A sermon on the Bible for Bible Sunday, 25th October 2020.
It’s slightly over 400 years since the publication of the Authorized, or King James, version of the Bible in 1611.
This was the only authoritative English Bible for reading in churches until the Revised Version in the 19th century.
It’s been called “the most influential version of the most influential book in the world, in what is now its most influential language”.
“The most important book in English religion and culture”.
And “the most celebrated book in the English-speaking world”.
It’s so influential that Cambridge students of English have to read it so they can understand the many biblical references in English literature.
It’s added 257 sayings and expressions to the English language, more than any other single source, including Shakespeare.
These include “a drop in the bucket”, “a fly in the ointment”, “at his wits end”, “in the twinkling of an eye” and “the skin of your teeth”.
And the King James is still the most popular translation in the United States, despite the many different versions that we have now, all produced to keep up with our ever-changing language, better translation techniques and technology.
King James didn’t get people to spend 7 years translating the Bible just to produce a good read and a source of quotes.
Although we can read the Bible like that and some people do.
They marvel at the beauty of the language, the poetry, the vivid images, the exciting stories.
And they feel they’ve taken part in a cultural activity like reading a novel or visiting a museum.
Before I became a Christian I considered the Bible a book of interesting stories, like other books I’d read, and I suspect I’m not alone in this.
It’s also possible to spend hours analysing the Bible as if it’s just any other ancient book.
We can decide what kind of writing each part is, when it was written and by whom, what exactly this particular Greek or Hebrew word means, and so on.
I’m not knocking these things – they can help us get a deeper understanding of what’s being said.
They can also help us avoid either interpreting things too rigidly and literally or dismissing everything as myths.
They can help us not take verses out of context and use them to browbeat others or to justify violence, hatred and our own prejudices.
Plus, these things keep biblical scholars happy and off the streets!
But if we get too deep into technical analysis we might forget what the Bible is actually for.
What is the Bible for?
The Bible isn’t just a good story, a collection of ideas, things you should and shouldn’t do, or a fascinating historical document.
Although it contains all these things and more, it’s a collection of books, that changes us by pointing to the living word of God – Jesus.
It guides us, teaches us and helps us discover the truth about humanity, God and the world.
It’s not that there’s necessarily an easy answer to every question in the Bible (if there was, Christians wouldn’t argue so much).
But it shows us which way to go to begin or carry on a relationship with God, how to be transformed by the power of God’s Spirit so we begin to live good lives, and where to find real help, peace, hope, guidance and comfort.
Why read it?
But none of these things can happen unless we actually open it.
As an old Chinese proverb says, “a book unopened is but a block of paper”.
There’s a story about a young couple who went on honeymoon and, due to a flight delay, arrived at their hotel in the early hours of the morning.
The next morning they complained that their room was ridiculously small, had no windows and only a single bed settee.
Having booked a honeymoon suite, they’d been given a box room, they complained.
The manager came upstairs and asked if they’d noticed the double doors, which the couple had assumed was a wardrobe.
Beyond the doors was a room with a four‐poster bed, a balcony with a sea view, flowers and champagne.
They had spent their wedding night in the lobby of the best suite in the best hotel in the country.
It can be the same with the Bible if we’ve never sat down and read it properly.
We might know some of the stories or books but stick with the Sunday school stories we learnt as children.
Or we might hear bits of the Bible read here every Sunday but never find out how and where they fit in the overall story.
If we don’t read the Bible for ourselves we could miss out on the treasures it contains.
We could stay in the lobby and miss the good things that are waiting for us on the other side.
This is why today’s collect asks God to help us hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the scriptures.
Without all this the Bible is just another book on the shelf and we miss out on its power.
A power that can transform not just us as individuals but our whole society.
Faithful readers of the Bible have set up just legal systems, cared for the poor and helpless, improved working conditions and made widespread education available.
Overcoming some of the difficulties
It’s true that reading the Bible can seem a daunting task.
It’s long, it contains strange names, it has bits we don’t understand and bits that seem just horrible.
And we all have a million other things that need doing.
But there are lots of Bible reading plans which break it down into small, manageable chunks.
There are books which help with the hard bits.
There are versions written in different styles for different people.
We can listen to it through apps or online.
There are Bible study groups.
Why not ask each other about it – all of us need help sometimes.
And we can probably safely skip the really long lists of names if we want to.
In the process we might be surprised at what we discover, what we learn and how we change if, in the words Colossians, we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
So, let us keep our hearts and our minds open to what God might be saying to us today through words that have been changing the world for thousands of years.
Questions to ponder for bible sunday
Do you have a regular Bible reading pattern or is the Bible more of a mystery to you?
How can we deal with the more difficult passages involving things like violence, subjugation of women and slavery?
Do you have a favourite Bible passage or Bible translation?
Do you use apps or websites to read the Bible or do you prefer paper?
Are there helpful reading plans or guides that you’d like to share?