DANCING WITH THE BIBLE
Are we there yet?
We’re about halfway through the series of sermons on the stories of the Bible. I’ve had people ask, “When do we get out of the Old Testament?” I have also had people say, “I love this sermon series and I hope it goes on forever…I just love these stories and am seeing them in a new way!”
So, some of us are asking “Are we there, yet?” and others are saying “I don’t want this trip to ever end!”
This morning as I sit on the side of a mountain in West Virginia, on my way home; I want to share some thoughts Rob Bell offers in his very helpful book, What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. (Order yourself a copy – especially if you long ago decided the Bible isn’t for you because of those hard-to-understand, too-much-blood-shed stories.)
First, Bell points out that the Bible isn’t a Christian book. It’s not just for a certain group of people to claim and own as they divide themselves from everyone else. The Bible, he points out, “is a book about what it means to be human. And we are all, before anything else, human.”
“This book,” he writes,” is about a library of books dealing with loss and anger and transcendence and worry and empire and money and fear and stress and joy and doubt and grace and healing, and who doesn’t want to talk about those?”
Secondly, Bell observes that you don’t have to believe in God to read the Bible. “In fact, as you’ll see in these passages, the Bible is filled with people wrestling and struggling and doubting and shouting and arguing with the idea that there is even a god, let alone some sort of divine being who is on our side. If you have a hard time swallowing the god talk you’ve heard over the years, this book is for you.”
There is power in reading the Bible literately – not literally
The rabbinical tradition was to read the Bible, turning a passage over and over the way a jeweler turns a gem, studying it from different angles for different meanings. First-century rabbis and Jewish congregations would engage the Bible, question what was happening and what was meant, asking question after question.
Bell reminds us that the Bible is a living book as we engage it, turn passages over and look at them from different angles, and let the text ask questions of us.
“We read it, and yet it read us. We dive into their story, discovering our story in the process. Some people say they read it literally as if that’s the best way to understand the Bible. It’s not. We read it literately. We read it according to the kind of literature it is. That’s how you honor it. That’s how you respect it. That’s how you learn from it. That’s how you enjoy it.”
“If it’s a poem, then you read it as a poem.
If it’s a letter, then you read it as a letter.
If it’s a story but some of the details seem exaggerated or extreme—like when Samson kills exactly one thousand Philistines or Balaam’s donkey starts talking to him or Elijah is taken up into heaven before their very eyes — there’s a good chance the writer is making a larger point and you shouldn’t get too hung up on this details.”
“You read it, and you ask questions of it, and you study and analyze and reflect and smile and argue and speculate and discuss.”
Dancing with the Bible
It may be valuable for you to see our way of approaching the Bible as “turning the gem” by looking at a passage from multiple angles to see the different facets in the story.
Rob Bell suggests what we do is dance with the text: “You dance with it. And to dance, you have to hear it’s music. And then you move in response to it. You dance with the Bible, but you also interrogate it. You challenge it, question it, poke it, probe it. You let it get under your skin. We read it, and we let it read us, and then we turn the gem, again, and again, and again, seeing something new over and over and over again.”
I invite you to join us this Sunday in the Sanctuary at 9:30 or at Open Door in the Buskirk-Chumley at 11:15 as we continue THE STORY and hear God’s story. I am confident there is a blessing for us as we wrestle with the powerful, strange story of Elijah on Mount Carmel having a “showdown” with hundreds of false prophets.
Some people are offended when preachers address real life issues in the world and our nation, but the Bible is full of stories of prophets speaking a difficult and challenging word from God. This Sunday we’ll say something about prophets and Elijah, and we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Supper which is open to all! The Chancel Choir will share a powerful piece on Elijah, during the 9:30 Sanctuary service.
- Join us—it’ll be a great morning of worship and fellowship!
- Invite the new people in your building or neighborhood to join you at First Methodist.
- Take a moment to welcome Pastor Teri, Pastor Kevin (Youth & Young Adult Ministries) and Shana (Director of Children & Family Ministries), if you have not yet done so.
- Pray for a great year as we prepare for a new year of ministries with children, youth, college students, and the launch of multiple small groups.
Pastor Mark Fenstermacher