Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin July 19, 2020 The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 Matthew 19: 13-35
Commandments, Signs and Blessings, O My! Weaving through the pandemic and protest of this difficult summer has been the constant stream of images. Doctors in PPE covered from top to bottom. Marchers for justice in our streets. Statues coming down. “Black Lives Matter” painted on our thoroughfares. But one image stands out in my mind - Donald Trump, in front of St. John’s Church holding a Bible for the cameras, after the violent clearing of Lafayette Square. There is so much that troubles me about this image. I am deeply offended by the use of the Holy Bible as a prop. And while I am not certain what Donald Trump intended to convey, the Bible mixed with violence is always dangerous. History reveals the many ways the Bible has been used as a weapon against others – think of the Crusades or the religious wars in Europe. Whatever his intended message, Donald Trump used the Bible as an idol – a “statue” in its own way, closed, fixed and rigid.
Last Sunday, Rev. Rick preached on public art and the messages they send. He posed the question Jesus asked, “Who among you, if their child asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Reflecting on the image of Donald Trump in front of the Church holding the Bible, I wonder whether we see the Holy Bible as stone or bread – for us and for the generations who follow us.
The religious right believes that the Bible is metaphorically etched in stone, unchanging and not to be challenged. There is only one way to live a biblical faith. Their use of the Bible is intended to keep us – and our children on the straight and narrow. It proclaims the power of hierarchy and patriarchy– forever.
To be sure, the Scripture from Deuteronomy makes unambiguous demands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” We are commanded to love the Lord and to make sure that our children and the generations that follow us learn to love the Lord too. But how do we teach our children by example what it is to love God?
The image behind me is from a Godly Play story called “The Ten Best Ways” and, of course, it is about the Ten Commandments. You will notice the heart shape of the box the pieces are stored in and that the commandments themselves are written on miniature tablets. The three tablets that form the heart are a summary of what it means to live biblically; “Love God, Love People, God Loves You” – That heart reveals love, relationship and mutuality. It offers us space to grow as we learn to live the way of love through Scripture. It is not stone, rather it is living bread to nourish and sustain us and those to whom we will pass the faith. We have to break open the bread, however. We need a relationship with the Bible, not as a set of demands to be obeyed, but as a life-giving exploration of living love. So here are some suggestions to break open the word of God in Scripture.
Find your favorite Bible story or better yet, one that perplexes you – doesn’t matter from which testament. Read it out loud to yourself or with your spouse or children. Then put yourself into the story. Is there something or someone that has been left out that you can fill in? Are there questions that you want to ask the people in the story? Imagine how they would respond. Act out the imagined conversation or actions with your kids, add costumes if you like – or simply write it out in dialogue with yourself. For example: I continue to listen for the folks who are missing from the story of the Prodigal son: I have always suspected that a discussion between the “good” son and his mother is taking place in the kitchen while she oversees the cooking of the fatter calf for the prodigal.
Another way to approach the Bible is to think about the stuff of your own life. There is no human experience that cannot be found in the Bible – everything from abandonment, to infertility, to family difficulties, to joy, failure, and worry – and everything else – are found within this living word. You can find the passages that speak to your situation by googling your experience followed by “in the Bible.” You will be surprised how much turns up. Once you have found a story, let the text be your partner in dialogue. What questions, concerns, or feelings are you experiencing? Tell them to the people in the story. See what wisdom might be there for you as you converse.
The Holy Bible is not fixed in stone as are statues and idols. It is a living expression of faith. You do not need anyone’s permission to imaginatively explore it. Scholar John Dominic Crossan, reminds us, “[It] is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” Taking them symbolically gives us plenty of freedom to play with biblical stories.
As you do, remember the commands that “form” the heart. Look for the places in the Bible and in your own life where you see people loving God, people loving people and the ways God shows love for us. Let the Bible knead you into living bread for yourself and the generations to come.
United Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto posted the following on her Facebook page this week: “We are the ancestors of the future church.” Let that sink in. As ancestors of the faith, our vocation is to pass the biblical way of love to those who follow us. May our lives of faith be the living bread that will nurture our children and the generations to come. Amen.