A Sermon on The Bible: A Jugglers Handbook

Today I want to start the message by explaining a crucial theology for how we see ourselves as white middle class Canadians. We are a superior race. Our skin is white and not cursed like those of a darker race. Therefore those of a darker race are subject to our will, they are built to be our slaves. Let me show you a few examples from our holy scriptures of why to think any other way is to fly in the face of what is mandated to us by the scriptures.

When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. (Exod. 21:20-21)

Obviously here, this is a perfect example of how the Bible supports the ideals of slavery. Slaves, are owned by their masters. Bottom line. The bible says it so you better believe it. Any ideas that you have heard about equal humanity for all, or that no human should be sold or owned is a heresy and this verse here proves it.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph. 6:5-6)

Slaves are commanded to obey us just as we obey Christ. Be dedicated full to their masters. Even in the New Testament we see the upholding beliefs that slavery should continue.

Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)

This just shows us exactly how slaves should act towards their masters. Whatever the masters want in any request. Even if it is sexual in nature (it does say in every respect). The slaves job is to satisfy their masters in every respect.

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. (1Pet. 2:18-29)

This proves that even when the master is harsh or cruel, that doesn’t change the rules for the slaves. So no matter how much we beat our slaves or how much we oppress them, our bible takes our side and commands them to endure it anyway and such it up.

Now I know a lot of you are thinking, well how can we know who should be our slaves and who should not be? If anyone can be anyone’s slave, then everyone would fight to be the master of someone else. Well since our Bible is our book that tells us everything we need to know about living a good life, let’s look to the good book shall we.

If remember from Genesis, Noah’s son Ham sees Noah off drunk and sees his father naked. Instead of covering him up, he runs and spreads the news to his brothers. The brothers return and cover their father. But because Ham saw his father nude, Noah puts a curse on his son named Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Gen 9:25). The Hebrew word here for curse means “burnt.” We all know what colour skin turns when it’s burnt. Black. This is where the African descendants come from. They are Canaanites. Canaanites are those with black skin. God basically has labeled, or colour coded humans for us so we know which ones should be slaves and which ones should not be. Just look for the black people. Ham lacked honour in the way that he dealt with his father. Honour meant in this day protecting your own personal image. Black Africans, descendants of Ham, were those that lack honour and therefore deserve slavery. What Ham did was a violation of family loyalty. Or as one scholar puts it.

“violation of familial loyalty that marked Ham and his African descendants as utterly devoid of honour and thus fit for slavery.” – Stephen R. Haynes

The Christian church has believed this and practiced this way of living for centuries. It took until the fifteenth century until western Europe started finally realizing and stabilizing the belief that it slavery only based on ethnicity that is commended from God. So if there was any question in your mind about a good, God-honouring lifestyle that will please the Lord it is obviously that of owning slaves with black skin.

Alright, I can’t keep going in this direction for very long without feeling a little bit sick inside. This is only some of the proof text and ideology that would have been used to prove slavery was right, good and mandated and especially to those with darker skin.

What is the problem with this biblical belief in slavery? What is missing? Why don’t we believe in slavery anymore?

At this point, I will be whiteboarding the arguments and points taken by everyone, pointing out specific items about how we interpret scripture.

Things that need to come up in the conversation and expounded on.

Chapters and Verses
There are over thirty-thousands verses in the bible, and somehow we think each individual verse is written down in a separate world all by itself that we can pluck out of it’s time and context and apply it to our own lives now. The bible was never meant to be like this. The bible was written as sixty-six different books all telling one story, all pointing to one person. When we start to pick apart the bible and use it to support our own statements, use it for our own comfort and use it for our own agenda it becomes a device that was created for our own selfishness. The bible is meant to be read as a whole. Every verse and chapter fits wonderfully into the whole, not vice versa. Eventually what happens is we start searching for things that aren’t there. If only we can find the right verse to prove my point then it will be justified. Well we aren’t the first ones to have that problem, turns out this is what the Pharisees did too. They were so focused on the text that they missed what the text was actually pointing to.

John 5:39-40
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

Not How things Happened but Israel’s attempt to answer Why?
The old testament is filled with different kinds of writing. Some of it is to answer the question how something happened (ie. historical narratives), some of it is to answer why something is happen (ie. first chapter of genesis), some of it is to wrestle with how people feel when something happens (ie. psalms), some of it is to explain what they’ve learned (ie. proverbs). So the question we need to ask everytime, is which one is it? What questions is it answering?

