This morning I wanted to highlight something very, very important about the way in which the Anglican Church reads the Bible. It is not to do with the manner in which we read it but rather the fact that we do not pick and choose the bits we read. We follow something called the lectionary which sets out readings for each service and which over the course of 3 years means the whole Bible gets read out loud in church … you would of course have to go to 3 services a day every day for 3 years to hear it all so you might want to cover some of it on your own time.
But it’s a tradition we should be very proud of as Anglicans because it helps avoid extremism and fundamentalism in the life of faith. It means I can’t pick and choose the readings and therefore to some extent helps avoid the Vicar or indeed the congregation going too far down any particular approach to the Christian faith. We are challenged to read and digest all aspects of the Bible, which is important if we believe all scripture is helpful for learning about God.
It does mean you have to work a bit harder as christians to think about how you are going to relate to each reading. Because each reading might be from a different kind of perspective, a different time in history, a different culture or context, a different genre of literature. So for instance the Psalm we read this morning was written over a 1000 years before the Gospel passage. And it is poetry rather than what we call historical narrative or prose. Anyway the point I want to make is that because we do not choose the readings ourselves in our churches it is a valuable means of making sure our spiritual journey is not imbalanced.
Why do I raise this matter this morning. Well if I am honest I wouldn’t choose to read and have to talk about the whole of the Gospel passage this morning because there are bits which I find difficult. So whilst I like the fact that the passage says ‘ do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows’. I do not like the bits that say ‘whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven’ or that ‘ whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’. These are rather unsettling sayings.
How can God on one hand love us and care for us and on the other be prepared to send people to Hell or ask that we deny the love of family. You see it would be much easier for me to choose the bits we read and say something about God’s care and love leaving out the bits about judgement and self-denial. But because I am ordained to the Anglican Church I am not going to do this .. I am going to accept that our tradition asks me to read all the bits of the Bible good and bad and to sit with them and reflect on them.
This morning we are challenged as to how judgement and love can be understood together. This morning my message is to say to you .. don’t run away from such difficult questions of your faith. Hold them lightly in your hearts and minds over a length of time. Talk about them and importantly pray about them. Just like the people in the Bible come to Jesus and ask the questions on your heart. My personal experience is that when I pray about the things that challenge me I am almost always given peace.
And note what I say there .. I am not saying I find an answer but rather I find peace. This is of course a difficult concept but it is the difference between the great projects of science and religion. Each has questions but one seeks answers the other seeks peace.
We might not always find an answer to the questions the Bible raises as we read and reflect on it but through prayer and fellowship I believe we will find peace. And that is the better solution. Not to know everything but to be at peace with everything. Wouldn’t that be wonderful.