Tom Holmes 16 04 30
For the last few weeks, we have been considering our personal relationship with God. We have talked about entering a relationship with God, and hearing God’s side of the conversation. But hearing that voice doesn’t always mean it is God who is speaking. God has given us several tools we can use to discern or judge as to whether that voice is God’s or not. Two weeks ago we looked at we are called to be church and how we can assist one another. Last week, I spoke to you about The Owner’s Manual and how the scriptures didn’t just happen. It took time and an agreed upon set of criteria or a standard to decide which of the many pieces of literature belonged in a special class of writings we have come to know as Scripture. I also suggested that to best understand what the words are saying, we also need to have some idea of what the main messages of Bible are as well. I guess, I left you a little confused so, we will spend a few moments trying to get a better handle on the difference between the “words and the message.”
Prayer: God who seeks us out, open us to what you would have us learn and then how we should act.
So, going back to last week, perhaps there were two items you may have found confusing. The first one is a small point, that of the term, “soiling the hands.”
Christians required that any document to be considered for status as scripture need to be “God breathed” or inspired. That is when reading them they somehow had to draw the reader closer to God. They had to be special. Reading them had to have the ability to be used to cause a change in people.
The Jewish requirement was that any scroll considered as “scripture” as opposed to just good reading material had to leave reader with “soiled hands.” This was a term used in reference to be “ceremonially unclean” which, in turn meant, they were not fit to enter the temple to worship until they had “washed’ their hands, like they would before meals, etc. What this term actually meant at the time in relation to the writings is lost but I suggested what I thought was a very reasonable possibility: reading the sacred writings people often came away with a sense of being unclean before God. Isaiah 6:1-6 recounts Isaiah’s call and Isaiah finding himself at the very throne of God, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Isaiah goes on to describe many things but perhaps the most profound thing was his own reaction, not to the various heavenly beings but to the holiness of God, “5 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” In Isaiah’s eyes, he was anything but clean in comparison the God.
The second and probably far more important issue where confusion remains is about looking past the words to find the message. Let me first say that the words are very important and that the goal of this exercise is not to “discover” some hidden meaning. Rather, we are simply looking for the overriding themes of scripture. Our brains can sometimes use the text to open our eyes and sometimes to close them. As we come to understand the main messages of the Bible, we can better understand some very difficult texts.
Genesis 1:1, 2 reads, “1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
The messages of these verses are that God is (The existence of God is never debated in scripture.) and that God was concerned for and involved in creation, even before any formation takes place.
As we carry on in this chapter, we also discover that God is the creator of all that is, that God is a God of order, that God creates order out of chaos, that since all things have their origin in God, all things are sacred especially life. We also discover that of all life, humanity has the most intimate relationship with God. God spoke all things into existence except of humanity. In creating humanity, God paused and considered. God intended to create humans very much like God’s self. In the creative act, God formed the human with God’s own hands and then God breathed or “kissed” life into the human. It was only then that the human became a living being.
When we continue into chapter 2:18 where God says, And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” The text has been used to says that God took the first female out of the first man, thus the female is inferior to the male. But since the first human somehow included both genders, what the message here really says is that God was always mindful of and in pursuit of what is best for humanity (as a whole, male and female.)
Of course, just because we see what might be a theme or a message behind the text doesn’t make it so. They need to be repeated to be taken seriously. John 3:18, along with many other passages, repeat this same concern of God for humanity. Now, if we remember this message when we read the passages where the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land and are ordered by God to wipe out the indigenous peoples we are less likely to understand God as a cruel war mongering megalomaniac and more so as a loving God who had to make a hard choice. Let’s say, for just a moment, we discover a tumour somewhere on our body. After going to see a doctor and a biopsy is done, doctor tells us we need to have it removed because that lump is malignant. Although none of us like the idea of having surgery, we know that if we do not have that tumour removed, eventually it will consume our bodies and we will die. The inhabitants of that land were a cancer that either needed to be eradicated or allowed to continue on and destroy the nation God had called into being to be God’s Immanuel, the face of God on earth. We should also keep in mind that even though the details are not recorded, God gave those peoples over 400 years to change their ways. See: Genesis 15:16, Lev. 18:24–27; Deut. 9:4–5; Amos 2:9
And now for this week’s consideration. “Following in the Footsteps” refers to the fact that Christianity is religion that has a history.
