Today before we begin our Bible tour, Aaron and I will address a couple of the questions we received from you last week. In the UCC, we take pride in honoring questions in and of themselves. We don’t see faith as an answer, but a journey. And we respect the journey of each person, believing that each of us must live our own questions and formulate our answers. So… what we humbly offer you is not THE ANSWER, but one perspective, and perhaps some more questions that emerge for us from your questions.
The question I will address is: “As Jesus brought us a New Testament, is it still necessary to study the Old Testament? What can we still learn from it that we cannot learn from Jesus’ life and lessons?” The answer is YES. Just kidding. I often hear people say that the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, is violent and sexist and full of bad theology, while the New Testament is about Jesus preaching peace and love. But the thing is, that’s a false dichotomy. There are plenty of New Testament passages that make me cringe because they (like the Hebrew scriptures) are bound up in an ancient culture whose science makes no sense to me and whose views on many things offend me. And, on the flip side, there are many, many beautiful passages in the Hebrew Bible that also preach love and peace. The truth is, the Bible is a mixed bag from Genesis to Revelation, a fact that raises a lot of the other questions you also asked… What do we do with the violent parts of the Bible? Or the parts which portray God in ways that are troubling? How do we know which passages to pay attention to if we don’t see the Bible as infallible?
Getting back to the question at hand, I believe we need the Hebrew scriptures in order to understand Jesus. Jesus’ ideas were not new; they came out of Jewish faith and scripture. He wasn’t trying to start a new religion; he was a reformer, trying call his own religion back to what he saw as its most central principles. The New Testament doesn’t really stand alone; it doesn’t fully make sense without the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus, in the view of Luke, takes on the mantle of Isaiah, proclaiming liberty to the captives, sight for the blind, food for the hungry, and a new day of economic justice. And according to Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses. His life, death and resurrection is another exodus. As a footnote, it is important to acknowledge that Christians have, and still do, read Bible in ways that are anti-Jewish. We have to find ways to honor the fact that for Jews, the Hebrew Bible is not an “Old” Testament. It is helpful for us to read Jesus through the lens of the Hebrew Bible, but we must be very careful about trying to do the opposite: reading the Hebrew Bible only as if it points to Jesus.
Well, that’s a good place to stop. Aaron is going to reflect on another of your questions: “What is the use of the Bible in my day-to-day life? It seems to me like a fairy tale, so how am I supposed to gain insight from it in the here and now?” In our confirmation class, our curriculum challenged us to view the Bible in a number of different ways. Some people see it as a book of fables, stories of wisdom that teach us a lesson. Some people see it as an instruction manual, with rules and regulations for our daily lives. Some people see it as a history book, as a literal account of the lives of ancient people.
I think the Bible is all of these things to some extent. It contains fables and stories that teach us lessons, like Jonah and the Whale. It also contains rules for our lives, such as the Proverbs and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And it also incorporates a lot of history, though we may debate how accurate this history is for our modern understandings.
But the curriculum also challenged us to see the Bible as a sacred story, as the accounts of ancient peoples’ experience of and questions about the living God. The Bible is a bigger-than-life epic tale that follows people across time and space and records their encounters with the Holy.
Now the question should be asked, how does this bigger-than-life epic relate to my day-to-day in the 21st century? What I often do is place myself in the shoes of those who came before me, those in the stories on these pages. Just as these people have had encounters with the living God so have I, and there is much in common between the two. How am I like Jacob, wrestling with a messenger from God? How am I like Sarah, laughing when God tries to work a miracle into my life? How am I like Mary, who was fully open to God’s active presence?
I experience the Holy in many ways and places, and so did the characters in the Bible. How did they respond and how do I? What can I learn from their mistakes and their triumphs? How can I be more open to the love and grace of God if not by reading the stories of my spiritual ancestors