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Today is kept as Bible Sunday. It is not a day for celebrating the Bible as such, but a day for giving thanks for it as a tool to strengthen faith and discipleship.
There must be almost as many ways of thinking about the Bible as there are Christians. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but Christians certainly have a wide range of ways of understanding what the Bible is; as a result have a wide range of ways of understanding what to do with what the Bible says.
For some Christians, the Bible is the absolute word of God and as such is unquestionable and infallible.
For others the Bible is so alien to our modern experience that it is has become virtually irrelevant.
It can be difficult to study the Bible together when Christians have such a variety of ideas about what the Bible is.
Extreme views tend to get in the way of the Bible’s purpose, and I believe that today’s lectionary readings highlight two key principles which can be a foundation enabling us to explore the Bible together.
The first principle is in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.
Whether we consider ourselves weak or strong in the faith, what has been written, is written so that, with hope and encouragement, we will persevere in the faith.
Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand and require deep study and deliberation. Even St Peter said that St Paul’s words were hard to understand sometimes. However, you must believe this: the Bible was written for you. And it was written so that you will grow in hope and encouragement.
So do not dismiss the Bible, or even parts of it, gloss over the hard teachings or worry about not understanding. Whatever is written, is written for you; and if you patiently seek a little help, study, pray and speak to others about your questions, its wisdom will be revealed to you.
The second principle comes both in the Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah, and in the Gospel reading, where Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah.
In the Old Testament reading, God, speaking through Isaiah, says, “Turn to me and be saved… only in the Lord are righteousness and strength”. The Bible contains everything we need to know for salvation, but it isn’t the source of salvation – it’s just a signpost. So we mustn’t worship the Bible, but rather worship the Lord God to whom the Bible points.
Reading from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, we hear of Jesus saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. The key purpose of the Bible is to point us to God, and in the end that means it points us to Jesus.
The Bible is a series of works covering a small segment of human history. As we read all those very human stories and wisdom and reflections, about life and death and holiness and God; we see that all those folk were on journeys.
They were life journeys common to us all – journeys of faithfulness and doubt, obedience and misunderstanding, sin and forgiveness. And in the end all those journeys lead to Christ and a life redeemed.
The Bible is a tool for us to use, a precious record of human faithfulness and unfaithfulness, steering us to one central truth. “I am God, turn to me and be saved”
So study the Bible, don’t just read it – it was written for you so that you grow in hope and faith.
Pray through the Bible ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to its relevance for your life as it is today.
For in the end it will take you on your way, and you’ll find that it leads you to Jesus.
If you’re in a group –
- Talk together about how you learn more about a Bible story. What resources do you use? Who do you ask for help? What do you do if a passage makes no sense to you at all?
In a group, or on your own…
- Which Bible character do you most associate with?
- What did they do right that you can learn from?
- What did they get wrong that you can learn from?
This last question might not work well in a group discussion, but try this…
- Imagine there was an opportunity to put your own faith story into the Bible. Sketch out the parts of your life to include the failures of faith as well as the triumphs. You’re allowed to write in the ways God was working in your life, that you didn’t realise until well afterwards. Prayerfully give thanks for your journey, and ask God for a good opportunity to share your Bible Story with someone still far from God.
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