Some would suggest that the Christian faith began on the Day of Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection. Others conclude that its origins date back to Jesus public ministry. Personally, I believe Christianity begins in Genesis 3 as God is pronouncing God’s judgement on the serpent “…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” What follows through the entire Old Testament is preparatory to Jesus’ coming and is made real in the Gospels. But it doesn’t end there. It is a work in progress in the rest of the New Testament and in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the Church Fathers and in the lives of all that came to name the name of Christ. Like the story of creation, the early church was very chaotic but instead of taking 6 days to bring order, because was using people as God’s instruments, it has taken more than 2000 years and we are still not there yet.
Last week we talked about “canon” – a set of criteria used to define what belonged as scripture. I also said to you that once a list of items, or in this case, a set of writings were collected that met those rules for belonging, those writings in themselves became a “canon.” In this case, the scriptures became a set of rules for faith and living out that faith.
Not only did Church Councils have to decide what was best to describe as Scripture, but what those Scriptures meant. Often, this was the result of people attaching very different meanings to the words of Scripture.
People have died fighting for statements of theology that most of us could care less about today. People have laid down their lives living out what they have understood as God’s mission in their time and place.
Every cause of dissention that exists today has existed since the very early days of the church but we don’t know that or do we know just how destructive some of the personal beliefs we hold are because, in a very real sense, we live as though our faith is a product of our time. It isn’t. We stand in a long line of people, of groups, of missions, of institutions, of denominations that have met many of the same struggles we face today. Some have entered the fray with the sword and others with grace. The history of the church is such that I can fairly safely say that when she has thought herself to be all important, she was brought to her knees. When she remember that God and God’s love extended to humanity was all important, she flourished.
Initially, the church was organic in nature with very little structure. Followers of Christ relied on the Voice of God, the power of the Holy Spirit and working together to accomplish God’s purposes. As time passed and as various challenges were met, the church became increasingly more institutional. With increasing institutionalization came greater opportunities for personal influence and power, something many of us find very difficult to resist. It didn’t take long before the “Church” existed for itself. However, each time this happened, something else began to stir. God would remind a person or a small group of people of who they were in Christ and as they began living out that calling, great reforms ensued and the church was steered back on course.
To sum it all up, yes times have changed but Christ has not and neither has the human condition. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ has been present with the church urging her to remember what was right and what was wrong; urging her to remain clean while extending the love of God to those who are anything but; urging her to be and act like the Bride of Christ not bridezilla.
As we walk the path of faith, we will encounter all kinds of things that we simply do not know how to handle. Not all, but certainly many of the answers to the past.
From time to time, a supposedly “new teaching” will start making its way like wild fire through the church. Chances are, if you look in the past you will find this “new teaching” has surfaced many times before and each time it was discounted because it did not line up with the Scriptures. It did not meet the requirements of the canon. For example the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus to be God but rather an angel. Was this understanding something brand new in the mid 1800’s? No, that line of thought surfaced very early in the life of the church and was a contentious issue for a couple of hundred years.
Looking back at history also gives us insight into how to handle current problems. One of the recurring themes of church history is that when the church thought itself to be powerful it was actually very weak and that revival happened around going back to the basics. Allowing the love of God towards humanity to be lived out requires far more rules. That power is found in humility and heartfelt prayer. The Gospel is far more effect when it is freely shared than when it is held hostage by the so-called elite.
God has given us tools to help us to determine if the voice we are hearing is that of God’s Voice or another. God has given us a family, the church. God has given us a written record, the scriptures. God has given us a history. None of these should be our sole source of advice. They are intended to work together along with our ability to use the not so common sense that God has given us that we will consider next week. None should be isolated, Why? Because it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to lead us in to all truth and the Holy Spirit works in and through our church families, in and through the words and messages of scripture, in and through the lessons learned and not learned from the past and yes, in and through our ability to reason. To put it another way, the Scriptures are our canon, our rule, our standard for faith and life. Our family is intended to helps us to understand both the words and messages of those sacred writings, and our history demonstrates for us what goes right when we hear God accurately and do as God asks and what goes wrong when we pay heed to our own selfishness, the selfishness of others or our let our fears interpret faith.
May God grant us the wisdom to use the tools God has given us to better hear and discern God’s voice and then to put Gods plan into action. Amen.