacrament we celebrate today, is because as sacrament we see the Word of God as a living expression of our faith. It’s truth is found in God’s conversation with us, or as I like to borrow from our Congregational neighbours, God is still speaking. Faithfulness to the Bible is to believe in the wholeness of its message, a message still being spoken to us today by God. Blow the dust off the book and read. Don’t count success by the number of pages read. Listen to what the Word is trying to say. And when the words get difficult, that’s the time to listen even harder, that’s when God is trying to tell us something new. I am hugely proud of our church’s decision to name a new sacrament because the Word of God truly is “living and enduring,” truly is “now at work in [we] who believe.” That God may continue to speak through the Word of God to us, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo