Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sermon and symbol


To me, that morning he seemed more adamant than he normally is, more given to narrow his eyes and speak with his hands. He's not pushy. He's given to smiles more than scowls. There's normally no grimacing in his pulpit demeanor. He's endearingly off-the-cuff about things.  He'll stop the liturgy of worship service if he thinks of something funny or simply decides he should say what he's come up with behind the pulpit. He's a great guy and a fine pastor. We like him a great deal.

But he seemed a few shades more "the preacher" that Sunday morning, more "thus-saith-the-Lord." The subject was the Bible itself, the Word, the Holy Scripture. He was for it, of course, and adamant about our need to study it, to know it, to gather in and live out of its eternal wisdom. No hellfire and brimstone--he didn't warn us of turbulence in days to come if we didn't study it hard and take it to heart. He was just more adamant about things than he usually is. He wasn't being cute and nice or sweet about the Word--he was serious. It was our calling to know the Bible.

What he pointed out needs to be said. The Gallup people made it very clear when they researched Bible knowledge in the U.S. of A., not long ago: "Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it," their study said. "And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."

He might have said that but he didn't. He could have.

Now hold on to your chair. Less than half of all American believers can name all four gospels, while more than half can name only four (or even fewer) of the Ten Commandments. Seriously. I'm not making this up.

Most Americans (82%, in fact) believe that one of Poor Richard's sacred aphorisms,"God helps those who help themselves," is found somewhere in the book of Proverbs, not in Ben Franklin. Surveys also discovered that lots of folks think Joan of Arc was Noah's wife, and half of all high school seniors believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

But our pastor that Sunday wasn't talking about accumulating Bible knowledge. What wrinkled his forehead was his deep desire to make sure we knew how crucial it is to our lives to know the Holy Scriptures' eternal truths. He was less concerned with whether or not we could list Israel's sad line of kings than that we understand why God really didn't much care for the idea of human kingship from the get-go.

He was preaching an old saw, of course, the genre of sermon that couldn't really go south--like fighting sin and loving Jesus and being kind to your neighbor. You can't go wrong when you tell people they need to know and live the Word; we know; sometimes we just don't do.

It may well have been a class in the works of John Milton of Paradise Lost fame--I don't remember exactly. I was in my first semester of graduate school, I think, doing some secondary reading on the Reformation. My mind leaks info like an old inner tube. I swear I read it back then somewhere but don't have a clue where. I wish I could stick in a footnote here, but I can't. You'll have to take my word.

Somewhere in England, a Protestant government created a law to force every church in the kingdom to turn the pulpit copy of the Holy Bible around, the big one, the grand one, do a full-180 up in front of the congregation so that its face was radically open to the people and not just the priest. 

I would guess that all over the country those huge pulpit Bibles were swung around and opened, not so the congregation's most pious congregants could stroll up front and read mid-worship, but because of what that Bible's open face said--so plainly and fully--in the center of worship. The Bible belongs to the people.

It just so happens that the preacher holding forth on the efficacy of the Word that morning was doing so while standing right behind a huge open Bible blessedly opened to us, to the people, 500 years later. So amazing.

There's so much story in that huge open Bible, so much truth without really turning a page.

Right there in front of all of us was the sermon, open to any of us. Right there, without saying a thing. There it was as it is every Sunday morning, wide open.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Of course that minister knew, you know and I know that if we all appreciate and give thanks for our open Bibles, we still have not caught the genius of the Bible. The genius of the Bible is that it can be lived and done as Jesus and James so clearly taught. Praise be to God for his Word that can and must be lived.
Larry Van Essen