I’ve been reading a book lately called The Dinosaur Lords. Now, some of you who are scientifically organized are probably thinking, “oh, he must be learning about the T-Rex.” Actually, the book is about an alternative universe where humans and dinosaurs co-exist… and the humans are running the joint.
Seriously, have you ever seen a picture of a T. Rex? Pretty ridiculous!
The truth is, that we have plenty of things that are ridiculous that we accept on a regular basis. There are more than a few ideas we banter about that we don’t really mean but we say regularly – defying reality!
Like, “oh yes, this tastes great!” when the food is horrible.
Or, “I’ll call you,” when we have no intention of calling.
How about when someone, usually Southern, says “bless your little heart”? Beware, they don’t really mean it.
The sad thing is that many of the subjects of our sermon series, Things Jesus Never Said, fall into that category of defying reason. But none is quite so egregious as “the Bible says it and I believe it.”
Let’s consider some things the Bible says. We’ll start with Leviticus because it’s easy pickings.
Leviticus 19:19: Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Okay, so the mule is out – but who would notice. What about this injunction about two kinds of seeds? Does that mean that Carter’s Mountain is living in sin because it has several kinds of apples?
The reality is, if you’re wearing any piece of polyester or artificial fabric, you’re in big trouble per Leviticus 19:19.
Leviticus 19:27: Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
So, I’m good because I can’t grow facial hair – it comes in pretty spotty — but that whole hair thing? I’ve been shaving my head since I was in high school!
Leviticus 19:28: You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.
Have a tattoo? You’rrrrrrre out!
Leviticus 11:10: But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean.
Good to know: don’t eat bats.
Leviticus 19:30: Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary.
Ouch. Suddenly, Leviticus isn’t so ridiculous or funny, but we still have a hard time embracing it as our favorite verse. It’s not to say, ‘hey, there’s Sabbath over there!’ To ‘observe’ Sabbath means that we’re all in on worship – that it’s the most important thing about our day and it supersedes everything else. How many of us struggle to get to church on a weekly basis – and how many of us push the sovereignty and sanctity of God to the side? Isn’t it easier to embrace the way that Jesus was ‘fully human’ than it is to focus on how awesome God is?
But the awesomeness of God can sometimes get caught up in some of the material from the Old Testament that doesn’t jive with the absolute compassion and grace we’ve read about in Jesus. What do we do with all of the material where God said, “Go and kill all of these people?” Are we just giving God a pass, do we think God is bipolar? Check out this verse from Samuel:
I Samuel 15:3: This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’
What are we going to do with that? I’ll admit that I have some thoughts on what to do with it but that’s not the point of this sermon. I don’t think any of these verses should be brushed aside – let me stop and make this clear: I hope this sermon will make you stop to pray and reflect on what it means to be a faithful follower of God.
But maybe you don’t have any problem with the image of God’s holy fire and brimstone. [My sermons about grace must really rub you the wrong way. But I digress…] Let’s get to the comic relief…
Paul makes this sermon ten times more entertaining, because he has some superior comments directed toward women. [Note: Paul was single. Maybe it was one of the following comments that helped him stay that way?]
I Corinthians 11:6: For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
As United Methodists, this isn’t a line we pull out much. Of course, Mennonites, the Amish, and Quakers take it very seriously. Maybe less amusing…Apparently, Paul was really into fashion though:
I Timothy 2:9: Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.
Now, I’m presenting some of these with raised eyebrow, but I’m going to assume Paul didn’t want appearances or money to distract people in church. That’s great. But I don’t want us to get too caught up on fashion.
I Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
I’m not going to roll out the couch here and put Paul on it, discuss his mommy issues, etc., but wow! For a guy who believed that sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ was so important, he’d actually reduce those who could share the gospel because of their gender?
Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Moving along, nothing to see here.
All jokes (or not) aside, it’s not like we can say, “but all that was true except for Jesus.” Check out some of the more “did he really just say that moments?” from the lips of Jesus.
Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Matthew 10:34-36 Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
As an English teacher, I’ll break in and say that Jesus had a strong sense of himself – and hyperbole. Jesus knew that what he was promoting was countercultural and he was willing to say so. Jesus knew that the gospel would be divisive because people were so used to doing things on their own. Let’s face it: Jesus came to shake things up.
Jesus said we needed to lose our life to find it (John 14:26).
Jesus said that if we were angry, that we were headed to hell (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus said it was adultery to get remarried (Mark 10:11-12).
All of those rub us the wrong way, but too often, we fail to stop and think about what the ramifications are, and what God wants from us in the long run.
Because Jesus also said,” Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).Wait, what? Give to the beggar and the guy who borrows but never gets back? Now, he’s not just messing with our relationships or our expectations but our money.
But I’ll tell you this: no matter how annoyed or frustrated or even apathetic these verses made you feel, it boils down to Jesus trying to teach how to behave, based on the main thing.
In his interaction with the rich young ruler, Jesus tells the man that there’s a main thing he should focus on, that none of these other peripheral things matter. “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
Whether you like football, or polyester, you’ve been divorced, or you struggle with anger, whether you forget to show up for church or you withhold money you should be giving to God, Jesus boils it down to this one thing (well, one thing in two parts): Love God and love others.
That’s my baseline for evaluating Scripture. You can take the Wesleyan quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason). I’ll take the Jesus filter.
Jesus, the Word of God in the poetic Gospel of John, is literally God’s word personified. He’s the word that God uses to create in Genesis, he gives life to all things, he’s the light in the darkness that illumines and inspires. Jesus, the Word of God, is the name by which we can be saved from our sin.
Jesus. That’s the bottom line for me.
Jesus, the one who took all of the theology packed in the Bible and all of the do’s and don’ts and lived them out. Jesus, fully God and fully human.
That’s where I am when it comes to understanding the Bible. The Bible was compiled by Councils of faithful Christians who worked to discern what God wanted to be in the canon, to be included. Some things were excised, some things were kept.
If we’re going to live out the fullest life we can to the glory of God, I think we should adopt Jesus’ greatest command – to love God and to love others. We need to read and study the Bible. We need to wrestle with it and pray over and seek to understand it. We need to go back to trying to live each day to be more like Jesus. To follow.
I’ll stake my life on that.