Sermon for Sunday 23rd Oct 2011

Revd Jan KeartonSermon for Sunday 23rd Oct 2011

      Given by Revd Jan Kearton

On Saturday, Rhoda Fraser came to St. John’s to tell stories. She’s been given a grant by the Arts Council to revive the art of story telling in our area, an art that’s nearly lost. Those of us who were there perhaps began to feel again the living power of stories and remembered some of those that were told to us as children.

As I listened to her, I found myself thinking about the times I’d been ill as a child, too ill to listen to a book being read and to wait for the ending. Instead, my grandmother and my great aunt would take it in turns to tell me stories about their own lives, their childhood with the parrot that swore and had to be given away, the dog Jip that they loved with all their hearts, the holidays in Wales and the crafts on a Sunday afternoon by the fire. It was perfect - I felt safe in the arms of a loving family that had been around for a long time and knew how to help and amuse.

When I read the book of Genesis I get the same feeling - it’s as if someone is sitting alongside telling me stories in a way that I can hear when I’m tired or stressed, stories that tell me where I came from and who I belong to, stories that comfort me with the thought that I’m not alone and that for many centuries other people have listened to these things and been moved and changed by them. Genesis was meant to be heard aloud, remembered and treasured.

Today is Bible Sunday, a special day in the year in which we’re celebrating four hundred years of the King James’ Version of the Bible,  a version that so many of us will remember hearing in our childhood. It was for long years the only version available in our house and in my school, the version that we dipped into on rainy afternoons on the window seat, the version that we heard read in church and who’s phrases we could repeat if called on.

Bible Page

Lady Day came with Mary saying ‘behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word’; Christmas brought the shepherds to us ‘sore afraid’ - a phrase that certainly resonated for us as children in the 1950‘s! At midnight we heard St. John’s words to us - they seemed to hang in the air of the dark and chilled church - ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.’ On Easter morning we heard ‘In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.’ The very word sepulchre made me shiver until I did more Latin, muddled it up with pulchra and thought the tomb must have been very beautiful.

The New English version of the New Testament when it came in the 1970’s was quite a shock. We thought that it would be easier to understand, but we’d misunderstood the nature and complexity of Scripture. It might have been easier to hear, but the work of understanding proved as complex and demanding as ever.

That work of translation goes on today - scholars continuously debate the meaning of various phrases and words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

Each of us will have our favourite translations of the Bible, perhaps depending on our age and what we first heard.  But we’re lucky - we have a translation in the language closest to our hearts and what’s more we have a choice of many. For the past two hundred years, Bible Societies across the world have been responsible for three hundred of the four hundred and fifty languages that the Bible is translated into. That’s made the whole Bible  available to about five billion people around the world.

There are thought to be six thousand nine hundred and twelve languages. Two thousand four hundred and seventy nine of them have part of the Bible translated but that still leaves four thousand four hundred and twenty one languages that have no translation. Think about that for a moment. How many people still can’t hear the Bible in their ‘heart’ language, how many people still don’t have that feeling that it truly belongs to them, that they belong to God as they are, that God will comfort them in the same language that their mother and father and grandmother and great aunt would use?

Why is it so important for the Bible to reach people in their own language? I think it’s about knowing who you are before God, hearing God’s people’s struggles, mistakes, distress, joy, comfort and praise in words and phrases that are spoken around you every day, formed from concepts that chime with the way you’ve been taught from being a small child to look at the world.

And when you feel the Bible is really for you then it can do so much. A wise person once said that the Bible is for not meant just for information but for transformation. In our own culture its principles of justice and peace underpin our Law, our health and social services and the practice of medicine, its command to love inspires charities, social relationships and the emergency services, it restrains the conduct of our armed forces and is at the bottom of international conventions such as Human Rights and the Geneva convention.

People such as Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, John Wesley, Martin Luther and Mother Theresa have lived transformed lives and changed the lives of so many others because this treasured account of God’s passionate interaction with the human people he loves inspired and motivated them. Creation, the ten commandments, the exodus, the exile, the scourging of the prophets, the wisdom literature, Jesus of Nazareth, the beatitudes, the whole Sermon on the Mount, the great commission - what would our world look like without their influence?

The Bible is the story of God’s patience, inestimable love, persistence, faithfulness, sacrifice, hope, intention and promises for us. It’s neither manipulative nor derogatory, deceitful or damaging. It’s a treasury of stories to be told - now, before we’ve lost the habit - so that people can know who God is and who they are before him, so that they can belong, make sense of the difficulties and disappointments that life brings, so that they can be strong and know themselves to be the loved and valued people of a loving and gracious Creator.

On this last Sunday of the long Trinity season it’s right that we should be reminded of the significance of something that each of us takes for granted. That we should remember those who committed the stories to memory or who wrote them on tablets or scrolls. That we should give thanks to God for them and for his lively, living Word that teaches and trains and inspires down so many ages. That as we prepare to look again at Christ our King and Advent we should be aware that we depend on the Bible for the next series of readings that will begin on Advent Sunday.

And above all, that we give thanks for Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, creative, wise, inspirational and transforming, whom we know through the Bible to be alive and amongst us today. AMEN.    

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Past Sermons
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