Readings: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
I've no wish either to alarm or indeed encourage any of you, but I do have a habit of looking through the 'sits vac' column of the Church Times to see what's on offer. Not being the Archangel Gabriel I find myself uniquely unfitted to any of the posts advertised all of which require a multi-skilled team player with strong preaching gifts and a talent for reaching out to young families. So you are likely to be stuck with me for a bit yet.
But increasingly we see a new feature in many adverts, as certain parishes demand biblically based teachers. Given that all C of E clergy are required to lean heavily on Scripture by our ordination promises, that's a bit of a funny request. But, as I'm sure you know, its nothing to do with being biblically based, and everything to do with being a code-word. Biblical now means something much meaner than it used to, and presumes a hard line on sexuality and the role of women and a liberal line on personal wealth. Certainly its remarkable how many of these parishes are in very wealthy parts of the country!
On a day when we get the famous II Timothy reading on the inspiration of Scripture, I think its time we reclaimed our Bible from these types, and a good - if controversial - way of doing it is to read the Bible in the first place and take it seriously. This II Timothy passage is an excellent place to start. What do we mean when we talk about 'inspired'? Is it the same as 'without error','infallible' or 'dictated'? Islam believes that about the Qu'ran but is never been a Christian belief about the Bible before the last couple of centuries. And what does II Timothy mean by 'Scripture'? For Christians uneasy with the Apocrypha this is embarrassing, because II Timothy clearly means the Greek Old Testament, which includes many books no longer to be found in the main text of our Bibles, and not any part of the NT at all. For the author of II Timothy, the books of the Maccabbees or Ecclesiasticus are as much inspired scripture as the Ten Commandments. Taking the Bible seriously, allowing it to say what it really says, rather than what wed like it to say, can have unexpected consequences!
And its nicely highlighted further when we take the line about Scripture being used for teaching. Most Christians would agree that the Gospels are in some sense 'inspired' even if II Timothy doesnt mention them, and so we can use them for teaching. So far, so good. But I said last week about how we must put weight on the right bits of a story. What if we put the weight on the wrong bit? How do we use this morning's Gospel reading about the idle judge as material for teaching?
We all know there are two halves to the tale. Theres the woman who keeps coming back and eventually wears down this corrupt and self-serving power abuser of a judge. And then there's the judge himself, caring nothing for compassion or justice who has to be nagged into behaving decently. Jesus makes the connection between the Christian life and the story, and tells us to be constant in prayer, as the woman is constant in her pleading. But what about the judge?
When we were planning today's family worship, we looked very closely at this reading, and thought that, unless we were very careful, there was another 'teaching' to come out of this story - that as the woman stands for us persevering in prayer, so, perhaps, people would look at the idle, uncaring judge who sits by and does nothing when asked and say'Aha! THAT's what God is like!' Someone who has to be pestered into behaving compassionately, someone to be worn down by prayer, someone you have to persuade to be decent. Now you know and I know that God's not like that but if Timothy's line about the teaching in Scripture is taken the wrong way, you can see how some folk might get the wrong idea and see God as a grumpy and reluctant giver, as taught by Scripture.
So what seems to start off as a nice and simple "Read what the Bible says and believe it" starts to get a bit trickier. Being useful for teaching isn't quite what we thought, and that just to quote Scripture as to close of a discussion isnt really where its at. Its pretty easy to see where we could be led astray with this story by putting stress on the wrong bit, but what if it wasnt so obvious? How do we use II Timothy's insight then?
Pretty soon we realise that the old Anglican way of taking Scripture and reading it with help from the Church's past and with the light of common sense and study isn't some scheme dreamed up by dangerous liberals - its the life blood of sensible Bible reading in the first place. Any bit of the Bible, be it never so good, cannot stand on its own - its part of a web of belief and thought and prayer which stretches back to the very beginnings of the faith.
To take the Bible seriously isn't the lobbing around of odd verses as proof-text hand-grenades: rather were called to read, think and ask where it seems to be pointing, and how it fits in with the rest of our understanding of our faith. As any teacher will tell you, to make something useful for teaching depends as much on the teacher as on the useful thing. For too long II Timothy has been used as a gag to shut up people who want to read their Bible faithfully and intelligently. Its time for us, the faithful, Bible reading majority, to reclaim our scriptures.
Extracted from a Lotus Word Pro File via NoteTab