Moral Code Book
If anything, the bible shows us all these rules and then explains how those aren’t the point. Jesus fully broke some of these rules but did he break them just to make some more of his own? It’s interesting because I find most Christians use the bible to back up every moral claim they have to make. It’s always controversial ones too that they have to use the bible. You don’t need to use the bible to tell me that murder is wrong, or I shouldn’t steal. You don’t have to use the bible to show me that adultery is wrong either. Yet it’s almost as if we use the bible to support every conviction we have.

Romans 7:6
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Geography/Science Textbook
Is this what the bible is for? No. The bible is full of multiple kinds of literature and each one needs to be read in its own light and context. By not doing that is

Inerrant/Authoritative
Authority – Joe talked about this a bit. Shakespeare play explanation.

Inerrant – We know the bible has historical contradictions. We know the bible doesn’t match science (ie the earth is not flat). Is inerrant really the word that we want to use? That seems to make it sound like it doesn’t have any errors. The bible itself doesn’t really even give itself that kind of language.

Can we really take these verses at face value without understanding and applying the context in which they were written, who they were written to and why they were written? Are verses ceasing to do justice? How do we look at the entire story of the bible and then ask ourselves does slavery fit into the Kingdom of God from what we know about the kingdom of God so far? Just because the bible says it does that mean it’s still a moral command for our lives today?

There are more modern beliefs that we could ask the same questions with. How about the prosperity gospel? There is entire movements of churches that honestly believe that God has promised to bless them with whatever they want, even financially, just by having enough faith and asking. They use text like Jeremiah 29:11 to prove.

Or what about a literal seven days of creation? This is a core belief of many evangelicals, but it is founded on a complete misunderstanding of what the Bible is and how it should be read. It is not a science book. It is not attempting to give us answers to questions of how things were done.

If we attempt to use the bible has an informational textbook meant only to tell us how to act and what to believe, then I fear that we will forever miss the point and the beauty of the Scriptures. Unforunately, we have been trained to be informational readers. To have an effective place in the world, it is very related by how you access and use information. We Google questions and it gives us answers. We expect the same out of the bible. What ends up happening is that the person or group possessing the best information is in a position to control their world of activity and interest. However, what if we started approaching the text as more formational rather than informational. This means that we read the bible so we can encounter God through the writings of the mothers and fathers of the church. The text then opens us up to be controlled by God for God’s purposes. This is the opposite of what we know, because now we are no longer able to impose our purposes upon the world.

“Unfortunately, we have been trained as informational readers, not spiritual readers. When we do informational reading, we exercise almost total and complete control over the text. We usually select the material we are going to read. We read te text with our own agenda already in place, knowing in advance what we expect to receive, what problems we want the text to solve for us. We read the text analytically, viewing it as an object over which we as subject exercise our control, to ensure that it conforms more or less comfortably to our desires and purposes. We read the text as rapidly as possible, to amass as much information as we can in as little time as possible. (Have you ever caught yourself marking your place and looking ahead to see how much was left?) The final goal of informational reading is our mastery of the text for the fulfillment of our purposes.

Spiritual or formational reading is the exact opposite of informational reading. Spiritual reading is entered into best, perhaps, when the text is chosen for us–for instance, but the use of a lectionary. This way we begin by yielding control to someone or something outside of our agenda. This facilitates one of the primary purposes of spiritual reading–to allow the text to have control over us and become a place of encounter with God. Instead of the text being an object controlled by us, the text becomes the subject; we, in-turn, become the “object” addressed by God through the text.”
– M Robert Mulholland Jr.

When we learn to be formed by the bible, things start to present themselves to us that we never would have found if we were simply just looking for information. We start to look at the bible as not some informational piece that is floating in space, completely separate from when and where it happened. Instead, when we allow the stories to form us, we For instance, here are some of the things that we start to understand that Rob Bell points out in his book Velvet Elvis.

When Jesus is asked about divorce, he is entering into a dialogue that was one of the big discussions of his day. Other Rabbis before him already said specific things about divorce and when he gives an answer, he sides with one of the Rabbis. So the question is about divorce, but it is also about which Rabbi he sides with, Hillel or Shamai. You can’t just grab this line about divorce and throw it at someone 2000 years later to prove your morals to them.

Look at Deuteronomy, the entire book is patterend after treaties that were common in its day. The writer basically took a regular legal document and changed the content and the names but kept the form the same.

