—29 Oct 2017 (Bible Sunday), Rev Margaret Bird
Matthew 24. 30–35
Today is Bible Sunday. It is a day set aside when we can remember to give thanks for the wonderful gift of this book. A day set aside for us to consider thoughtfully about what is inside and how we use it.
Our Bibles contain so many words of encouragement and guidance. It enables us to reflect on our own relationship with God. As we read about humanity’s developing story and remember those familiar names we heard about in Sunday school, we begin to understand the part that God plays in their lives and in ours too.
Of course, it’s all too easy to put this book on a dusty shelf - the gift we receive at our baptism, our confirmation or our wedding – that prize from school or a present from our favourite aunt. But if we leave it there, unloved and unopened, we miss the wealth of knowledge, the joy of revelation and the comfort of those god-inspired words.
This book is not just to be read aloud in church on Sundays. The Bible is a wealth of material, of history, songs, poems and teaching gleaned over many centuries; the product of many human beings like you and me who have been inspired to write these words over thousands of years, so that for generations to come, faith can be encouraged and nurtured, lives touched by the word of God, and men and women compelled and motivated to transform their lives because they have listened to the words of Jesus and become a disciple.
Think of how many people have possessed a copy of this book.
In many countries (behind the Iron curtain, in China, for example) Bibles were forbidden. Those caught smuggling them across the borders were often put in prison. People have died to bring us a book that can now be possessed by ordinary people and read in their own language.
It has been translated into many different languages and dialects even into Braille.
Yet even though there are many translations, many different copies: the words handed down to us through the centuries are the same though we sometimes put them into modern language to help others grasp their meaning.
However, our understanding of them and their relevance for each different generation depends on how we too are inspired: how God opens our hearts and minds to the written word and invites us to explore what lies within.
Both my parents were committed Christians brought up in Christian families. They met because of their faith: my father was in the army and attended Sunday service where he was stationed outside Catterick. My mother was living not far away at the time where she was training to become an officer in the Salvation Army. They met, and the rest is history.
My father’s army career took him all over the world: Ireland, India, China, Palestine, to name but a few.
This is my Father’s Bible that went everywhere with him. It was a gift from my mother and there is an inscription inside.
My father was a career soldier who was stationed in India when War broke out in 1939. Sent home to Britain with his regiment, he was part of the forces sent into northern France only to be forced to retreat ack to the beaches at Dunkirk. He experienced the horrors and the heroism that week before his return to the UK thanks to those who came to their rescue, an experience that he never forgot or my mother too.
She wanted to give him a gift, a copy of the King James Bible: she knew that overarching message inside was one of love, a message we have listened to once more this morning.
By giving this to my Father, she was expressing more than her feelings for him: this book was a reminder to both of them that they were loved: that they were known and valued by God unconditionally: by God who was willing to wait on humanity despite being rejected time and time again. God was willing to show how much we were loved by becoming human in Jesus and demonstrating how human beings should live with one another.
By reading the words in this book, we learn not just that we are loved but how we should love our neighbour, our enemies and all who would persecute us and harm us. Love is central to our faith.
We are reminded to clothe ourselves with love: put on love as our outer garment, our protector? This is a statement about who we are, what we believe, our guide for the way we should live today. Paul tells us that love binds everything together. It’s the cement, the glue and more than that it’s the constant in an ever-changing world. Jesus demonstrated that love by dying for us and rising to new life so that we too could receive the gift of a life enveloped in God’s eternal love.
We are so fortunate to have the freedom and education to be permitted to own and to read such an important and inspirational book. We might take it for granted, yet it is such an integral part of our faith.
Remember, there are still some countries where the Bible is not welcomed; where you can be arrested for trying to distribute copies. Can you imagine what it must have been like living in places like China during the cultural revolution when worship, Christian gatherings were all banned, and Bibles were not allowed. Or smuggling bibles behind the Iron curtain putting your own life at risk or at least being thrown into prison. How precious does your Bible become when someone has died just so that you could possess one.
This is our legacy that has been passed down to us; a treasure, not to be locked away and forgotten, but to be shared, to be used and to be appreciated as a link with the first Christians and the Jewish faith they inherited.
I enjoy watching archaeological programmes when our past is revealed; we gain an insight into the lives of our ancient relatives. Sometimes they find bits of pottery or metal, sometimes it’s just a dark mark in the ground but everything they find is an aid to a better understanding of what they are seeing: a greater insight into the history of the people who lived there, who they were, what they did and how and why they did it. What is uncovered may not be considered valuable in a monetary sense; it is rare to find Saxon gold or hidden treasure; the worth of bits of pottery or stone cannot be counted in mere financial terms because each little discovery is something new and precious and adds another piece to the puzzle of human development.
When we open the pages of the Bible we do not know what we are going to discover because we cannot discern how God will speak to us through the words we find there today. How these words will be received by us today may not be the same tomorrow, or the next week. We do not know what might leap out from the page. A thought for the week, the answer to a problem that’s been troubling us, a connection with what is happening in the world that day, a comforting word for a difficult situation or a greater understanding of how much we are loved by God.
I know that this Bible that belonged to my father didn’t sit on a dusty shelf. You can see quite clearly that it was used, carried with him. Tucked into its pages is a pressed flower that has survived down the years and on some of the pages my father has underlined words and phrases that had a special significance for him.
In the first letter of John we find this text:–
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. –1 John 4.
Interesting that in the midst of war, my father should choose a passage that speaks of love. Perhaps this is how we should view all these pages: as a book of love between God and all humankind.