by Elaine Maust
Core Convictions: The Bible
April 24, 2005
In 2002, Jubilee blessed Duane and I with a sabbatical. I was thrilled to spend three weeks at a Mennonite Seminary, AMBS, in Indiana. While I was there I learned lots of things that I still use here at Jubilee. But let me tell you the story of the time I knew I was at seminary.
Over lunch period one day a forum was held. Three professors were asked to speak on this topic, “Passages I cannot Live Without.” It was fascinating to me to hear which Scriptures they picked and why. Students and other faculty members challenged their selections. At one point one of the professors at the front of the room mentioned a story from one of the Gospels that she had almost chosen. At a moment of mental lapse she couldn’t remember the text. “You know the story,” she said, “it’s the one about…” and supplied a few details. Instantly from all over the room I heard dozens of people simultaneously call out the text in an attempt to help her. And I thought, “Oh my. I must be at seminary.”
But I remembered that forum too, because I thought, “What a fun sermon.” I wonder which passages I cannot live without. And how about you all? What are the crucial parts of the Bible for you these days?
Today’s sermon is about the Bible. Belief in the Bible is one of the seven core convictions Mennonites share. I will attempt to share six passages I can’t live without. And as I share them, I will also be talking about some of the reasons I love the Bible.
In her eloquent testimony, DeeDee mentioned the poetry in the Bible. That is something that I love too. One passage I cannot live without is a piece of poetry. It is Psalm 23. I love this passage for its description of God’s tender hand in our lives, “he makes me lie down… he leads me…, he restores me…”
I love Ps. 23 because I know it. I have quoted it quietly in the Doctor’s office, “I fear no evil; for you are with me…” When I am angry, “in the presence of my enemies.” And late at night when I was worried, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…”
And Ps. 23 makes me smile. I love the image of goodness and mercy following me. As if I am being stalked by these two. What’s that noise in the garage? Oh, it’s probably just goodness and mercy following me again.
Psalm 23, like many other parts of the Bible, is earthy. I can relate to that. It uses common images to help me understand God’s love for people. God’s care for us is as practical as a set table. As real as being with us at the moment of death. As ordinary as a drink of water.
And the sweeping ending keeps me focused on the future. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That’s Ps. 23. One of my top six.
As I have confessed to you all before, one of the things I constantly need God to save me from is worry. Left to myself, without the Holy Spirit, I would probably spend much of my life in a corner, sucking on my foot. That’s why passages like Phil. 4:4-9 are so important to me.
(read 4-7) This passage gives me a reality check. Without looking it up again, I seldom get the phrases in the right order, (8-9) “whatever is true, noble, right, lovely,” etc. But I get the idea. God can use this passage to convict me over and over again. When I am peeved with someone, the Holy Spirit asks me, “Is that praiseworthy?” Hardly. When I am imagining disaster, I hear, “Is that true?” Not yet at least.
And like Anita said in the children’s story, the Bible can teach us how to live. Look at verse 9. I try to live so that I can say this to others. Wow! What a challenge! I better hang on to this passage.
II Kings 7:3-15
A first glance this may seem like an unlikely choice. But stay with me here and maybe you all will see why this is one I just can’t live without.
The short version goes like this… Samaria was under siege. King Ben-hadad and his army had surrounded the city. All the people of Samaria were starving to death. For the graphic details (DeeDee told you the Bible is more dramatic than a novel or a soap opera) check out the end of chapter 6. Back to the story.
Well, there were four lepers outside the city. They lived in the no-man’s-land between the city and the occupying army. And one day they looked at each other and said, “Why are we just sitting here waiting to die? (v3) If we go into the city, we’re going to die. But if we just sit here we are going to die. So let’s go over and give ourselves up to the camp of King Ben-hadad. If they spare us we’ll live. If they kill us, we die.”
So that’s what they did. At sunset they crept up to the edge of the camp. When they got there, they realized that the camp was abandoned. The Lord had scared the enemies witless and they ran for their lives, leaving everything just as it was. (I’m down to v8). The lepers found money and food and clothes and trucks and jeeps (okay, they didn’t have trucks and jeeps they had horses and donkeys). And the lepers started pillaging the camp, tent by tent and carrying the treasures off and hiding them.
But then, for the second time in the story, they came to their senses.
So they ran to the city and told the good news. And the king got up in the middle of the night and after checking things out, the gates of the city were thrown open and the starving people ran to the enemy camp and found more than they could eat. And the city was saved.
“This is a day of Good News,” they said. Because of God’s love and people who have shared that with me, I heard the Good News. Forgiveness, freedom, joy, hope, a church family. This story is one of my top picks because I want to remember that every day is a day of Good News and that if I don’t share it, it would be, well, just wrong.
