Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 24)

Text: 2 Timothy 3:15-17
The Holy Scriptures are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

Embarrassed by your Bible?

The apostle Paul knew that he would soon face execution. The words of our text are his last word to the young pastor who will carry on spreading the gospel. Paul knew that soon Timothy would have to continue without his mentor. And so he encourages the young pastor to keep on witnessing faithfully to Jesus, to hold on to the teachings of the Good News, and to carry on as teacher and preacher in the face of opposition and persecution.

Paul reminds young Timothy that Scripture is inspired by God and it tells us about God and his relationship with us, his people.

Let’s think of the Bible as being like a telescope.
With a telescope things that are a long way off can be brought closer and every detail can be seen as if that far away object were right there in front of you – so close in fact that you feel as if you could reach out and touch it.
Like a telescope the Bible brings in really close things that seem to be a long way off.

The Bible gives us a close up look at God and what he is like.
It shows us that all people have been made by God and that he has a special connection with each one of us. He made us all as individuals, given each of us abilities, treasures each of us and knows us intimately.
The Bible shows us what God thinks of our sin.
It gives us a look into the heart of God as it aches for his fallen people and will do anything to bring them back to him.
The Bible gives us a close up look at God's unquenchable love for us.
It tells us how that love sent his Son Jesus to the cross of Calvary just because he loves us so much – because of his deep desire that everyone would come to experience that peace and joy that comes from knowing that we have a God who never gives up.
The Bible is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to show us the way of salvation.
It is through the message of the Bible that we are led to repentance, given forgiveness, the hope of salvation, the promise of eternal life, brought into God's family and made members of the Body of Christ, the Church.
It is through the Bible the Holy Spirit confronts and challenges to be who God intends us to be as well as comforts and encourages us when the going gets tough for the followers of Jesus.

The Bible gives us a close up look at what the Christian life should be like. It provides us with guidelines and gives us the tools to measure the kind of life that is pleasing to God. We can be so easily led astray by the confusing values of the world around us so it is important to have the Bible to guide us and provide us with the right motives. This close up view of what the Christ-like life is like guides, directs and points the way for us and for our children. It urges us to build our life upon its message so we will love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves. As Paul said, All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, … and giving instruction for right living so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

Whether we have grown up in the church and attended Sunday School and had our parents read the Bible stories to us, or we joined the church later in life and through sermons, classes and Bible Studies heard the Gospel message, in either case the Holy Spirit has used the Holy Scriptures to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

I have here with me this morning a German Bible that was printed in 1922. I’m sure some of you have Bibles a lot older than this one. If this book could talk I wonder what it would tell us about how it has been used over the years.
Perhaps it has been a family Bible and every evening the family would gather around it and listen intently as the father or mother read from its pages.
Perhaps it may have belonged to a pastor or was a pulpit Bible and read every Sunday in Church Services.
Perhaps it was used by a Sunday School teacher or a school teacher to retell the exciting stories of the Bible to his/her students.
Perhaps it belonged to an elderly person who with failing eyes read passages of comfort and hope as he or she saw their earthly life coming to a close.

I notice that the pages containing Matthew’s Gospel are well worn. Maybe this was the reader’s favourite part of the Bible.
On the other hand, because most of the book is in such good condition for its age maybe it has simply sat on a shelf or in a cupboard for many of those years.

If this book could talk what would it say about how its owner regarded the Word of God? What would it say about how its pages were read, and how the reader grew in wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus?

If your Bible could talk, how would it describe your use of the Word of God? Would it feel loved and treasured; well-worn, well-used, dog-eared and valued?
Or would it feel neglected and ignored; almost brand-new, untouched, dusty, and disused for most of the time?

If our Bibles could talk, would they embarrass us? When it comes to Bible neglect many of us would have to plead guilty. It’s not too hard to relegate reading the Bible to the bottom of our list of priorities in a day.
Some may be guilty of Bible abuse – treating it as a book of proof texts to back up an opinion no matter how off beat that opinion might be.
Some people treat the Bible like a set of dice – when a decision has to be made open up to a page wherever your eye falls that is the basis on which a choice is made. (Quite a risky practice).
Some see it as a book of magic. When things aren’t going well the Bible is opened hoping that somehow it will provide the solution you are looking for but when things turn out ok and the crisis is over, the Bible is put back on its dusty shelf.

The Bible is about God and his relationship with us and our relationship with him. Two people can hardly establish a healthy relationship when the only time they communicate is when there is a crisis and then only in brief crisp sentences. If people approach the Bible with this kind of take it or leave it attitude they are bound to have difficulty with knowing
what is God's will in their lives,
what is the way God wants them to live,
how God views their sin,
how he forgives and heals,
how to make good choices that are not only God-pleasing but also lead us to a happy and healthy existence.
You may know of people who have hardly opened a Bible since their confirmation classes.

God's Word can only have a long term effect on our lives through regular contact with it. You might check your teeth in a mirror. They might be discoloured and in bad need of some proper care. A quick scrub with a toothbrush and paste will only do so much. You need regular cleaning morning and night, day after day. There is a cumulative effect of regular teeth hygiene.

You might notice that your clothes are beginning to shrink and that you need less fatty foods and more exercise. Experts warn against so called "crash diets". They might have an instant effect, but if you want to have a long lasting effect, then you need to change your eating and exercise habits.

Likewise the best way to read the Bible is not through some kind of crash diet, but through a regular long-term prayerful diet of the Scriptures. That’s not to say that reading chapter after chapter is the best way to go. Maybe just a verse is all we need and we ask ourselves,
‘What are the words really saying to me? Do I understand them?’
‘What is God trying to tell me through these words?’
‘What is God telling me about my sin, his love for me, or the way I am living the Christian life?’
‘In what way will God's message to me make a difference in my life?’
And finally pray that this Word from God will have a powerful impact on your life.

But you and I know that even before we get to the second question or third at the best, we have become distracted. Our minds wander. Something sparks off a memory or a job that needs to be done or something that will happen in the day ahead. Satan just loves to fill our heads with all kinds of distractions to keep us away from hearing what God has to say and then above all seeing how important this is for our lives. Too often he fools us into thinking that all we need to do is read a bit or listen to a bit but the application for us in our situation is side tracked by all kinds of other thoughts.

If that is the case then go back to the words on the page in front of you. Focus on them again. Let those words bring you back to God and hearing again what he is saying to you. Be open to the power of the Holy Spirit to help you do this – after all that’s what he does best – leading you to God's Word and making it real for the place you are in at that very moment. He may need to do this several times in one session since we are distracted so easily.

More than any preceding generation we have been flooded with so many Bibles published in so many translations and in so many editions, and with so much devotional material. There really is no reason why we should be embarrassed if our Bibles could speak.

Thank God that in his Word to us he tells us that even lazy and distracted Bible readers can repent and receive forgiveness. Jesus died even for those who have all these wonderful, full colour resources at our fingertips but are still "too busy" to use what we have available to us.

Jesus even forgives those who have heard sermons like this before and have decided to make a firm resolution to do something about it, but it never gets any further than that. The Bible is God's Good News of love for us. In it we find forgiveness for our failure. Jesus died to take away our guilt and to declare us right and ready to hear what he has to say.

Thank God for his Word. Without it we would be lost and not have any idea of the salvation that we have through faith in Christ Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you read and reflect upon that Word, that you may find strength, encouragement, direction and hope for your lives and above all that you may find in it the living Word, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th October 2010

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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