Yesterday was Bible Sunday, and Brother Ivo joined the company of preachers seeking to make a sermon that encompassed not a single text, not a parable or a story – but the entire book – from Genesis to Revelation.
He began by reminding the congregation that not only is the “Good Book” – not a ” book” at all, but rather a collection of books, a library, but also that there are a variety of contenders vying for what might be called the definitive version of the Bible.
Is it St Jerome’s original Latin text – the Vulgate – or the “Authorised” Version? Not only are there some books respected but not recognised as canonical, across different traditions, Coptic, Syriac, Orthodox, but in the English speaking world we have many versions, a few of which include the New Jerusalem, Revised, New American, to say nothing of the Good News. We Anglicans don’t do “Good News” as much as we perhaps ought to.
This quest for THE “Bible” which we were celebrating, became even more complex as the congregation was reminded that there are many incomplete bible translations for many of the 6000 languages of the world community. Some Christians have to learn and teach the good news of Christ’s redeeming love via only a handful of completely translated texts , maybe a Gospel or two, Genesis and a few of the letters.
Lest we think them impossibly disadvantaged in attaining salvation, it is worth recalling that for the first three centuries there was no Bible as such, yet the early Church not only survived but positively exploded into life despite massive persecution. It is also important to recognise that celebrating our Bible is not just about celebrating its artifactual presence: equally important is the uses to which we put it.
Brother Ivo had encountered a quotation by the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon which he knew, early in his sermon preparation, that he needed to share .
“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone whose life isn’t”
Brother Ivo decided to take and exhibit his usual Bible, only to disconcertingly realise as he examined it, that it bore on its inside cover the stamp from his old secondary school! He hopes they don’t come for it!
In the context of the sermon, close examination of that Bible revealed that the New Testament – the Gospels especially – was decidedly dog-eared, tatty, with paper clips marking past preached texts. The Old Testament ? Less so…
That probably needs attention, but at least there was some objective proof of engagement with the texts.
The earlier reference to the partial texts of other cultures came to cover Brother Ivo’s embarrassment, for the liturgical texts for the day referenced the word of God being “living and active”.
Last week Giles Fraser wrote in the Guardian of the fact that nearly a quarter of Anglican Churches had fewer than 10 worshippers in them on a Sunday. It is not good to generalise, but it might be a safe assumption that a goodly portion of those did not prioritise the effective sharing of the Bible with the young who are conspicuous by their absence in too many churches.
Winston Churchill once said that a community never makes a better investment than “putting milk into babies”. Brother Ivo reminded his congregation that Churches never make a better investment than putting a love of the word of God into the heart minds and spirits of the young. That has long been his number one priority
Remembering that many good faithful followers of Jesus don’t yet have a fully translated set of Bible books – Brother Ivo was not downhearted if his own bible showed a bias to the Gospels – declaring
“I’d rather share the Good News of the Gospel a hundred times from the small parts I know well – than have read the whole Bible a hundred times over and told nobody about it “.
Spurgeon was himself critical of the undisturbed bible. In one of his sermons he declared
“Most people treat the Bible very politely . They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief round it and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat, and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers”
If that inspires you to both read and share insights from reflecting upon your own Bible, Spurgeon will have inspired you to get in touch with your own inner Evangelical, Bible Sunday will have been productive, and you will have helped Brother Ivo’s in his own necessary quest to repent and offer some reparation for his own petty larceny.