As a teenager I wondered, what is this elusive thing called faith? In the middle of that struggle, the Holy Spirit led me to Hebrews 11. Absorbing this passage was like a cool Diet Coke on a hot day. I drank it down. I found the descriptions of faith and they made sense. (Heb. 11:1&6)
And I began to understand through the stories of the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 that those of us who live by faith live in a reality that some folks will not understand. We believe in things that haven’t happened as if they already have. The things we hope and pray for, we are certain of them, just like verse 1 says. We don’t have a new roof on the gym. But we will one day. The war isn’t over in Iraq, but it will be. This room is not full, but I believe it will happen and I am convinced that I will live to see it.
As a teenager, Hebrews 11 became a chapter I cannot live without. It is filled with stories of people who lived in this faith reality. Like Anita said, their lives are the pictures for us of how to live in a way that pleases God.
It is filled with action. By faith Noah built (v7). By faith Abraham went (v8). By faith Rahab welcomed (v31). People taking huge, life threatening, life changing risks for God. v38 says the world was not worthy of them.
Oh, this passage always inspires me. Check out 12:1. It is as if all of these saints are in the stands cheering for me. They and my great aunts and great uncles and grandparents who are in heaven. They have lived their faith life and now it is my turn. When I get discouraged I remember their lives and I “run with perseverance.” Or at least I keep on walking. I keep on believing, hoping and living as if the things for which I pray are as real as the sandals on my feet.
The Bible is a treasure box. And Hebrews 11 is an exquisite piece of the collection.
Please turn with me to this passage from the gospels. This familiar story happened just before Jesus died. v1 says that Jesus enemies were looking for some sly way to kill him.
Jesus and his friends were at a dinner party at Simon’s house and a woman came in. What was she doing there? She had a bottle of perfume, pure nard, the Bible says. Very expensive. She walked right over to Jesus and broke the bottle open and poured the perfume on his head. The room reeked of perfume. Like the time the two year old emptied all the perfume off the dresser into the bed room carpet. Likely this perfume represented the woman’s dowry, her future. Her act of extravagant worship was the equivalent of burning your total retirement fund on a fire in the back yard at a friend’s farewell party.
Immediately some of the guests at the dinner party began to fuss. Indignant, the Bible says. They talked about how much the perfume was worth. What a waste she had committed. What the money could have been better used for. And they (v5) rebuked her harshly.
Then Jesus said words that still stop my heart. “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me… She did what she could.” And he concluded that wherever the gospel is preached, this story would be told. (v9) If you could see this passage in my Bible, you would see a date in the margin. Actually it should have two dates. Here’s why.
When I was a teenager, I studied the Bible at Rosedale Bible College. One day during class Richard Showalter, one of the teachers, told this story from Mark 14. He asked us to imagine our lives, our futures as if they were that bottle of perfume. And then he asked us to visualize ourselves breaking open that bottle and wasting it on Jesus.
I remember exactly where I knelt in the back of that room as I prayed that day. I told Jesus that anything good about me was his. I imagined all I could of the future I had dreamt of and poured it out on his feet. I have attempted to waste the rest of my life since that day on God. And to honor Jesus’ closing words of that story I have told this story over and over and over and in an attempt to challenge others, as I was challenged, to waste my life on Jesus.
You know one of the things I love about the Bible is that it is alive. Really. We read it and it reads us. In fact Wendy Miller in her book, Jesus our Spiritual Director, says that the tense of the verbs the Gospels were written is not past tense even though it is translated into English that way. Instead it is a sort of present tense, as if each time we are reading them, they are happening now. As we read the Gospel stories Jesus touches the blind man and Jesus also touches us. Jesus heals the lepers and Jesus heals us. Jesus forgives the woman and Jesus forgives us.
And so, one time during a season of pain and failure, I heard Jesus speak the words of v 6 & 8 to me.
This story from Mark is one that I can’t live without.
There are a couple more I’d like to share, but I’ll ask you to turn to only one more. Romans 8. This is a chapter of hope and power and love. It beautifully describes sin, salvation, prayer and the future we all hope for.
Here are a few of my favorite verses from Romans 8. (1, 11, 16, 24-25, 26b, 28, 31-32, 35, 37-39)
As you can see, this list is personal. Not chosen with theological sophistication. I left out important passages like the Sermon on the Mount, the Ten Commandments, I Corinthians 13 (the Love Chapter) and all of Isaiah. But when it comes to the Bible, it is okay for us to be personal. Most simply it is a letter from one person, God, to another person, me/you. A living message of hope and joy and love. It is the Word of God. It is the Bible and I can’t live without it.