Reading the gospels

Can I ask you please …

What was the look o­n Jesus?s face as he taught the disciples?? What tone of voice did he adopt when he said these things?? Was he standing or sitting?? Did he have the Hebrew scriptures in his hand or simply written in his heart?? What [and this is the point of this sermon] is the very nature of the gospel stories about Jesus. And how are we to read them? And how are we to live by them?By asking what the look o­n Jesus?s face was, I hope to get you to think a little deeper about this morning?s gospel reading and also about the way in which we read the Bible in general.

You see, there is a lot we don?t know. Sometimes the gospel author will tell us a snippet ? that Jesus was standing or looking with compassion or that he was reclining with his friends. But most of the time, we have little idea what the look in his eye was or what the tone of voice he used was.

Our faith tells us that Jesus was fully human. Then his teaching must have been fully human teaching. His voice must have been a normal voice. Full of many shades of meaning. Ironic sometimes. Angry sometimes. Compassionate sometimes. Gentle sometimes. Knowing. Wise. Funny. Incredulous. Sad. Sorrowful. Sometimes full of grief. Sometimes full of Joy.

And we just don?t know which tone of voice he used in his conversations with his disciples. And as we all well know, it makes all the difference. Sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick even when someone is in front of us. How easy it must be to get it wrong when the words of the Lord come to us filtered by 2000 years of history, never mind the gossip in the early church, gospel author?s with chips o­n their shoulder and the many who have brought the word to us ? translating, printing, distributing.

How can we know that what the bible says is true? And here we find ourselves discussing the same theme that the young people have decided that they want to talk about in their discussion group this morning.

I can o­nly speak from my perspective.

For me, my passion for the bible begins in my heart as the worlds of the gospel warm my soul. It means that it is hard to be a dispassionate objective observer. I believe that the bible that I might have in my hand is the word of God. But, I also believe that God has written his word in the human heart. The bible, no doubt is written for the mind. The word of God is also written in the human heart. [And the word that is written there is the word Love, in case anyone was wondering].

And we can know the truth of the bible when we bring it together with our own experience of the living Lord. And the living Lord is the o­ne who teaches us a message that is nothing less that love.

There are those who would keep the word of God bound in hard black covers. I say that we must use the gifts that God has given us in order to understand what the message is. And those gifts include understanding and scholarship. And those gifts include imagination and thoughtfulness. And those gifts include prayer and meditation. And those gifts include hearing the word and listening and pondering it. And those gifts include living with the word with honesty and walking with God with integrity in the modern world.

If we want to understand how the bible is true, we must come to experience the many ways in which the bible is true. Bringing all our creative endeavour to the task in hand.

So, let me look again at the passage from the gospel that we have had this morning. Let me mull over it now with you and try to apply this way of thinking to it.

You see, I know that there is a traditional way of understanding this passage ? the sign of the times. There are those who carry thick black bibles and who wander this world with think black hearts ever more trying to preach that the time that Jesus was talking about is right now. They treat this a prediction of the present. Aha, they say when an earthquake comes ? God is telling us that the last days are here. Aha, they cry when there is war ? rumours of war ? the end of the world is nigh. (I actually saw someone with a poster walking up and down Buchanan Street this week proclaiming just that ? The End of the World is Nigh and yes, he did have a big black Bible held high in his hand).

But there might be a more creative way of reading this passage. You see, for me, Jesus is telling us something about the way human beings see themselves in history ? always thinking that we are at the centre of the picture. For, when I read this passage, I hear and ironic tone in the words of the Lord. Maybe even a touch of humour, if not sarcasm. For I remember that there were wars in his day. There were earthquakes in his day. Nation rose against nation then as now. People knew famine then as they do now and as they have done ever since.

And what the Lord tells me in this passage is that the dates and the times don?t matter. For it has been ever thus.  Perhaps he is telling us that we can know the Lord God in any time and in any catastrophe. And the suffering caused by human and natural disasters cannot stop God from loving us. Cannot stop God from being here in the world.

It is not the end of time that is just around corner. It is the end of a world without God that is just around the corner.

For Christ came to preach a kingdom that is here but still coming. A reign that has begun but is yet being ushered in ? something which we will think more about next week when we think about Christ the King.

In Mark?s gospel, Jesus tells us, urges us, to listen to him. To hear the word of the Lord. The o­ne written o­n the page and the o­ne written o­n the heart. As we do so, let us hear again the words of the writer to the Hebrews and, whatever we think about the coming Day of the Lord, whatever we think about the Day of Judgement or the Day of Salvation, whatever we think and whoever we are, ?let us consider how to provoke o­ne another to love.?


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