Sermon at St James Colwall - Bible Sunday – 25 October 2020
China is such a vast, sprawling country it is not surprising that, for the scattered groups of Christians in the more remote parts of the country, there is an acute shortage of Bibles. So much so that people who have been Christians for years have never owned their own copy of the Bible. A woman called Man Ha Wen had become a Christian at the age of 65 but had to wait till she was 90 for her own Bible. She heard that the Bible Society would be giving out copies at her village church, so Man Ha Wen set her alarm clock for 3 am to get down to the church in time not to miss the opportunity.
The Bible Society, which translates and distributes Bibles round the world, provided me with this story and it serves to remind us that we in this country are prone to take the Bible for granted.
Today is Bible Sunday when the Church says to us “hey, look at your Bible again. Read it, study it and use it to help make sense of your life.” Bible Sunday.
Most of us will have several copies of the Bible in our homes and one or two of them will have been presents at our christening or confirmation, perhaps. The King James or Authorised version might well be there in our bookshelves but so also some later translations.
The Bible is an extraordinary library of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament with somewhere around 800,000 words, depending on the translation and written over a period of well over a thousand years The shortest book in the Old Testament is Obadiah and in the New Testament it is the third letter of John. The longest book overall is the book of Psalms and I’m sure we all know that the shortest verse in the whole Bible is John 11 v 35 – “Jesus wept,” which he did at the graveside of his friend Lazarus.
The Bible gives us a memorable collection of myths and legends, a history of Ancient Israel, a collection of Laws and Wisdom, poems and psalms leading to prophecies, which point us forward to the beginnings of Christianity with the letters and Gospels from the early Christians telling us of the impact of Jesus of Nazareth – the word made flesh. It is an account of a long process of spiritual awareness. It has inspired a colossal collection of fine art and wonderful music as well as being the source of two great world religions and influencing a third.
How can you possibly sum up what the Bible is? I like the first sentence of the bidding prayer read at the beginning of a traditional Festival of Nine lessons and carols at Christmas – “Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child.”
In our lives of faith each us must surely give prominence to this rich source of wisdom and revelation. The Old Testament shows how men and women have tried to reach out to the God, who is beyond them, to find his will. The New Testament and especially the Gospels provide us with a check on our Christian faith and at the same time can nourish and sustain it.
But we have to admit that sometimes we need help to understand a passage. It is not easy to put what we are reading into its proper context or to find what it means for us and this is where a course of daily readings is useful. Daily readings from, say, the Bible Reading Fellowship or Scripture Union can literally be a godsend. Such courses can shed light on the background of a text and ask questions about it which might not have occurred to us in the first place. And they can keep us focussed and disciplined.
So, Bible Sunday reminds us that we have in our possession a wonderful treasure trove of revelation and inspiration, which we should read for our strength and comfort. There’s a saying about a well-thumbed Bible where the pages are falling out and I’ll leave this with you to finish –
“A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”