Paul, an apostle of Christ
Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that
is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved
Grace, mercy, and peace from
God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I am grateful to God—whom I
worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember
you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I
long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of
your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother
Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For
this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within
you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a
spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of
I’ve always had a respect for the Bible. Like
Timothy, my two brothers and I were raised by a mother who learned her
faith from her grandmother and passed it on to us. (Her own mother died
when she was 9 years old and her father crawled into a bottle and stayed
their most of his life.)
I was fortunate that my folks found a church that
they could both attend when I was just in the second grade. I was
doubly fortunate that the minister (Alger Fitch) continued to emphasize
the importance of work with youth (and thrice fortunate) that we had a
good youth group in our church and two wonderful youth ministers from
NCC during my high school years – one with whom I keep in touch
regularly. Yah, pretty fortunate, I know!
I was allowed to be a leader in the youth group and
practice some skills at speaking before my piers and the church. At one
point, one of the elders backed me up against the church pillar and
asked me, “Have you ever thought of becoming a minister?” It was the
farthest thing from my mind. That started, however, opening my mind to
the thought of being a pastor.
Like a lot of other healthy, hormone rich youth, I
was more interested in the girls in the youth group and whether or not I
could be liked by any one of them.
As Garrison Keillor says of his experience as a
youth in the church, “The gospel hymns are good for the soul and a way
to keep you from thinking about sex (which otherwise you thought about
only 50 times a day or more).
I enjoyed going to summer camp. Among my lofty
goals, the persistent goal was to get a girl friend. We were sent out
on the sand dunes at Wi-Ne-Ma camp, beautifully placed between a fresh
water lake and the ocean beach. Morning devotions consisted of taking
your Bible and going out to a quiet place alone to read and pray.
I don’t remember any instructions as to how to
approach the Bible, just open it and read it. Keep in mind my
persistent goal. . . . When I let my King James Bible fall open, my
eyes fell on I Corinthians 7:1 – the chapter caught my eye because the
italics describing the chapter referred to marriage.
I was shocked to read the first verse: “Now
concerning the things whereof ye wrote to me: IT IS GOOD FOR A MAN NOT
TO TOUCH A WOMAN.”
I wanted to close the darn book and throw it across
the next sand dune!
It was only later that I heard someone say that to
just open the Bible may not be the best approach to benefiting from it.
He used the old story about the person who flopped open the Bible and
read, “Judas went and hanged himself.” He closed it quickly and opened
it again, only to read, “Go thou and do likewise.” In one last
desperate try he read, “What thou doest, do quickly.”
I listened enough to the preaching in my church (we
had a good “teaching” preacher), that I heard some passages that drew me
in – passages about Gods love and grace.
I began to notice that my mother’s bible (show it)
had all sorts of markings in it. I wasn’t sure that a book so revered
could be marked up. She wrote in the margins, color coded some favorite
passages, and made her own cross references. She was working through
her Bible (a term I later in life heard from Ronald Osborn [often
referred to as “Mr. Disciple”] – when talking of a new book or a
biblical book, he would say – I’m currently working through it.) It was
if my mom was recording her journey in faith.
As I learned more about others’ approach to the
Bible, even those of our own church heritage like Alexander Campbell, I
began to see the importance of context: to whom the scripture was
written, what the writer was trying to say and, then, asking what that
says to us today (to abbreviate: What was said? What does it say (to
If I had known the context of that passage in I
Cor. 7, I would have understood that Paul thought the Lord’s return was
imminent – the time was short – if you can refrain from burning with
passion, be single – get to work sharing the good news with people
hungry for it.
Only later did I realize that all scripture has to
be interpreted. When the preacher stands before you and tells you, “The
Bible says. . . , that preacher is telling you what he interprets the
Bible to be saying.
In seminary we were taught to bring the Bible text
and a good novel together. This was a class on Biblical Theology, why
were we asked to read novels? It finally sunk in to most of us. The
Bible is full of powerful stories. If we connect the biblical story to
a powerful novel, we bridge 2000 years of history and connect the
tradition to our own experience.
I hadn’t placed much value on my own experience
before Professor Harold Hat’s class.
We became introduced to interesting ways to study
I’d heard others say they had read the Bible
through cover to cover (some 2-3-4 times). That is good to pick up
content and context. But does it translate into our everyday lives?
