Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Interpreting Scripture!

In the last eight weeks we have been talking about making sense of scripture in our adult forum class.
We have been talking about ways to read and interpret scripture.
This morning I would like to use our Gospel as a way to talk about how we interpret scripture.
This morning we are told two about two incidents that happen, and how they should be understood.
The first is about an incident when Pilate kills some Galileans and mingles it their blood with sacrifices.
The second is about the tower of Siloam that falls and kills eighteen people.
What I found is that most people were brought up to believe that the Bible is telling us history.
And the Bible does include historical times and places.
But the Bible is not about history, it is about theology.
It is about telling how God interacts with us.
These two incidents that are talked about in our text today have no verifiable historical evidence.
Meaning nowhere in any other historical documents do we have any proof that they happened.
They seem like pretty significant things that they would have gotten at least some notice from other historical writers of the time.
Let me offer this to you this morning.
It doesn’t matter.
Luke’s point in telling those stories are not about history they are about theology.
Luke here is attempting to wrestle with an age old theological issue.
What causes human suffering?

In some parts of scripture and in some of our minds our suffering is related to our sin.
Some people believe that when we suffer it is because we have sinned.
Our suffering is divine retribution for what we have done wrong in our lives.
Luke wants to dispute this.
Do you think that these people suffered in this way because they were worse off than anyone else?
But Luke does not leave it there.
Luke goes on to say that our lives should be about constant repentance.
A life of faith demands of us recognition of our failures to live up to God’s demands, but there is not a straight line between our sin and the bad things that might happen to us in this life.

So what is more important the historical accuracy of Luke’s presentation, or the theological insight that we can get from his telling of the story?
Does it matter if those two incidents happen?
Or does it matter what God has to say to us about how our suffering is handled by God?
Let me ask it a different way.
What matters to you more?
That this story is historically accurate?
Or how Jesus answers the age old question about human suffering?

Let us apply Luke’s story to a modern day example.
I lived in New York shortly after the events of 9/11.
I talked a lot about this issue with people who lost loved ones, or people who were spared that day.
For example, the driver of the Hearst for our local funeral home who lost his son that fateful day who told me, “I will never be over the pain of that day.”
The woman who was supposed to be working in the towers right on the floor where the first plane hit who for the first day in her life called in sick that day.
She was on a conference call with her colleagues when the plane hit the tower.
The question that Jesus is asking this morning is, “Do you think that people that died where less sinful than the people that lived on 9/11”?
The answer I think is obvious, “no”.
There was a member of the congregation that I served in who died in the towers that day.
He was a fireman who was running into a building everyone else was running out of it.
He was the father of two young children, a friend, a son, a brother.
Was he more or less sinful than others who didn’t die because they ran away from the buildings?
Of course not.
Jesus is able to help us make sense of something in our lives that really makes no sense.
In a way that is what I hear Jesus partly saying, “Life has random events that don’t make sense.”
Ruthless despot rulers go and kill innocent people.
Towers fall and kill innocent people.

Luke is a genius.
Think of how sophisticated his theology is here.
He holds two things in tension.
On the one hand there is no direct correlation between bad things that happen to us and our sin, on the other hand our lives need to be about constant repentance.
That is not the end of what he has to say.
It is not merely that life is random and makes no sense.
It is that the only way to survive in such a world is to be in constant contact with God.
It is to live a life full of repentance and forgiveness.
Jesus is suggesting that there are worse things in life than dying.
To live a life without being moored to God is worse than dying.

That is what the Bible ultimate gives to us.
It is a deep and lasting relationship with God.
And this relationship is about repenting, and receiving the grace and mercy of God.
Jesus tells a parable about a tree that is not bearing fruit, but is given another year by the Gardner.
It is a year in which the Gardner will tenderly care for the tree.
This parable is about the paradoxical nature of our relationship with God.
That there is a demand in our lives for constant repentance and bearing fruit, but there is a tender Gardner waiting to help us to grow and flourish and bear good fruit.

And that is always the way I want us to look at scripture.
It is not a book of history, or science.
It is a book about how God interacts with us.
How God loves and cares for us.

In our lives there might be times when we forget this.
There might be times when we think that we have to behave or else God will get us.
There might be times when we are going through something horrible and we think it is God’s way of punishing us.
There might be times when we are not bearing fruit and need God to help us on our way.
And in those times there is the word of God which nurtures us, comforts us, challenges us, and leads us to a relationship with God that is deep and wide.
It is a relationship that can be sustained in difficult times, in times of great sorrow, and in times of great joy.

Let me end by saying one other lesson that we learned in our adult forum these past couple of weeks.
You can’t know scripture without having a relationship to it.
If we just go by what we see on television, or by what the pastor tells us, or by what we think scripture is about we will miss the beauty and wonder of it.
We will miss knowing about our God who forgives our sins, who cares for us in difficult times, who nurtures us and helps us grow so we can bear fruit.
To know scripture is to read it, study it, hear it, and then apply it to our lives.
The word of God is always living and breathing and helping us to know God better.
It is living because our lives are constantly in dialogue with it.

Today may you have a deep, lasting, and living relationship with the word of God.
So you can live a life of repentance and receiving the mercy of God.
So you might now that God cares for you.

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