Look at the book of Mark, it is arranged by coronations ceremonies of the Roman emperor. He was very intentional about the order of events leading up to Jesus’ death. His readers would have been familiar with these Roman coronation events. This means that we can’t read into Mark’s book (which by the way, like Dom told us last week, all the other gospel writers used Mark) about the historical order of what was happening. Mark is doing something else here. Mark wants you to see Jesus as king….kind of like Caeser.

Or how about John, the first three miracles in te book of John are directly related to the three major gods of Asia Minor, the region John writes his gospel to. Dionysus was the god who turned water into wine. Asclepius was the god of healing, and Demeter was the godess of bread. John is making major comparisons here, showing that Jesus is better than their gods.

The first chapters of Revelation follow the sequence of events of the Domitian games, held in honor of the caesar who was in power at the time it was written. Domitian would address the leaders of the various provinces, then his choir of twenty-four would sing worship songs to him, and then there would be a horse race track. John is writing to people who knew this and was showing them that Domitian is a fake and Jesus is real.

The writers of the Bible are communicating in a language that their world understands and communicates in. They are using symbols and imagery and referring to things that the people reading them at that time knew and understood. The bible can form us and shape us because it contains truth about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. It does not offer us an manual on exactly how to live perfectly. It simply shows us how people acted and lived that God worked through. If we are honest with ourselves and someone wrote down how we lived and acted right now, I think we would be honest that while God may work through us, no one should be mimicking our lifestyles if they are trying to follow God’s will. We are simply part of the story.

Joe talked about it a few weeks. The idea of working things out in humility and community. That is the only way the Bible can be interpreted. If you want to sit at home by yourself and “read the bible like it is” you will be alone and read your own perspective into the scriptures. You will use it for information. There is no such thing as reading the bible like it says. It has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made for what it means for us today. This is why we read it and are shaped by it in community. This is why we have dialogue in the middle of the sermon. This is why we are attached to a larger governing body of Christians called the Free Methodist Church. This is why normally when we do series at theStory we do them exegetically; meaning we take an entire section of the story and we figure out everything about it. When we choose to do topical preaching, we end up having a view that we want to convince you of and take verses from everywhere (like the defense of slavery) to prove what we already think is true. This isn’t wrong, it’s just not complete.

When we read the bible to be formed, we have to constantly wrestle with the greek and hebrew words, who it was written to, who was writing it, when was it being written, why was it being written and what it means for us today. If we are simply looking to be informed, especially just to support our pre-determined beliefs all those things don’t really matter.

When we choose to be formed by the Bible, we see the story in a different light. It is no longer used to prove theological points in a debate, rather it is used as a reference point and leaves us with the question, so what now? Before it was this is how it was, this is what it says so this is how it is. Now it is more like, this is how it was, this is why it said it, now what? We are constantly left to struggle and wrestle with the story as we make sense of it in our own lives. The Bible isn’t there to answer our tough questions. The bible is not some all around answer book. In the New Testatment, Jesus is asked about 25 or so questions, does any of you know in how many of them he gives a direct answer? Three of them. Many times he answered with a story. And we talked about this while doing the parables. Stories demand participation and struggle, they do not allow you to leave with answers. Do you know how many questions Jesus asks? Over two hundred of them. Stories and questions, that is what the bible leaves us with; not morals and answers. The bible is a big story and it leaves us with question after question of what now? That is why you are here. Together we are trying to figure out what we should do now with what we’ve read? What is God trying to do? Where are we missing the mark and how can we be transformed by what we are reading.

I think there is a general consensus in the room that slavery, owning another human being, is not right. Yet for hundreds of years racism was seen as a biblical supported belief. I proved to you, using the typical ways that we prove most of our beliefs that slavery was right, that racism is good and biblically mandated. There is more verses supporting slavery than there is about most of our problems with pornography, homosexuality, polygamy and pre-marital sex. Yet for some reason, there is no way we would buy the belief that slavery is a good and healthy way to live life. This is because we are actually trusting communities that are following Christ before us to make decisions for us on what is proper way or an improper way to interpret scripture. We’ve done the same with allowing women to speak in church, on not selling all our possessions and giving them to the poor, or wearing two types of clothing at the same time. At some point, we decided that these beliefs and interpretations did not make sense for the world that we live in now.