What about selecting a passage and living with it for a week, bringing
our life experience to bear upon the text. It may not be so important
how much scripture we read but how much we listen to the passages we
read and let them connect and affect our daily lives.
Another Bible study method helping us listen to the
scripture is to rewrite it in our own words (encouraging more personal
listening to the text and writing what it is saying to us). One caution
– it is always helpful to share with a group your “hearing” (or
understanding) of the text and allow them to share their hearing with
you – keeping you from being so far out “in left field” as they say.
Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries and other study
guides are good resources for listening to scripture. But don’t forget
your own experience. God’s Holy Spirit is within you. II Timothy 7:14.
God is still speaking.
You may be wondering why I am wearing this tee
shirt (have I joined some strange new cult – become a Rashneshe?) Well,
Ginny and I were given these shirts when we worked in New Orleans
following the Katrina Hurricane devastation. We knew we were going to
be in the area and so called the Week of Compassion office to see if we
could join a work party there. They told us there were no Disciple
groups planning to work at that time, but they would help us connect
with a United Church of Christ group from Portland, Maine. They were
very hospitable and included us fully as one of their own group.
I hadn’t noticed the TV adds enough nor learned
about the national slogans of the UCC. When they gave us the shirts we
saw the slogan: “God is still speaking” – “Never put a period where God
has placed a comma.” Dan referred to their slogan in his sermon on
August 5th. His interpretation was: “It’s not what’s in the
text but what is in our hearts – perhaps a reference to Jeremiah and the
New Covenant – “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon
their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31f)
A number of our congregation is gathered a Camp
Lane for a church retreat, as you have likely heard. The main speaker
for the retreat is Rabbi Maurice D. Harris from Eugene. He as written a
book entitled, Moses A Stranger Among Us. The book was
made available for purchase before the retreat. It is an intriguing
book written for Jewish readers but with much benefit to all people of
Chapter 7 is entitled: “The Law of Moses Can be
Changed.” In the introduction he writes:
Before the rise of the
modern liberal movements (denominations) of Judaism, rabbis universally
taught that the Torah’s divine laws are immutable and perfect But does
the Torah text itself truly advocate the idea that the Torah is
immutable and perfect?
Rabbi Harris takes a Reconstructionist approach to
the Torah (and all our sacred texts) which acknowledges that, like all
things crafted by human beings, they are flawed texts that at times we
may not agree with morally or spiritually. We are intimately engaged
with our sacred texts, but not ultimately commanded by them.
To borrow the words of contemporary Christian theologian Marcus J. Borg,
we take the Bible seriously, but not literally (coined earlier by other
theologians). A famous motto of the Reconstructionist movement is “the
past has a vote, not a veto.” P.xxiv
While he points out that human beings can influence
God is all over the Torah, he calls our attention to Numbers 27.
Toward the end of the Israelites’ forty years of
wandering in the wilderness, the Torah records an episode about the
daughters of a man named Tzelophehad. The five women’s names are
recorded as Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirtzah. Their father had
died without siring any sons, and the Israelite laws of land
distribution that God had handed down (Number 26:52-56) did not allow
daughters to inherit. The women brought a challenge to the law arguing
that their deceased father’s inheritances should pass to them, and not
to his closest male relative as the law required, or else their father’s
name would disappear for all time. Moses had recently taken a census of
the Israelites as they prepared for their conquest of Canaan, and soon
plans were to be made for how the territory would divided up: by tribe,
by clan, and by household. The five sisters were worried that the land
bearing the name of their father’s household would be merged into
another male relative’s allotment. They presented their case in public,
before Moses and the High Priest.
It’s a fascinating moment in Moses’
leadership. The law that he has presented the Israelites—the Law of
God—has just been challenged, and by a group of women no less (keeping
in mind the patriarchal nature of the society at the time). And the
challenge has come in public, in front of the community. Dramatically,
It’s as if all eyes are on Moses, waiting to see how he will react. Will
he take their challenge as an unacceptable affront to his (and God’s)
law? Will he censure these women for even daring to speak?
What Moses and God end up dong has huge
implications for how we choose to look at law, whether in religious or a
secular context. First, Moses doesn’t act threatened by the appeal, and
in fact simply seems stumped. On the one hand, there is existing law of
inheritance, which is clear. On the other hand, there is the daughter’s
case seems to have some merit. Moses takes the case directly to God.
