This is one of those times. One of those times that try mens’ souls. Women too, but that’s not the old saying so please forgive me. This is one of those times when the Bible is right; well that’s usually the case; but this is one of those times when the Bible is right, and the Lectionary is wrong. The Lectionary is a set of scriptures assigned to a particular day, in a three year cycle, that follows the story of Jesus from Advent through Easter, into Pentecost, then back around to Advent again.
It was decided by a committee, and like all things decided by a committee, it has flaws.
I encourage you, from this day forward, to be curious. I encourage you to look at places where the reading for the day hops from verse to verse, jumping over sometimes vast stretches of the biblical landscape, over mountains and valleys sometimes; I encourage you to look into those places and find out what was left out, why the scriptures had to be massaged in this way, why the committee couldn’t just let the scriptures speak, and let the Pastor interpret and let the Bible be.
Now I will admit that sometimes when this happens it is to remove a litany of details from the flow of the lesson, a bunch of off-topic ranting sometimes that the listener would probably be better off not hearing anyway. Other times the verses are removed to create greater harmony between the various pieces of the Bible being lifted up. After all it is poor choice for the Bible to be railing against divorce when we are at the same time celebrating the wedding, it doesn’t fit.
But I’m a guy who loves the sunshine. I love the whole thing, and I don’t mind taking the time to open it up, break it down and explain it. So this is one of those days. This is one of those times when the Bible is right.
It is particularly ironic that the passage being left out of the Bible, from the revelations text that seems to bounce around a fair bit, is a warning against doing exactly what the lectionary committee is doing. The revelations text I was called to read was (read without italic sections).
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
This is one of those times when the Bible is right. If you put back verses 18 and 19 however (read again with italic sections) it seems to say, or imply, or hint at to say the least, that we ought not be leaving bits out and should rather read the whole thing, unfiltered at first, and then have someone work through it with us, as I am doing now, as David was doing earlier, as pastors have been called to do for centuries.
The word of God is sufficient, and complete and perfect. I’ll have the debate later about inerrancy if you’d like but I leave you with this thought, I only confess that Jesus was without sin, not the guys who wrote down the scriptures, not (clearly) the guys who wrote the lectionary. This is one of those times when the Bible is right.
Because the word itself, that is enough, and even in those moments when I feel that it might have read better this way, or it might have been easier to preach if Paul had written it down that way, the fact that the Holy Scriptures of God have made me think about holy things long enough to wish that they said something different? Well, that’s a sign that they are true and effective at doing their work, that their hooks are firmly in my mind and my heart and that they are drawing me in.
So why diminish them? Why leave some verses out?
Let me ask you a question. What are you afraid of? Is it fame, or lack of fame? Is it spiders? Is it the darkness? Is it terrorists? Whatever it is, that thing you fear, how do you handle that fear? How do you deal with the thing that makes you quake and tremble?
Doctors will tell you that the three basic responses, coded into the little monkey brain section of the human creature, are fight, flight and freeze. You instinctively size up a situation and either put up your dukes, run away or simply lose the ability to make decisions and become rooted to the spot, like an old Valley Oak.
It seems to me that the lectionary committee has selected flight from some sections of the Bible, for the sake of whatever it is for the sake of, whatever decision they made, and vast swaths of the bible are never read in church. You only hear Revelations at this time of year, and then not very much of it. Where’s the dragon? I love the dragon story. Some folks who do not regularly read the book will wonder whether I am confusing the bible with Harry Potter, but it is in there. This is one of those times when the Bible is right.
And there are a lot of other things in there that might make you cringe, or squirm in your seats uncomfortably. The Bible was used to attack as well as to defend slavery, war, even the Holocaust because there are parts of it that are difficult to unpack.
But they are there, and we need to address them. Address is a good metaphor, if I invited you all to a party at our house and told you that I lived at 805, but failed to mention the street name, you could eventually find out where I lived, and therefore attend my party, but it might take you a long time and you might just miss the festivities.
