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The Why’s and Wonders of Worship: Inspired Word of God?”

“The Why’s and Wonders of Worship: Inspired Word of God?”
2 Timothy 3:16
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 5, 2018

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2: 11-15). (Read by Jill)

“‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20:13). (Read by Scott and Dondon)

Speaking to the Jews, Jesus says, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” (John 8:44). (Read by Judith)

“For no one who has a defect shall approach the altar: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles” (Leviticus 21: 19-21). (Read by Floyd)

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, not with braided hair and gold or pearls” (1 Tim 2:9). (Read by Sondra)

The Word of the Lord. (Response from congregation, “Thanks be to God.”) According to the Bible, we are in a lot of trouble at Redlands United Church of Christ. When Christians say that the Bible is the literal, inerrant, infallible word of the Lord, I have to ask them, “Have you really read your Bible?”

Imagine someone like Floyd, once the President of this congregation, one who was here since the founding of this church, who has cared over the year for many in our congregation, cannot approach the altar because he wears glasses or because he uses a cane? In fact, according to our scripture passage one cannot approach the altar with a broken foot, a broken hand, eczema. And crushed testicles? Imagine having that job. Uh… can you pull your robe back? O.K. you’re in.

The Bible says that Jesus is coming back again. Matthew, Paul, John (from the book of Revelation) all believed that Jesus was coming back during their lifetimes. After Jesus ascended, the people were told that he would be right back. They stood their gazing. They quit their jobs. They developed a socialist society. They hung out and waited. Jesus will be right back. He promised.

Finally, some brilliant person said, “You know what? Someone’s got to go back to work because Jesus is not coming right back.” Some said, “No, he’s coming right back. He promised.” But Jesus did not come right back. There are some today who say that Jesus will be coming back during their lifetime. They point to various scripture passages. Some Christians believe that he’s going to come back and take those who have declared Jesus alone as Lord and Savior with him to Heaven. All the others go to Hell. And the planet is blown up. So, why care for a planet that’s about to be destroyed? Christians must take partial responsibility for the degradation of the planet.

Many Christians say, “I believe in Biblical marriage.” I say, “No, you don’t.” Biblical marriage says a woman is the property of her father and sold to her husband for a bride price and she is owned. If her husband dies, she is passed to the brother, her brother in law to the 7th brother. Biblical marriage is about property, about business. Love has nothing to do with it. That is Biblical marriage – how does that work for you?

Even those stories and cute songs we learned as children are full of violence and destruction. Beneath the colorful illustration of Noah’s ark, the animals coming in two by two is – the violent destruction of humanity. Underneath the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho is – genocide. Behind the door of Queen Esther’s castle is – a harem full of concubines. How can this be called the inerrant and infallible word of God?

I am beginning a new sermon series today entitled “The Why’s and Wonders of Worship.” For the next 6 weeks, we will explore why we do what we do in worship. One part of the worship service is listening to, what Christians call, the Word of God – the holy scriptures, our sacred text. But after hearing some of the ways the Bible has been misused to abuse others, why in the world does it play a central role in the worship service?

When I was in Washington D.C. a few months ago for a conference, I had one free afternoon. What did I decide to do with that one free afternoon in D.C.? I went to the Museum of the Bible which just opened last year. This is what I learned. The Bible is the best selling book of all time. It was written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 authors from all walks of life – shepherds, farmers, tentmakers, physician, fishermen, philosophers and kings. It’s been translated into more than 2000 languages. It is full of idioms we use in everyday life – when we tease about “forbidden fruit” or praise a “good Samaritan” or use such phrases as “at my wit’s end,” “a drop in the bucket,” “a fly in the ointment,” “the writing is on the wall,” “the apple of his eye,” “as old as Methuseleh,” “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” – we are quoting scripture passages. The Bible has been cited for centuries from William Black to Beyonce. Its tales inspiring the work of Shakespeare and Steinbeck. Words quoted in movies like The Lion King, Transformers, Groundhog Day, Pirates of the Caribbean and even The Simpsons.

The Bible has been used in the 1800’s to both justify slavery (“Slaves obey your masters”) and oppose slavery. (Quoting Moses to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”). The Bible has been used in the 1960’s by civil rights activists.  (Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the Bible in his “I Have a Dream” speech.) Christian segregationists also used the Bible to support their stand. (In the 60’s pastors such as Jerry Falwell preached from the pulpit in favor or segregation. Ham, Noah’s son had looked on Noah in his nakedness, and for this he had been cursed to servitude and slavery along with all his progeny, according to Genesis 9. It was believed that the descendants of Ham were from Black African ancestry.)

Most recently, the Bible was quoted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to justify the separation of children and parents in matters of immigration. Sessions said, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” Shortly thereafter, a group of us participated in an immigration march in San Bernardino – we conversely carried signs that read, “Love the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” Deuteronomy 10: 18-19.

No doubt, the Bible’s ancient refrains give voice to the laments of millions of oppressed people. It is literature for the resistance. The Bible, however, has also been used to provide justification to the oppressors. Wars still rage, of course, over its disputed geographies. The Bible is complicated, debated, and messy.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, we hear, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” Here the writer has created a new word – theopneustos. The word combines the Greek “theo”, meaning “go” and “pneo” meaning “to breathe out.” Inspiration is rooted in the image of divine breath (Evans, Rachel Held, Inspiration, p. xxiii).

In the words of Rachel Held Evans, “Inspiration is not about some disembodied ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host. It’s a collaborative process, a holy give-and-take, a partnership between Creator and creator. While Christians believe the Bible to be revelatory to the faith, we have no reason to think its many authors were exempt from the mistakes, edits, rewrites and dry spells of everyday creative work” (Inspiration, xxiii).

In other words, when we stop trying to force the Bible to be something it’s not – static, certain, absolute, inerrant, infallible (remember it’s the inspired word, not the inerrant word), we allow it to something it is: living, breathing, surprising.

If the Apostle Paul had any idea that we were going to take his letters from jail and canonize them, and turn them into the word of God, every word of God, everything he said the word of God, if he knew we were going to do that, he would’ve done some rewrites.

Moreover, I do not believe God is some stagnant entity, but God is a fresh flowing fountain. In the United Church of Christ, we say, “God is still speaking.” When we put a cover on the back of the book, we limit God’s ability to say something completely new and fresh. Therefore, while we hold that the Bible is a sacred text used in worship, we will sometimes use other sacred texts in worship, believing that God is still speaking.

I believe that the Bible is an inspired word of God, but it is not the only or the inerrant word of God. Inspired – yes. For many, have found meaning and solace in its pages over the centuries. From Jeremiah 29 – “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for evil, plans for a future and a hope.” Psalm 46 – “Be still and know that I am God.” Philippians 4 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Romans 8 – “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” Amos 5:24 24But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! The Bible is not the word of God, but words of God are found in the Bible.

On Sunday morning, we gather to discuss and debate and wrestle with this sacred text trusting that there is indeed a blessing within and beyond its pages. Amen.