God hears the case, considers it, and
then rules in favor of the sisters. A new, revised law is proclaimed:
Numbers 27:5-11. p. 63 (read from The Bible)
Again, in Chapter 36 of Numbers another revision is
Rabbi Harris points out that the Law of Moses is
subject to repeated appeal. It can change. We have in these texts a
living and evolving legal relationship between God and the people. In
the context of that relationship, the people can have input that
influences God, and that even changes God’s thinking.---there is an
opportunity provided for questioning and appeal, and there is a Divine
Being on the other end of that conversation who is listening and who
can learn from us. P. 65
My professor in seminary, Dr. Fred Craddock, would
say to us budding preachers: “When approaching a text on which to
preach, ask yourself, “Do I believe it?”
When taught to believe the Bible from cover to
cover, that seems like an odd question. What we were being challenged
to do was ask if we had taken that passage in to our mind and heart and
life experience to the point that we could sincerely preach it.
We were reminded of Alfred North Whitehead and his
book The Christian Agnostic. When reading the Bible he
envisioned himself in front of a huge roll top desk, the kind with all
the cubby wholes where you could store things. If he didn’t understand
or had doubts about a text, he would put it in a cubby. After some time
had passed, he would get it back out and look at the text again to see
if his life experience and study had made any difference in his
understanding of that text.
This gave me permission to disbelieve the text and
struggle with it (with the help of God’s Spirit and the life experience
I was having).
Rabbi Harris says in his chapter entitled “The
Voice of Pain an Cruelty in Moses”:
“In case it is not
obvious, I have a huge problem with sacred texts (of any faith) that
depict God or one of God’s prophets ordering, approving, and rewarding
acts of brutality, including mass conquest, genocide, violence against
women, children, civilians, or violence based on claims that some nation
or people has become irreversibly ‘polluted’ or evil and therefore must
be completely exterminated. The Episcopal priest and noted writer Bishop
John Shelby Spong recently published entire book on these kinds of
sacred texts within his religion, titled ‘The Sins of Scripture:
‘Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.’
‘Text by text I will seek
to disarm those parts of the biblical story that have been used
throughout history to hurt, denigrate, and oppress, and even kill. I
will set about to deconstruct the bible’s horror stories. But
destruction is neither my aim nor my goal. I want above all else to
offer believers a new doorway into the biblical story, a new way to read
and to listen to this ancient narrative. I want to lead people beyond
the sins of Scripture embedded in its ‘terrible texts’ in order to make
a case for the Bible as that ultimate shaper of the essence of our
humanity and as a book that calls us to be something we have not yet
Rabbi Harris continues to
Moses teaches us,
unintentionally, of the moral importance of being responsible
participants of our religions—discerning partakers who don’t follow a
tradition as a whole blindly, but who take seriously the ethical duty to
weigh whether the teaching that’s coming from the tradition is one that
affirm what our hearts and consciences confirm to be the truth.
I was thinking back to some children’s bible story
books Ginny and I purchased and one of them I couldn’t read to our sons
– Joshua fitting the battle of Jericho – the walls come tumbling down –
and God ordering the death of all the inhabitants of that city,
including women and children.
Dan Bryant told us just recently that he is known
for taking a text and:
- Departing from it
- Speaking from it
- Speaking against it
In a recent morning preface to a sermon that on
that occasion he was going to do all three. What freedom this gives us
as members of the congregation to wrestle with the text, just like our
Believing everything the Bible says, or for that
matter everything the preacher says is greatly over rated.
I’m so thankful for my upbringing – all those who
influenced my life and faith journey. It was through them that the
Bible Became My Friend.
I continue to wear out the Bibles that I use as I
try to connect with the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)
surrounding me through these sacred texts.
I wrestle with the texts, just like my mother.
When told by two of her grandsons that they were gay, she looked at all
the passages thrown at her by her own more conservative church and chose
to see with the Word “written on her heart” rather than the proof texts
thrown at her by her friends and pastor.
I’m so proud of her and so glad to take up this
Bible as a friend and share with my friends and even my enemies the
grace and unconditional love I have been taught by this friend of mine.
This book can transform your life, the church, and
I recommend this friend to you.