Sermon Bible Sunday 25th October
I suspect most of us have experienced what I call ‘night before syndrome.’ Night before syndrome
refers to the heightened sense of emotion we experience the night before a big event. NBS often
comprises that strange mix of excitement and anxiety. I wonder when you might have experienced
NBF? Perhaps before your wedding, or the night before receiving exam results?
My most recent personal experiences of NBS include the evening before my ordinations; first as
deacon, then as priest. Before ordination you are taken away on retreat for several days and, the
retreat culminates the night before the ordination when you receive something called the Bishops
Charge, following the Bishop’s Charge would be deacons and priests are invited to take their
ordination vows. One the vows deacons and priests make is ‘to preach the Gospel afresh in every
generation.’ It is a solemn vow which is ritually reinforced during the ordination service itself, for
immediately after the Bishop has ordained the new deacons and priests they are given ‘the book.’
When I was ordained deacon I was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms, when I was
made Priest I was given an entire Bible!
I think that in giving Bibles to the newly ordained the Church of England is taking seriously St.
Paul’s claim that ‘all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be
proficient, equipped for every good work.’
This verse has also been a source of huge controversy. What does it mean? Does it mean that God
effectively wrote the Bible, with the authors of the various books and genres in the Bible acting as
old fashioned secretaries taking dictation from the Chief Executive of the universe? Some have
argued that this is precisely what this passage means. But, this is a new idea, introduced in
Victorian times when historical accuracy came to be seen as the only method of discerning fact
from fiction. But, it is not my belief. So you might ask what to I believe about the Bible?
Well, I believe the Bible tells the story of salvation history. It shows us what people have thought
about God both when they have been correct and, when their understanding has been wide of the
mark. I also believe that Scripture literally speaks to us about what God prizes and values with this
being done in the Old Testament through the prophets. The prophets constantly stress for us the
importance of justice, peace, self sacrifice, and holiness. The prophets, I believe not only speak for
God, but the depict God. They tell us something of the very nature of God.
And from a New Testament perspective God is uniquely revealed to us in the person of Jesus.
Jesus, let us not forget, is the ‘fulfilment of the law and the prophets.’ If you want to meet God, be
healed by God, look at Jesus, read about Jesus, interact creatively with the Gospel stories about
Jesus. Don’t leave the gospels stuck in black and white on the pages of your bibles.
And, then we have the epistles – perhaps the trickiest bits of the Bible. Paul’s letters can be
classified as specific or pastoral epistles, written to specific communities at specific times. So we
need to be careful and discern what is purely contextual and the extent to which we can
generalise from his writing. Later in the Bible we find the general epistles, early examples of Round
Robin letters, their authors include James, Peter and John. These epistles were meant not for
specific communities of faith but the entire community of faith – the One Holy Apostolic and
Catholic Church. The general epistles stress the importance of hospitality; God’s desire to include
So what are we to make of the Bible and how are we to engage with it so we preach the Gospel
afresh in every generation? I think we need to take the big biblical themes of justice, peace, love
holiness, hospitality, and healing with utter seriousness. We need to mediate on the great biblical
themes and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us; sanctify us. We also need to regard Jesus as the
living word, the Alpha and Omega, the one for whom we were created, otherwise we simply
become students of Christian history. And, we need to learn the art of discernment and this
implies learning how we take an ancient text and use it to work out how to respond to the myriad
ethical and spiritual challenges that face us all today.
Anglican theology takes Scripture incredibly seriously, our theology stresses that all Scripture is
inspired by God. Our creeds – which can be though of as Scripture in miniature – provide us with
the basis of Christian belief. But, Anglican theology also stresses that Scripture is something to be
engaged with and entered richly into, not simply as a set of rules and regulations to be applied to
any given situation, and certainly not as a set of proof texts to validate any prejudices we might
hold on any given issue, but as the inspired word of God. We must never forget that religious folk
get God and Scripture wrong. In modern history just think about the Dutch Reform Church and
how it used Scripture to validate apartheid.
Anglicans practice the art of biblical discernment by accepting that Scripture provides the
foundation of our belief, but by also insisting that Scripture is read in conversation with three
other dynamics: tradition, reason, and experience. It is through this approach that we can trust
that the word of ‘God remains alive and active,’ and that we can, with utter confidence, ‘preach
the gospel afresh in every generation.’ And, when we preach the Gospel lives are touched, and the
World becomes a better, more Godly, place. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown