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The Word of the Lord
> > Sometimes sitting in the pews on Sunday, listening to the
> > scripture readings, I absolutely cringe at what I'm hearing. If
> > every word of the Bible is "the inerrant word of God," then I want
> > no part of that God.
> But we do proclaim it to be "The Word of the Lord," and we can't
> just toss the bits that make us uncomfortable (and I agree with you
> that some of it is very hard to listen to).
> I know that I need to work harder at trying to understand why these
> passages are there.
The lectionary leaves out many, many of the hardest passages. The
137th Pslam is one of the most beautiful and very popular. It begins,
By the rivers of Babylon--
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps....
but in the last verse, rarely read in church, it concludes:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Thanks be to God?! Puleeze.
There are several good ways to see this final part as integral to
the whole psalm, but we have to turn off the tremolo to understand
them. We also have to take the text out of the pulpit, off the
lectern, and do some serious study, study that is not possible
in 5-10 minutes of serious bible commentary in the context of a
In Galations, Paul gets very worked up that some other Jewish
Christians have been invading his mission persuading some of his
converts to be circumcised. He lashes out,
"I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!"
Galations 5:12 (NRSV)
The Word of the Lord?!!
Not hardly, or well, yes but....... Again, we have to turn off the
tremolo, take the bible away from the gilted lecturn, out of the
sermon, and into some serious study.
In my courses on the bible at the university, I always begin by having
the students buy a cheap paperback version, usually Cokesbury's NRSC.
I tell them to bring it to class only in a brown bag, especially if
they ride public transport, so that they will not scare people who
might otherwise fear they will be hit over the head with it. I also
bring a bucket of dirty water and douse a worn-out paperback of the
bible in it.
"In this class, the word 'holy' is just part of the name of the book,
not an adjective which we take for granted. You must be prepared to
hold this book to the same standards of truth and evidence that you
bring to any other text in this department. If you need this course
for inspiration, drop today. This is a state university; we are here
for rigorous intellectual inquiry. But if your faith is strong enough
to take this challenge, if your God is not so small as to be
threatened by your using the good mind She gave you, stick around."
Those who hoped for an easy 'A' by writing drivel about how much they
love Jesus usually drop quite quickly. The bright ones stick around
and usually elect the second semester followup -- whether they be
fundamentalists, Budhists, followers of Islam, Coptics......
I remember asking a Plymouth Brethren (talk about fundamentalists!)
why he was back for the Christian Scriptures having wrestled with me
so much with the Hebrew Scriptures in the previous semester. He did
not hesitate: "You're tough; you're fair; and you love the book."
Coptics disagree with me on issue after issue, and for that reason
alone would be marvelous to have in class, not to mention their many
other gifts. For many Coptics, to take a good undergraduate class in
the Bible is like a Puerto Rican taking Spanish 101: they'll have
plenty of work to do, but given what they already know, it's not going
to be hard to earn an 'A.'
Why? Because most Coptics in New Jersey have recently fled Egypt
where Islamic fundamentalists persecute them. One of the major
restrictions in Egypt is that Coptics are not allowed to give
religious instruction. Coptics have never been very evangelical, have
rarely sought converts outside their community; with this recent
restriction, they soon realized that if they did not do religious
instruction big time, even by breaking the law, they would die out as
fewer Coptics understood the meaning of their religion. Why would you
want to suffer persecution for a religion you knew nothing about?
By contrast, most Episcopalians have systematically been reducing
religious instruction in our parishes to the point that it is
non-existent in most places. We are one of the most literate
denominations in the USA about everything else, and yet have major
illiteracy regarding Scripture. Go figure! We will assure our
demise, and perhaps deserve to die, if we do not seriously reverse
In my two-semster course, students are in class for 3 hours a week for
30 weeks, or a total of 90 hours. I require them to spend three hours
out of class for every hour in it, or another 270 hours, for a total
of 360 hours in the sequence.
Rarely does a sermon spend more than five minutes on anything like
serious study of scripture. One would have to hear 360/(5/60) or
4,320 sermons [or 83.08 (4320/52) year's worth at one sermon per week]
to have exposure equvialent to that of my undergraduates in what is at
best, only a beginner's approach. Even if the priest explicates for 10
minutes a sermon, auditors would need to sit through 2,160 sermons
[41.5 year's worth] to have the equivalent. And students in the
classroom are not passive auditors; they have to take examination and
write papers and respond to questions in front of their peers.
The second most important commandment is the we love God with
our .....mind[s]. We forget that at our peril.