So it is with the scriptures. There are things said in the bible that I find deeply troubling, disturbing to my sense of right and wrong, challenging to my sense of how the life and death of Jesus are supposed to transform my life. I am not, however, willing to throw them out.
And not just because the passed over sections of revelations threaten me with expulsion if I do.
But because Jesus told me again and again, over and over in a hundred different ways, “do not be afraid” and I have taken that as my personal mantra when it comes to the scriptures, and I recommend it to you as well, do not be afraid. This is one of those times when the Bible is right.
Do not be afraid to think that something that the bible says is crazy. Do not be afraid when the bible says something you disagree with completely. Do not be afraid when the bible pulls you out of your wooly, self-induced coma of self-sufficiency, self-awareness, self-care, self-centered living and shows you that there is a more godly way, and that it might hurt a little, prying your fingers open from around the remote control with which you seek to manage your world, but that the rewards are beyond your ken, beyond your dreams, beyond all our hopes.
The Bible was meant to challenge you. Nothing changes without a little pressure and the world without the Gospel needs some changing. and if we are afraid of this or that idea, if we are afraid to discuss and pursue the tough conversation, then we are doing a disservice to the Bible, the cradle in which we are to find the Christ child, and we are doing a disservice to Christ Himself.
But this is also one of those days when the bible is wrong.
I KNOW! Shocking to hear from a pastor.
But I have a Bible that I have never opened. I have never opened it because I got it as a gift and since I have about thirteen or fourteen Bibles, I have never been in a position where I needed to open this new one up because I have always had a trusty old one lying around somewhere.
Is it still a Bible? Is it still the Holy Scriptures? Is it still the cradle in which we find the Christ child if nobody is looking for Him? I submit for your consideration that a book that nobody reads is a doorstop, or a shelf-filler, or kindling for a fire and not a book at all, that it needs to be read, that its importance, its essence, its power is only released when it is put to use.
The vocabulary word for the day is teleology.
But the Bible cannot transform you unless you open it and encounter it, and hold it, and love it and let it love you. Truly, you’d have a nice doorstop, especially if its one of those big ones like the one I dropped into the tub with me in seminary, but at least I was reading it at the time.
The thing that needs to be added to the scriptures, the thing that is missing: it’s you. Unless you read it or hear it, and let it sink in, and argue with it, or roll around in it like a dog, unless you encounter it, then it is pure, unrealized potential, a panacea for all the problems of a suffering world, locked in a box, never to be realized.
Then its power will be yours, not just to feel and to know but to command. You will then have the word within you and you can then loose that word, it will bubble up in you if you’re not careful, and find its own way into the world unless you impede its progress.
You’ve heard the old saying, “You are the only Bible most people will ever read?”
This is what that old saying means. When you open up the words, and read them, and hear them and study them and know them and love them and allow them to love you, you allow the power of God, the promises of God made so long ago and brought to beautiful and terrible flower in the coming of the Christ, you allow that power to roam freely in a sorry and sad world, a world so convinced that no men are brothers, that there is only a little bit of success and we must all claw at the pile in order to secure our piece, that there is no hope so we’d better just focus on today, on ourselves, on now.
Open it up and let there be a chance that all can truly be one, as Jesus asks in John this morning, and that God’s love may be in us and in all people. Leave it closed and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine doorstop there. Just as medicine needs a patient, so the word needs to be spoken, not with fear or with measured, careful piety, but with the freedom which is the inheritance that we are promised in the scriptures themselves and that we can only know of when we open them.
This is one of those times when the Bible is right, and this is one of those times when the Bible is wrong. We need to hear the whole word of God and not just the sanitized for your protection version, but then the word needs us to speak it into the world, releasing it from its pages and into the world it was left here to change.
In it is the power to save and to heal, to comfort and to mourn, to live and to thrive, to love without asking the cost, and finally, to be freed from all bonds, even the ones we place upon ourselves. Open it and see.