LITERALISTS AND THE BIBLE
Over the last few weeks in my sermons I’ve spoken of two different approaches to reading the bible; the literalists and the contextualists. What I didn’t emphasis as much as I could have, was that the bible is a library of 66 books compiled, edited and collated over roughly a thousand years. It has so many types or styles of writing that if we don’t take this into account, we will end up with a very distorted understanding of how we might relate to God through it. I’m going to quote one example. If you read revelations as history, you will end up preoccupied with trying to predict the end of the world.
No-one knows not even the son, only the father, according to Jesus. More accurately it is really a great song of praise to the Risen Lord. A declaration of his sovereignty.
If you take the gospel passage we have just read literally, you will similarly end up in all sorts of strife. I might say figuratively, without a leg to stand on.
THE STORY BEHIND TODAYS STORY
I have said on a few occasions before, that one of Jesus major impacts on not only the Jewish nation but in time, the whole western world, has been his vision of the importance of the interior experience of life. I love the little inconspicuous parable that says the Kingdom of God is like the storekeeper who goes into his store to bring out things both old and new. I read this to mean we must learn to go into our interior experience and search for the unrealized potential giftedness of our lives and also the hidden wounds from the past for healing. ie. things old and new.
Today’s gospel is a collection of Jesus sayings that further explores the importance of the human interior of our heart and minds.
I would entitle this passage as the call to integrity by asking a question about identity. “Teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following you”. The disciples assessment of this person was solely reliant upon the external identity of the person. He wasn’t literally following Jesus. Jesus rebukes their concern by affirming the importance of what the person is doing.
It is a genuine display of godliness coming from deep within him. From Jesus perspective, ‘in time the man will not be able to avoid displaying his godliness outwardly.
There is an integrity in his behaviour that will ultimately shape him in the likeness of Christ. Internal and External behaviour will come together in a harmonious display of human wholeness.
The significance of this point is reinforced with another positive example. Even the simplest gesture of concern for the needs of another, such as offering a cup of water to the thirsty, will reap its reward.
But then this is followed by four stern warnings regarding the failure to live the genuine life of godliness. The life that must harmonize the interior and the external. They are each absurdly simplistic to the point of absurdity so that one doesn’t take them literally seriously. If your eye, hand or foot should cause you to stumble, then remove them. I say they are absurd because such physical abuse to ones body is usually associated with mental illness. Jesus did not mean that. But he did quote these examples to make us think about the consequences of our behaviour. Poor behaviour has both external as well as interior consequences. The deepest damage is the impact upon our character and more pointedly our spiritual condition.
LIFE IN THE SPIRIT
Life in the spirit is synonymous with the fullness of experience. This is the abundance of life the gospel offers.