It Is Written…
Based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8-13, Luke 4:1-13
The King James translation of the canonical Bible (the Bible without Apocrypha) contains approximately 780,000 words, which are contained in roughly 31,000 verses, 1200 Chapters and a total of 66 Books. The Bible contains almost 1300 promises, 6500 commands, more than 8000 predictions, 3300 fulfilled prophecies and 3100 unfulfilled, and almost 3300 questions; all this in just one translation. The Bible has been translated into most dialects; and more than 150,000 Bibles are distributed every day…EVERY day! Yet, Bishop Lewis, in her address to the Annual Conference on Monday, mentioned a statistic that 2 billion people had never heard the gospel according to Jesus. Good people, that is the same the number as those who currently profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior! How can this be when it is written at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, “…Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…?” Could it be that we arbitrarily choose to follow biblical teachings we like instead of what is written?
Our scriptures for today shine a light on how it is that we as disciples of Jesus the Christ are to appropriate the written word of God and interpret it through Jesus, the living Word of God. We are taught to understand the Laws contained in the Hebrew Bible as a precursor to their fulfillment in Jesus. As we learned last week from our Gospel lesson, Jesus in the Transfiguration claimed the fulfillment of ALL the writings of the Law and Prophets – and this week, at the beginning of Lent, we hear again how He interprets scripture to further God’s kingdom here on earth. Let us go now to ask God to open our hearts and minds to the primacy of God’s living Word…
The Hebrew Bible text for today comes at the end of 16 Chapters of rules and regs given by God to Moses to keep the Israelite people in right relationship to one another and to El Shaddai. Here is written about the offering of “first fruits” given to God in thanksgiving for leading the people to the Promised Land (and helping them conquer it). Note that the eleventh verse states that the remainder of the harvest should be celebrated with “…the Levites and the aliens who reside among you…” It is written here in this law that God and all God’s creation will celebrate the bounty which comes from God’s grace. It is also written in Chapter 27:19, “…Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice….” It is written that we should share the bounty from God equitably…why then do people live in hunger?
Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome speaks to the issue of salvation for all in and through the Christ for those who profess He is their Lord. Earlier it is written, “…Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works….” Right before our scripture for today it is written, “…Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them’….” Yet Paul writes that, “…Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes….” Additionally, it is written, “…There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; (i.e., between Jews and the rest of the known world’s population)…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”, if they believe in their hearts that He is Risen and confess with their lips that He is Lord.
Jesus has been driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit following His baptism. There he wanders for 40 days being tempted and bedeviled. Finally, it is written that Jesus received three significant tests. The first was to use His power to end world hunger (and his own in so doing). He tells the Tempter that, “…It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone….’” He then is tempted by changing His allegiance to worship an idol. Jesus replies to this test, “…It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him….’” Finally, he is tempted to use His divine power (and thus negate his humanity) to save himself…Jesus replies, “…It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test….’”
“It is written”…three fateful words out of 780,000; they comprise 0.0004% of the whole of the Bible, yet I don’t think that any three words in the rest of the Bible have been more often used to induce misunderstanding, discord and division, pain, distrust and hatred. People use similar phrases such as Billy Graham’s famous, “It says in the Bible…” or they will quote chapter and verse – but they are basically saying the same three words…it is written. Now interestingly, Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution stated that representation and taxes would be apportioned based on the number of free men and 3/5 of all other males who were not Indians. Thus, it took roughly 1.5 black males to equal one free male when it came to calculating how much tax and government we had. Luckily however, there was the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which in Section 2 changes the calculation to whole persons. This troubling writing was amended and made somewhat better.
What do we do about those troubling scriptures that are written in the Bible? You know, all those 613 Laws that few people know or bother to follow anymore, or the 15 verses (out of 31,000) which speak in some way about homosexuality? How about another troubling scripture? Think about how it is written that Jubilee will be celebrated every 50th year. Jubilee was a rebalancing of communal property and wiping out of debt. Land was to be returned to the folks to whom it had originally belonged. What would happen if we followed this Law as it is written? What would happen in the U.S. is that Native Americans would return to where they were roughly 400 years ago and would rejoice. Brothers and sisters, we sin against God and our neighbors when we cherry-pick our favorite scripture passages and use them out of context with the remaining 99.9996% of the Bible; or only follow the laws which we agree with our worldview or which make sense given our current understanding. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a process for Amendments to the Bible like there is to the Constitution?
Turns out there is one big Amendment to the Bible and his name is Jesus, and he is the Messiah (the Christ). It is written that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had come before him…all the laws given to Moses and all the wisdom and work of the prophets – all 16 of them! As we heard last week, the law according to the Messiah is written on our hearts rather than on tablets of stone (or words on a page). And this week it is written, “…For one believes with the heart and so is justified (i.e., forgiven and redeemed), and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved….”
The birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus are the final Amendment to the biblical constitution. The completion of all that had been promised from the very first utterance of God. God’s eternal and final Word made flesh. As it is written in the Gospel of John, “…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He (Jesus) was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him (Jesus), and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ….” We are Christians because we have promised to follow Jesus the Christ. Jesus came to us to grant us God’s grace – God’s free will offering of love to all of creation. He came to release us from the purgatory of Mosaic law and to usher in the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. He did this by turning everything upside down and re-interpreting all that was written in scripture into two great commandments. It is written, that we are to love God with all that we are and all that we have and love our neighbor – whether we agree with them or not – as ourselves. During this wilderness time of Lent, I pray you will fully commit your lives to following Jesus just as it is written. Amen and amen!