This week I’m going to try to tie up everything that Joe and Dom have presented to you about the bible. Our basic underlying question that drives today is “so what now?” If our faith and our lifestyles are based around this book called the Bible, and we don’t really understand it well at all, what does that say about our lives? Does the Bible even speak to any of our modern day issues at all? Even if it did, should the bible be a moral code book and should we do what it says?

It is crucial that we continue to keep having these debates and dialogue. As new issues arise like homosexuality, celebrity culture, the internet or pornography we need to stay close to our communities and interpret them together. Joe showed us how the early church communities did it, in that it seemed good to them and the holy spirit to do a particular thing. Jesus expects us to constantly be engaged in these dialogues, endlessly processing what it means to actually live out of the Scriptures. This isn’t easy. But it does once again leave us uncomfortable, not able to simply get answers and walk away. Let me offer an analogy that might help explain what I feel like we are left with, Robert Capon refers to this in his book The Finger Prints of God. Let’s watch this video.

This juggler’s name is Michael Moschen. He is considered one of the world’s best jugglers. Here is what he says in regards to his own juggling.

“Juggling is a right-brain activity that involved letting yourself go, letting things happen. To make three balls go around with two hands is so contrary to reason that it just makes you giggle. It’s mystical.

The most interesting part of my work is learning how to touch an object, and discovering how the objects give up their secrets. What I’m after is the essential spiritual magnetism of a shape.

I made a rule that I would never close my hand around the ball, that I would always keep my hand open. It’s virtually impossible to have real control over an object if you’re doing that. It was the most difficult of choice I could make, because it’s the opposite of what a juggler is supposed to do. it offers only vulnerability. Juggling could be less about control than about the struggle to accept the fear and turmoil surrounding uncontrollable events.”

I wonder if this is a proper analogy to explain how we are supposed to use the Bible in our lives and communities. This analogy helps us in all sorts of ways. It especially helps us give up the idea of the image of control, which is how we normally would read the Bible. It now becomes more about watching a divine juggler. When you watch Michael juggle, you do not stare and study the incidental properties of the items he is juggling. Rather it is the mystery and beauty of the entire performance that fascinates you. You can really only appreciate the juggler when you look at the act as a whole. The Bible reveals itself to us this way. The Bible is one of the things that God is juggling. We don’t discover the beauty of the act sifting through the individual properties of the the details of the Bible’s content. All that only makes sense in the perspective of looking at the entire juggling act.

Back to Moschen

“A juggler is not a secure person. A juggler, by definition, should be an insecure person. The exhilaration of a breathtaking performance can be shattered in an instant by the dreaded “drop”.” Moschen who tens to acknowledge the occasional drop by gazing querulously at the wayward ball, claims not to be averse to being exposed as mortal. “If you want to get anywhere you have to embrace failure, not flee from it.”

“Do you see what that allows you to say about the Spirit’s “failures” in Scripture? Is the Bible’s apparent date of 4004BC for the creation of the world a problem for you in view of the astrophysicists’ contention that it happened billions of years ago? Does the Spirit’s inclusion of factual errors give you pause? (The hare does not chew the cud, despite Leviticus 11:6.) Are you upset by the early church’s expectations that the second coming of Christ was just around the corner? Don’t let such things bother you. Don’t let them take your eye off the mysterious revelation that’s at the heart of the Spirit’s whole juggling act. They aren’t problems to be solves; they’re simply wayward cigar boxes that got out of the Spirit’s hand at one point. They’re failures that he embraces — he gazes at just as querulously as we do — without letting them stand in the way of getting on with his astonishing performance. When the Spirit inspires the Bible, he doesn’t operate as a puppeteer, controlling its authors and editors and reader like to many marionettes. He deals with whatever is available to him. He gets his way by embracing their intractability, not by overriding it.” – Robert Capon

This is what we need to embrace when looking at the Bible. It is the entire performance of a great juggler, who is even better than Moschen. It’s the whole performance of scripture we are looking at, not the literal significance or even the eternal truths of everything single part, they are there, but that’s not really the point. Don’t sit around asking questions about every individual part, let the entire act take you in.

So with what we’ve heard over the last few weeks about the Bible, how we should live with it, interpret it and find it’s place in our community and lives what I would like to do is come up with a sentence or two together that helps us understand what we are doing when we are reading, using and interpreting the Bible. Will this sentence have words like inerrant, infallible or authoritative? How do we create a dummy’s guide of what the bible is to us and how we should read it? How do we make room for theology that changes or that shouldn’t change?

“The matter is simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world.

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian Scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming to close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” – Soren Kierkegaard

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