Monday, July 11, 2011

Where Is Authority?

This week one of our members Gretchen Jacques died.
I met with her daughter and sister to plan the funeral.
They wanted to select reading that talked about the animals and God’s creation because Gretchen loved animals so much.
The daughter asked me about a passage that said something about the animals teaching us.
Not knowing the specific verse I took out my concordance, which is a book that shows you all the verses in the Bible that use a specific word.
In this case I was looking for the word teach.
I found this verse that said, “Does not nature itself teach you that if…”
In the Concordance it does not give the rest of the verse.
It appeared from those couple of words that I found the verse it was 1 Corinthians 11:14.
I looked it up and read the rest of the verse to the family here is what it says, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?”
We didn’t use that verse!
(By the way the verse that she was thinking of was Job 12:7)

The great question of our day is how do we understand scripture?
What is it about scripture that makes it authoritative for our lives?
I obviously have ignored 1 Corinthians 11:14.

Sometimes when we read the Bible we believe that there is only one way to interpret what we are reading.
The problem is that most of the Bible is not intended to be interpreted in only one way.
Parables are intentionally left open ended to many different interpretations.
Take for example our Gospel parable for this morning.
Anyone, who has been coming to church for a while has heard this parable many times.
We have all heard sermons about it.
Most of the time we are told that we are the soil, the Gospel is the seed, and God is the sower.
In fact, we actually have Jesus interpret the Gospel for us.
It would almost appear that I have no work to do this morning.
But here is where it gets tricky for me.
What happens when we are not good soil?
What happens when we are like the soil that is among rocky ground?
Who exactly is the sewer is it God or us?
Are we not also supposed to sow?
So maybe in the parable we are supposed to be sower?
How about the seeds?
They are what grow into the fruit, the flower?
How come we are not the seeds?
In other words the parable does not work as simply a wooden interpretation.
I want to suggest this morning that at any given moment in our lives we are the soil, the seed, or the sower.

There are times in our lives when we are simply not at our best.
There are times when we are the path, the rocky soil, thorns, and on rare days good soil.
There are times when we simply do not want to hear what God wants to tell us.
Days when we are mad at someone and don’t want to hear about forgiveness or love of enemies.
There are days when we think we want to hear God, but other things are taking over our lives and simply cannot pay attention long enough.
There are times when financially we live so close to the bone that we don’t want to hear Jesus tell us to give anyway.
There are days when our faith is not deep enough to overcome what is happening.
In other words the parable of the sower is not about a once in a lifetime opportunity.
That all we get is one day to hear God’s word and if we miss it then we are in trouble.
It is about all the times in our lives when we hear the word of God and the varying reactions we have to at any given time.
One of the great things about the parable is that the seeds are always being sewn.
The sewer lavishly sows the seeds.
There is always time in our lives to come around.
To let God make our hearts be good soil.
In fact, what we have in life is a journey of hearing God’s word over and over and over again, and each time it may mean something different for us.

This is what scripture can do for us it can be a companion in our faith journey.
Because it has multiple meanings it is something we can come back to again and again.
It is not that what the Bible means has been set for all eternity.
Sometimes we talk about the Bible as if there is only one message one understanding that we can get from it.
I think that we find solace in this that is why we like.
We like the easy answer.
But there is real beauty in always approaching the Bible like a treasure.
What is in here that I can explore?
What will I learn about God today that was hidden from me yesterday?

For me it is like Star Wars.
I have seen that movie probably about 200 times.
Every time I see I understand or see something different.
We just re-watched Episodes 4-6 again in our house.
This time what I noticed was how mean c-3PO is to R2D2.
I never noticed it before.
The same is true when we continually read the Bible we pick up on nuances we missed the last time, or it means something different to us because of where we are in our lives.

I know someone who wrote a song about how we are all seeds in God’s hand.
That we land in different places.
Some of the lyrics to the chorus go:
“We’re all just seeds in God’s hands. We start the same but where we land. Sometimes fertile soil and sometimes sand, we’re all just seeds in God’s hand.”
The first time I heard it made me think about this parable very differently.
Not that what I had learned before was totally wrong it just made me see it from another angle.
It made me see God from another angle.

Is that not the beauty of the Biblical text that we can read it and re-read it and come to see it differently every time.
It does not make it any less powerful.
In fact, I would argue more powerful.
The best art in the world is what makes us come back time and again because it speaks on so many levels to the human condition.
The Bible is art, but it is also more than that because it for us is God’s word.
It is what comforts us, encourages us, challenge us, and shows us God’s intention for our lives.

We do it a disservice to believe that it only says one thing.
And if we don’t get that one thing that we missed the whole point and we are waste of time.

Think about the disciples themselves.
They are not always good soil.
They often don’t understand what Jesus is talking about.
They often let the cares of the world choke them down.
They often don’t have deep roots.
And yet Jesus continues to work with them.
Jesus continues to teach and preach.
Jesus continues to sow the seeds.

We can take heart that God will not give up on us.
Even when we fall amongst the rocks and thorns God will try and replant us in a better spot.
Even when our hearts are not ready or unwilling to hear the word of God the Holy Spirit goes to work to make our hearts better soil.

Authority does not come from our interpretation of the text.
It comes from our constant engagement in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we meet in the Biblical witness.
It comes from a faith that takes lots of tending to.
We need to weed it, water it, talk to it, and even pray for it.

So may you constantly come to God’s word and be nourished by it comfort, encouraged by it, challenge by it, so that you may grow and produce good fruit.

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