Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Bible Fitness
October 27, 2013, 5:56 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Not far from where I live there is a leisure centre. When I have a Sunday off from here, Marilyn and I often go to the early service at Westbury. As we pass the leisure centre, well before 8 o’clock, we can see that the gym is already full of people on exercise bikes and other bits of equipment, all evidently keen to keep fit. Physical health and fitness is something of a national obsession at the moment, with government advice on avoiding child and adult obesity, and so on.

But what about our national spiritual fitness? With churchgoing down, and secularism on the rise, is there something we should be even more worried about? Are we a more virtuous nation than we were? Banking scandals and other ethical issues suggest we are not. As Christians, we are bound to be uneasy about a lot of features of our society today, but often we feel ill-equipped to challenge them. One reason for this, I suggest, is that very many Christians, including regular churchgoers, are not as familiar with the Bible as we should be.

The Bible is the Church’s handbook, the resource that God himself has provided to tell us about himself, about the world we live in, and about how we should live in it. Today’s collect reminds us that God “caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning.” But learning is done by the pupil, not the teacher; so we pray that we be helped “to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.”

We hear them, Sunday by Sunday, in Church: although in those circumstances it is rather easy for them to go in one ear and out of the other, as we say. I have received a suggestion that, in the next Parish Quarterly, the Bible Readings for each Sunday should be included. I will try to remember to do this, so that people can look at the readings beforehand, and listen more attentively.

Because we ask also that, as well as hearing the Scriptures, we may “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.” Bible reading should be a regular part of our Christian life. We are not in the days of the early Church, or the middle ages, when few could read and books were scarce. There is no reason why every Christian should not have their own Bible, in a version that is easy to read. Bible reading might even be something that is done as a family, perhaps before the children’s bed-time.

I know that the Bible is harder to understand than it is to read. It was written a long time ago, by and for people with a background and culture very different from our own. We need help to understand it. I have it in mind to start a regular Bible study (if we can find a time convenient to those who would like to come to it), where we might explore the Bible and become more familiar with it. People often tell me that they wished they knew the Bible better: well, let’s do something about it together!

Our first reading today was from the book called “Ecclesiasticus”. It was written originally in Hebrew more than two hundred years before our Lord, by a scholar called Jesus ben Sirach. It was translated into Greek by his grandson, who attached the following Prologue to it:

“Whereas many great teachings have been given to us through the law and the prophets and the others that followed them, on account of which we should praise Israel for instruction and wisdom; and since it is necessary not only that the readers themselves should acquire understanding but also that those who love learning should be able to help the outsiders by both speaking and writing, my grandfather Jesus, after devoting himself especially to the reading of the law and the prophets and the other books of our fathers, and after acquiring considerable proficiency in them, was himself also led to write something pertaining to instruction and wisdom, in order that, by becoming conversant with this also, those who love learning should make even greater progress in living according to the law. You are urged therefore to read with good will and attention, and to be indulgent in cases where, despite our diligent labour in translating, we may seem to have rendered some phrases imperfectly. For what was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language.”

Jesus ben Sirach loved the Scriptures, and wanted to help others to understand and love them too. As completed in the New Testament, they enable us to know not just the written Word of God, but the Word Incarnate, our saviour Jesus Christ, and to “embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life” which God has given us in him.


2 Comments so far
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The key is preachers at the main Sunday service I think should preach on the text (one of the lectionary readings, or some other passage of scripture). Topical sermons and catechetical material are fine for Evensong or what have you, but I have been impressed since moving North by the power of biblical exposition from the pulpit.

This has two distinct advantages:
– It gives the parish priest greater authority to preach on modern controversies which the Bible deals with quite plainly (like the complementarity of the sexes), and since he’s clearly shown that he is giving them God’s word, he’s unlikely to be challenged by a PCC or congregation for speaking it.

– Conversely, it restricts the minister’s power, because it becomes very difficult for him to teach doctrine which isn’t plainly set forth in Scripture, or subject his people to various hobby-horses and pet peeves.

In short, he wields the fulness of God’s authority in the role which he has been set apart to perform.

Comment by Kyle Mulholland

Hebrews Ch12 & v12:- strengthen your feeble arms and knees. In other words, forget that aerobic nonesense and do some weight training!?

Comment by Ed Jones

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