I love the Bible. This love is certainly not uncomplicated. For every wonderful and fascinating passage, there is another one that makes me cringe with its sexism or violence or bad theology. And there are lots and lots of just plain boring and weird parts. I found this out when I read the book cover to cover as a young teenager. (Some chapters in Numbers I just had to skip through…)
And yet, I love the Bible. Always have. It started in my childhood days of Sunday school and church. We had songs to help us learn the names of the books of the Bible and the twelve disciples. We put on plays that helped us imagine that we were Jonah, caught in the belly of the fish, or Daniel, staring down the lions. At camp, I memorized the hymn to love in I Corinthians 13 (to get a t-shirt). This passage is alive in me even today. And then, in college and seminary, my love and understanding, of the scriptures, grew and deepened, as I learned about historical critical analysis and studied Hebrew and Greek at the feet of teachers, who could crack open just one word in this book so that it would speak layer upon layer of meaning.
I love the Bible. And I admit, I have an agenda. I want you (the church) to love it, too. It need not be an easy love. It’s okay to misunderstand, or disagree with, or even fight with those we love. “Biblical literacy” is something that people used to get from the culture around us. But these days, public schools don’t teach the Bible and public life is not organized around the Judeo-Christian narrative. That’s actually a good thing. In the short term, it means that we (the church) no longer know our family story in an intimate way. And we cannot love what we do not know. But over the long haul, I think it is an opportunity for us to delve much deeper into the riches of scripture. The Bible need no longer be read as a blessing of the status quo, or used as a cultural weapon; it can break forth for us as God’s creative and liberating word.
What I love about the Bible, most of all, is the larger story that rises not only out of its pages but also from the spirit-inspired wrestling of its readers. It’s not any given passage, but this overarching narrative, that can guide our lives and shape our understanding of God. Finding such a story among the poetry and history and law and proverbs and Gospels and God knows what else, is not a simple matter. It is an interpretive and theological task. It is our loving work.
The video we’ll use today tells the biblical story in a purposefully abbreviated way. Any such telling will have its own agendas, for good and ill. As they say, the movie is never as good as the book. But my hope is that the sweeping overview it presents in just twelve scenes will give us a toehold into that larger narrative I was talking about. It’s one way of beginning to see the whole forest instead of just the individual trees.
Well, let’s get started. We’ll watch the short scenes one at a time. Please, in the quiet moment after each scene, make some notes on the bulletin insert: What did you notice? What does this slice of the story make you wonder about? Then Aaron or I will share one of our wonderings or noticings and ask one person from the congregation to share yours. We’ll sing Listen, God Is Calling to center ourselves as we begin this first scene, and each one to come.
Listen, God Is Calling (and between each scene)
What I notice is the statement that God’s heart broke because of the violence of human behavior and that is why God brought the flood. I notice the story treating God like a person and God’s behavior mirroring human behavior, which, for me, is both emotionally compelling and disturbing.
I wonder what an exodus looks like today? Is God still taking the side of the oppressed and acting as liberator and how does that happen, if not through the bringing of plagues and the parting of seas?
Judges and Kings:
I notice that the story says the people were attacked right away when they entered the promised land, and I wonder why it doesn’t point out that that’s because there were people already living there! I notice my own reaction to this part of the story: for me it has uncomfortable resonance with our own history of European Americans stealing this land from native peoples.
That brings to an end the first half of our sacred story. Thank you for taking part in our exploration of it today and please come back for the rest next week! As we conclude, I want to give you another minute of quiet. What is one question you have about the Bible? Write it down on the small scrap of paper and put it in the offering plate. We will choose a couple questions to address next week, and will value all your questions as indications of where we might go with further study.