“When Ancient Tomes Hit Close to Home” June 25, 2023
“When Ancient Tomes Hit Close to Home”
Genesis 21:8-21/ Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or Psalm 17
Romans 6:1b-11/ Matthew 10:24-39
I’d like to start off with a little piece of news that I stumbled upon. This was written by Tilda Wilson with NPR News and I found it to be a real eye opener. She writes: “Frustrated with book challenges and bans in their school district, a parent in Utah decided to submit a complaint of their own — about the Bible.
The Davis School District took the parent’s objection seriously, placing the Bible under review. This week, the district officially decided to remove the religious text from elementary and middle school libraries for containing “vulgarity or violence.” The ban will take effect immediately, with Bibles being removed from classrooms even as they close down for the summer.
The parent’s complaint, which gained national attention when it was reported in March, cites Utah’s 2022 law banning any books containing “pornographic or indecent” material. The statement calls the Bible “one of the most sex-ridden books around,” and includes an attachment of passages from the Bible they believe violate the law.
The committee assigned to review the Bible for the Davis School District determined that it does not meet the requirements to violate the state’s law, but that it should still be limited to high school-aged students. The decision is already being appealed by another parent, and that appeal will be decided at a public meeting in the future.” End quote,
and I have to say, I would give just about anything to be a fly on the wall at this ‘public meeting in the future’ they are talking about.
Now, the reason I shared this little piece of legislative news with you today is because if you are wondering what sort of shameful stories might be found in the Bible that caused such a fuss with this committee assigned to review the Bible, then our story from Genesis today about Sarah And Hagar might very well be one of the guilty parties.
Now, I don’t know if I have shared this with you before, but some years ago my brother booked a flight to Anchorage, Alaska and from there he took a small plane deep into the interior where he spent 30 days experiencing the wildness of it all. He told me that when they dropped him off the pilot handed him a radio. My brother asked him if this radio was to call for help in case of an emergency, but the pilot said, “No, you’ll be too far out of range for that. We’re required to give this to you because we’ve found that the wives insisted upon it.”
As it turned out, there were no emergencies and he had a great trip with the radio tucked away in his backpack.
It was some years later as we happened to be talking about this trip when he asked me. “You know what else I did while I was up there?” I said I hadn’t the slightest idea and then he surprised the heck out of me. “I read the entire Bible,” he said. “ from cover to cover.”
I don’t remember what I said to him; probably something stupid like, “Well, what did you think?” I mean, we had both been raised going to church, but I never had considered Mark to be any kind of biblical scholar.
In fact, I have never had a chance to really ask him about it since. What I have come to learn, however, Is to understand and appreciate the context of other people Who seek to better understand this collection of ancient writings that we call the Bible. I mean, let’s face it: There is some crazy weird stuff in “the good book,” particularly in the Old Testament.
Take today’s reading from the book of Genesis, for example. Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children which was simply unacceptable in those times. Between all the wars and disease and famine, there was a genuine need to constantly replenish the population. And so it was that when Sarah suggested to her husband that he take her maid servant Hagar, an Egyptian slave, as his wife it was a perfectly normal thing. It was a solution to a problem; nothing more, nothing less. But it wasn’t long before trouble raised its ugly head.
(Gen 16:4When Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
What I’m trying to say, is that when I read a passage like this one from Genesis, I can’t help but think of my brother out in the wild lands of interior Alaska. And you know as he was reading this, I wonder if he might have thought that this Bible reading thing was a big waste of time; that the Bible is nothing more than tabloid gossip and not to be taken seriously. If I ever get the chance, I’m going to have to ask him someday. Because after all, these are our stories. These are the stories of who we are, of how we act and react.
These are the ancient tomes that ring just as true today as they did 3000 years ago. As I am writing this, I’m finding it hard to concentrate because in the other room the news is talking some serious unrest in the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Jealousies, deceit, and manipulation are the order of the day. My lasting concern is that the solution might wind up worse than the problem. Either way, people will die.
So when we read of the great battles of Jericho and of the many times Jerusalem was destroyed , only to be rebuilt again and again; When we read of war & famine and disease as far back as the time of Job, this thing going on today is nothing new. Someday the stories of the invasion of Ukraine will be told. Heroes will be lifted up and villains will be vilified. But I will be looking for stories of the Spirit. I will be watching for those moments when God’s presence shook things up and made a difference. I will be looking for stories of the Spirit.
The tales of Abraham are classic examples of the power of the Spirit through our faith.In fact, most all our scripture messages are demonstrations of people who have excelled because of the power of the Spirit.
And these are the stories that have molded our faith over the years. They are stories about people of faith written for people of faith, But they are not exclusive. Most everyone in the world knows of the Good Samaritan. Most everyone on earth is familiar with John the Baptist, or John Baptiste.
And lastly, there aren’t many on this planet of close to 8 billion people who have not heard of the love and the grace and the healing powers of Jesus Christ. The prophets have been announcing him for centuries while the apostles recorded his life and ministry that we might pass it on.
For the next few months until we arrive at Advent, I would like to spend some time with the prophets as well as some of the wisdom literature that we just never seem to get around to. And yes, there will undoubtedly be plotting and conniving along with jealousies and the random acts of flustered end frustrated people. These are, after all, the stories that belong to us. And do you know what? We can take heart.
We can take heart because after all the whining and complaining; after all the blood and the suffering; after all the hopes dashed and dreams shattered, God remains faithful. Every time, all the time.
So when we read scripture telling us how Abraham, the father of The nation of Israel, took on an Egyptian slave girl Only because Sarah could not conceive–We read about events that would be totally scandalous today, let’s keep in mind That no matter how vicious and snarly; no matter how manipulating and jealous; no matter how greedy or heartless we can be, God remains faithful.
The comedian Jeff Allen likes to talk about his conversations with those who Insist upon their disbelief in the God of creation. “Have you ever read from this book?” He would ask them; “I mean really studied upon it before you decided it was all meaningless?” The person answered that no, they had not, Mr. Allen told them somewhat emphatically. “Well, you’re not an atheist; you’re a moron. You’re just being lazy.
How can you tell me you don’t believe in something when you won’t spend the time to understand what you don’t believe!”
Granted, Mr. Allen’s comedy is a bit in your face, but he does have a point.
Now before you throw me out on my ears, let me close by saying that no matter how weird or confusing, hilarious or frustrating scripture may be, don’t write it off as irrelevant, because if scripture is anything at all, it is relevant. The God of love makes sure of that. All the same though, there will be times When our patience and our understanding will run thin. That’s when we can always take a tip from old Abraham that God is faithful, always has been always will be. As the hymn tells us, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be
Amen and Shalom