The texts for today are all very good, and they all—Old Testament, psalm, New Testament, and gospel—have a common thread running through them. Sometimes when it comes time to prepare a sermon, I’m left struggling to find something that will preach. Today, I’m struggling to keep it concise. But the common thread in today’s texts is rather simple—God communicates with us, and that communication is meaningful. This isn’t an inherently Christian hallmark about God. There are other faiths claim their gods communicate with them, but the nature of that communication is what distinguishes us Christians—and Jews and Muslims, for that matter—from so many other traditions the world over.
God communicates to us not only by speech, but by the written word. And what’s more, this written word is sacred in its own right. And so, today, as we go into the sermon, consider your own relationship with God’s Word, with the Bible. Do you read the Bible? How familiar are you with it? Would you call yourself a Bible-believing Christian? Why? Or why not? Are you a Bible-believing Christian? How important is the Bible as God’s Word to your relationship with God? Those are some questions to get your thinking as we head on into the sermon today.
Let us pray. May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Picture it. Central Pennsylvania. 1993. A young boy goes with Grandma to the Lutheran Church in the middle of town. She drops him off and he scurries happily inside. Prekindergarten. After three hours, he comes bustling out, more excited to race to Grandma than he was to race into class. “Why?” you ask yourself? Because he knows that every time Grandma takes him to school, afterwards he gets to go to the library right nextdoor to the church. What better place than the library?!
That little boy was me. And it’s a true story. Grandma Spigelmyer took me to prekindergarten every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday beginning in the fall of 1993 until the spring of 1994. And I loved it. I always liked school. I like to learn things. But what I loved more than going to school at that age was going to the library. The main branch of Mifflin County Library shares a parking lot with St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. And so it was easy enough for us to hop over to the library after I was done in school, and that’s what we did.
I remember going to the library with Grandma—fondly. The library had a special smell. The smell of books. And when I was that age, I got to go to a special part of the library—the children’s library. It was downstairs, and you followed the rainbow painted on the wall down the stairs, along the hallway, all the way to the last room of the basement of the library where there were oodles and oodles of books to choose from, all for kids. I liked the books about trains, and animals. When I learned about the Titanic disaster, I was delighted to learn there were books—complete with diagrams of the ship—all about the Titanic and its unfortunate end.
As I grew older, I started to get antsy about going to the upstairs library. It still seemed off-limits to me. But at some point, I graduated to the upstairs library where the adult books were. And like the children’s library, there were oodles and oodles of books to choose from. I loved the fiction section—particularly thrillers and other suspense fiction. When I started high school and discovered my love for German, I was thrilled to learn there were books at the Mifflin County Library for learning German—even an old high school textbook, which you know I checked out over and over and over again. Biographies were fun to read. Books on geography—Japan, Russia, Antartica. I remember reading a book about the Hindenburg disaster and one on the failed Bierkeller-Putsch of 1923. Those were from the history section of the library. The library contained so many books—oodles and oodles of books—from so many different genres. Who couldn’t find something to love in a library?!
Right now, on Wednesday evenings, we’re doing a study on how Lutherans interpret the Bible…called, “How Lutherans Interpret the Bible.” The Bible, a book whose name from the Greek literally means “book,” is likely the most read book of all time. It’s the most translated book of all time. It’s even been translated into the Elvish of Middle Earth, and Klingon from the Star Trek universe. People cling to the Bible for many reasons, but the most important reason, above all the others, that the Bible is so highly prized is that it’s the Word of God.
Now, we all can likely agree that the Bible is the “Word of God,” but when we say “Word of God”—that’s where the problems arise. What does it mean to speak of the “Word of God,” and what does it mean to call the Bible the “Word of God?” In today’s second lesson, we hear “the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” It pierces—what a great word—it pierces even to the point of divorcing soul and spirit. It cleaves as a butcher disarticulates joints from bone marrow. The Word of God can and does appraise the thoughts and wants of our innermost selves—things we may not even be able to determine. What is this Word of God, and what’s more, how is the Bible, as the Word of God, able to do all this?
Jesus Christ, and none other, is the Word of God—incarnated by the Holy Spirit and born of his mother Mary. Through him everything was made and through his life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation. This is first and foremost the Word of God—Jesus Christ. The proclamation of God’s message, aloud, is the Word of God to and for us in revealing both judgment and mercy through not only words spoken, and but also actions done—that is, words made real, incarnated. This proclamation began with the Word in creation, continued in the history of Israel, and centers in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And finally, the Scriptures are the written Word of God—inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through various different authors, recording and announcing God’s revelation centered in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
Through these written words, God speaks to us, and by them, the Holy Spirit uses us to create and sustain Christian faith and solidarity for service in the world. The written Word of God, that is the Bible, is the authoritative source and norm of the Christian proclamation, faith, and life. That is to say, the Bible is our authority, and we determine the proper way of living as Jesus’ disciples according to what is revealed to us in Bible. Because ultimately, the Bible is a written witness to God’s creative and redeeming love accomplished for us in Jesus Christ—the eternal Word of God who lived even before the beginning of time. The Bible is the Word of God because it contains the message of God’s love for us in Jesus.
But what do we make of the places where the Bible seems to contradict itself?
What do we make of the difficult places in the Bible, the places that don’t immediately make sense?
It has to do with interpretation.
The Bible as the Word of God must confront us with who we are. It shows us our utter need for God’s mercy because we are imperfect, needful creatures. At the same time, the Bible shows us that God loves us so perfectly, so completely to do anything and everything to restore us to wholeness, to meet our needs in the grand scheme of life. In this way, the Bible is like a two-edged sword. It shows us the side of us who we are, but also reveals to us the side of who God is. And there are oodles and oodles of books in the Bible that tell us this—but in different ways.
The Bible is a library of books, different kinds of books. There are books of poetry. There are books of history. There are books of prophecy. There are letters. There are novels. There are gospels, biographies about Jesus—perhaps, in some regards, the most important books of the Bible. The Bible is chock full of different kinds of literature that speaks the truth to us, even if it’s not all fact like you might find in a science textbook or a fact like you might find in history anthology.
And yet—the novel of Jonah or the novel of Daniel contain the truth of God’s relentless love in the face of our own inadequate humanity in the same way that the stories of Harry Potter tell the truth of the unbeatable power of love over hate, or how the Lord of the Rings trilogy tells the truth of the ultimate victory of good over evil. God’s truth is bigger than one way of expressing it. There are oodles and oodles of ways to tell the truth of God’s love for us in Jesus—and the Bible does just that.
The Bible is the Word of God because it contains the message of God’s love for us in Jesus. The Bible is the Word of God because it shows us who we are and who God is—we, creatures in desperate need, and God, a merciful creator who goes to any and all lengths to be in relationship with us. God has given us his word on that. He sent to us Jesus, his Word become human, to live with us and show us just how true his promise is. And the truth of that promise is written for everyone to come to believe in the oodles and oodles of books within the Book, within the Bible—a library chock full of different kinds of literature. But at the end of the day, that library has one simple message: Jesus loves me. And this I know; for the Bible tells me so.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.