Sermon St E 24 October 2021 Year B Last after Trinity Bible Sunday
Psalm 19v7-14 Isaiah 55v1-11 2 Timothy 3v14-4v5 John 5v36b-47
Today is Bible Sunday but why do we celebrate it? Any ideas?
Well, because it is in the lectionary of course. But does that not beg the question, why then is it in the lectionary?
Do any of you remember the 39 articles of the Church of England? In the old days one had to study them before confirmation, not sure many do that today. Perhaps you have not read them in years, or maybe you have never read them, but are they not the basis of our Church. The virtue of the Book of common prayer is that it does have them listed at the back, and article six is still relevant for our worship and discipleship today.
Article six is on the sufficiency of the holy scriptures for salvation, saying that the scriptures, the bible, ‘containeth all things necessary to salvation’. So as the bible is the firm foundation for our faith no wonder we need to remind ourselves of its importance, and look at not just the impact it should have upon our lives, but also how important it is that the bible should be made available to all peoples throughout the world as well.
Many of us believe that God has not left us in the dark, but has made known his purposes for humankind through the revelation he has given through the prophets and apostles, and those revelations are contained in the scriptures, so it behoves us all to get to know the bible better. It is the reason that the Church for many centuries has believed that the bible should be available for anyone to read it for themselves, and not to be dependent on anyone else.
So if I ask you how many Bibles do you have at home, what would your answer be? Somewhere between zero and many, although I do hope zero does not apply to anyone here this morning. But when did you last read your own bible, and have you ever read it from cover to cover?
You and I have the bible readily available to read in many different and varied translations, and that helps to make it accessible for all to read and understand. It is available so we can deepen our understanding of God’s purposes for us as individuals, and that enables us to walk our pilgrim path as better disciples of our Lord Jesus. It is also available so society can develop and function as God in his grace and wisdom, has deemed it would be best for humankind to live and function. Sadly that is no longer the way of the world, and even of our own country.
But worse is that neither is it the prerogative for many people even as individuals in our world today, for they are denied access to the living word of God, they are not permitted to have and read the scriptures. That deprivation is either because the bible is a forbidden book to them, and we should question why it should be forbidden, or it is not yet been made available in that person’s native language for them to read for themselves.
The stated intention of the Wycliffe Bible Translators is that ‘Everyone deserves a bible they can understand’. Unfortunately at this present time 1.5 billion people do not have a full bible in their native or heart language.
That is why you will find in many parts of the world, and some of them very remote, and across virtually every continent, there are translators living with people to find the best way of making the bible accessible.
It means that those translators have to move into the delicate and difficult process of working with languages that are often spoken by a large number of people, but where there are no known Christians or churches.
For example, the Ceren language is spoken by over one million people in a part of Asia that is hostile to the gospel, but the people there are friendly and place a great emphasis on the provision of hospitality and generosity, but it is also a place of great spiritual darkness. Up until a year ago there was no standardised way of writing the Ceren language so you can imagine what extra challenge that must have presented to the translators.
The Dobel speaking people live on the Aru Islands of Indonesia. The aim of a Wycliffe translation team there is to complete the translation of the New Testament and three Old Testament books into their language by 2025. Two British translator are being helped by a local man called Eka.
Do you believe that God can reveal himself in dreams today? We know that Saint Peter when staying at Simon the tanners house in Joppa had the same dream or vision three times before he was convinced that God was calling him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Well, Eka began his journey of faith, and to help with Bible translation when he had a dream of Jesus coming to him and saying ‘Come and follow me’. Since reading God’s word in his heart language of Dobel, he has put his trust in Jesus and has become faithful in prayer and experienced the Lord transforming his life.
But as I mentioned earlier, there are many countries where the bible is prohibited, so how then may people in those communities get access to the scriptures and hear the gospel of our Lord? It is in such places where Radio, Satellite Tv and the Internet have a big part to play.
Can you imagine slowly writing out the verses, chapters and books of the bible by hand as you listen to the radio. That is the way many people gradually gain access to the word of God, and then like Eka can testify to what a significant change takes place in their lives as they come to know the love, grace, forgiveness and salvation provided through hearing, and then belief, in the gospel.
One such listener from NE Africa wrote to FEBA Radio how when searching for any programmes in the Amharic language they had come across a message about life after death in Arabic which was a language that they could follow. Continuing to listen to the broadcasts slowly their heart lit up and they confessed Jesus as Lord, but were afraid to tell their Muslim family who, not liking the Christian faith, could disown him.
How we need to pray for the many secret believers who are in a similar situation of fear, persecution and loneliness.
One can see how such secret believers may often echo the words of the psalmist (19v10) and say about the scriptures, ‘More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold’. Can we echo those sentiments of the psalmist, and also say how, ‘the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul’. Do you find your spirit, your soul, revived by the word of God as you read the scriptures, as you read your bible?
For that is why we have the scriptures, and why there are so many people striving to make them available, and as the Bible Society would say, ‘to bring the bible to life’. The Bible Society had its origin in 1800 when a young 15 year old Welsh girl was determined to buy a bible to read for herself, and that sparked for the Reverend Joseph Hughes a question forchurch leaders: ‘If a bible for Welsh speakers, why not for the kingdom? And if for the kingdom, why not for the world?’
Today there are national Bible Societies in over 150 countries, not just making Bibles available, but also providing Bible study courses, leadership training, and now even taking the ‘open the book’ initiative of bible stories in our schools, into schools in other countries.
And coming back home, how many of you have been followers of Agatha Christie’s ‘Poirot’? David Suchet who has played the part of Poirot in the tv series became a Christian as a result of reading a hotel-room Bible in 1986, that was more than likely placed there by the Gideons.
He says that after his conversion he decided he wanted ‘to put my voice to the Bible – not only bits of the Bible but the whole thing.’ Many years later, he has achieved his ambition, and you can now obtain a complete audio Bible.
The prophet Isaiah knew that it was the scriptures to which we should ‘incline our ears’ (55v3), for it is through them that we come to God, they are the waters to which we come if we are to find life. And Jesus calls us to follow after him if we wish to have that life in all its fulness (Jn10v10).
So when we look around our hurting and disordered world, can we not recognise that it is only in the scriptures, and the salvation they describe through putting our faith and trust in Jesus the way, the truth and the life, that lives may indeed be transformed for all those who, in the words of today’s collect, ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’.
In our reading from John’s gospel we too are like the people to whom Jesus said, ‘You have never heard his voice or seen his form’. We may not have physically heard the voice of God, but that does not mean God has left us without his revelation, he has made his purposes clear through his words recorded and written for us as we read the holy scriptures.
We are not to become like those who in Jesus time, and sadly some still today, search the scriptures and thereby think that they have eternal life.
We as Christians know that our eternal life is secure through our faith and trust in Jesus, and strengthened through our fellowship in the gospel.
But we also are to search the scriptures because with the help of the Holy Spirit, they make known to us how we should live out our lives to God’s praise and glory, for we live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation as Paul said to the Philippian Christians (2v15).
May we then on this Bible Sunday be encouraged to pick up our bibles with a renewed enthusiasm and hope, to search the scriptures, and so to become the pilgrim believers that God longs us to become, for we are his children.
Let us pray: The shorter collect for Bible Sunday
Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word, and obeying your will, we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen