- Written by Mark Diller Harder Mark Diller Harder
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Windows into the Word:
Windows into the Word! Our new fall worship theme. A whole series of peering and peeking through different windows into the Bible, into our Scriptures – trying to understand them better. I love this image for thinking about Scripture! Whenever we read or hear or study or delve into Scripture, we are getting a tiny window into a much larger story. We never see the whole thing, the whole picture, but just what we happen to glimpse through this particular window at such and such a time and place. It is only as you start to put all these windows beside each other that you begin to piece together a larger picture. And each of us brings a different perspective, a different viewing point or angle. It is important to listen to each other and share and learn – to try to view through someone else’s window.
Think about windows. There are so many different kinds of frames and shapes and sizes. Windows both let light in, and let us see out. How many of us have sat by a window, looking out, glancing, checking out what we might happen to see from where we are standing. It matters what kind of window you look through and what kind of personal space you are in. Are you nervous to even start looking out, to even open the blinds? Do you anticipate seeing something special? Does it open up a brand new world that just dares you to enter? Or does it feel like a dark scary place – with only a small jail cell window to let light in. Is life just passing you by? Or in looking out the window are you right at home, content and prepared for what life might bring? That guy looks a little too happy!
As we look at Scripture, we enter into and peer through all of these kinds of windows and more. We will have many perspectives, many angles, many windows into the Word. Some full of light. Some much more clouded and partial. None are complete. As Paul says, we see through a glass darkly. This book, this Bible, is foundational for our faith. It is the book we treasure, and yet a treasure in clay jars. So often it is hard to get a handle on, to know how to read and understand, to know how to put together all the many pieces. For many, the Bible get picked up less and less – seemingly so disconnected to the world we live in. Our hope is that this series on the Bible helps us again to engage with the Scriptures, and gain a bigger perspective – to see the bird’s eye view.
This week I began to reflect on the role of the Bible in my life. What place has it had? What has been my journey with the Scriptures – both my enthusiasm and my struggles? What has changed over time? Why do I even read it? What does it have to do with my life? Each of us has had our own journey with the meaning and place of Scripture, and as I share some of mine, I hope it helps you reflect on your own relationship with Scripture.
I have been given and owned many Bibles. As I looked through my shelves, I realized that each of them helps me tell the story of my relationship with the Scriptures, and so I want to share some of these. These are different windows into my history with the Bible. One of the first Bibles I remember is the 1970’s Herald Press, Cornelia Lehn Children’s Bible Story Book – God Keeps his Promise. The equivalent today is the Shine Bible. I experienced the Bible first of all as Story – as the Story of God’s people with all their ups and down and adventures. I loved hearing about the different characters, loved the action. It felt so different from my world. I didn’t really know how the stories connect and in what order, but they all had to do with God – God’s promises and God’s love and I was somehow included in that. Bible as Story is a pretty good foundation! I suspect I also carried a sense that the Bible was different and strange, and maybe even the Bible as Rule Book – something to keep me in line. But I knew I belonged with it. I certainly did not question anything. At some point, my church gave me The Living Bible. Maybe Junior High or so. The Living Bible attempts to write in more plain understandable English. It was right at the time when we started looking at the order of the books and knowing how to look up passages. I wanted to know facts and details and storylines. But the Bible also had this sense of Mystery and Awe – that it gave windows into something much bigger than me and my life.
Somewhere towards the end of highschool, I was given a Harper’s RSV Study Bible with my name inscribed. This was a serious book now, a study Bible – more grown up, more adult, maybe more inaccessible. I did start to put together more of the larger narrative sweep. There was also a Devotional side – certain poetic passages that had personal meaning, that I felt spoke directly to me. This is also where I first started to question Scripture – to wonder if it actually makes sense, or is relevant to our contemporary world. I took this Bible to Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg – to 3 years and beyond of looking much more academically at the Bible. I was eager to see if the Bible could hold up to modern scrutiny. We used the historical critical method. We studied history and literature and culture. We learned about authorship and the real dating of passages – often not in the chronological order they appear; we studied the complexity of translation and the very human choices made in the canon – which books made the cut to be called Scripture. We struggled with the human role in the creation of the Scriptures over time and wondered at some of its inconsistencies. We will enter some of this conversation and discovery next Sunday. For some students, this kind of critical examination of the Bible shattered some of their comfortable preconceptions and threw them into spiritual crisis. I think for me it gave the Bible a kind of credibility. A few years later at seminary, I begin to learn and read the original Hebrew and Greek and all it opened up for me, a skill that is slowly fading, and yet still reminds me of the new insights found there by a careful look at texts and what can be lost in translation – the distance between cultures. I had never spent so much time with the Bible, up close, but maybe not always so personal. It is easy to stay in your mind and not connect to the wholeness of your heart and spirit. It was after CMBC, after seminary, that I found myself in ministry settings, and started to realize that maybe what is most important, and sometime missing, was to begin to connect all of these academic learnings and wonderings, back with the real world of lived faith and life. I remember one guest speaker talking about ‘a second naiveté,’ – that after all the digging and exploring and deconstructing of Scripture, you can again experience the Scriptures as wonder, as personal, as treasure, like those first trusting naive experiences in childhood. It is not about being uncritical, but about entering a new level of depth and integrity. I was a hospital chaplain for one summer and bought a pocket New Testament and Psalms – and read passage of hope and comfort with people. I began to grasp the depth of meaning when we bring our own lives into the life of the Bible and into God’s story. There is a back and forth here, a growth and maturity when both worlds can come together. I began to see so many examples of how people were truly shaped in their lives by their living into and out of Scripture, out of their experiences of faith – times when Scripture gave someone a new life-giving wordI received a new NRSV Bible at my Ordination, and at the same time use The Message and many other translations in worship and study and devotion and preaching. Preparing to preach gives you the gift of time to do some of that back and forth integration and relating of Scriptures and real life. It has become more and more important for me that we bridge that gap between the world of the Bible and our own world – that these become integrated – a part of what it means to live faithfully. It is not always easy; it takes creativity and imagination and hard work. But it is worthwhile and life giving. It is where God becomes real and alive and a part of our lives. We bring our lives to the Scriptures, and the Bible brings us a whole new world of discovery and transformation as it speaks into our world. It is dynamic, fluid, active and life changing. The Bible speaks from beyond into our world and our particular culture and time, bringing us new perspectives and reminding us how narrow and parochial we can sometime be. We bring new challenges and questions from our world into the Living Word of Scripture, allowing the Spirit to speak anew. Windows back and forth. Our Story, God’s Story.
Near the end of August, I was privileged to take a 3 day interior canoe trip to Killarney Provincial Park. Two friends and I stayed at campsite 101 on David Lake, with a stunning southwest view of the lake. Our second day, we tackled the challenging but absolutely rewarding hike along parts of the LaCloche Mountain trail and up Silver Peak, the highest point in Killarney. The trail is only accessible from David Lake by canoe. We were here, and Silver Peak was way over there – a great distance, like the distance between our world and the world of the Bible. The only way to bridge that gap was through hard work and persistence, lots of ups and downs, and lots of patience and grace. It was a full day effort, but so worth it! It made me think about perspective and the gift we are given when we can step back and see the larger picture.
Here is our campsite, looking great. And here it is again, but from further away, you can barely make it out. Even further back. You start to climb a ridge and all of a sudden your campsite is situated within the larger David Lake. It is part of something bigger than itself. But it is not until you are on top of the peak, that you see the full picture of all of David Lake. You know the campsite is there, but it is too small to actually see, too insignificant. You can even zoom out further to the satellite image... But I like this view better!
I wonder if this is the kind of back and forth perspective we need as we intersect our lives with that of the Bible. That distance too is great, but the reward is in travelling back and forth between these 2 worlds. We need that broader perspective of the Bible, of being a part of a Big Story that we find ourselves in. Then we can zoom in close and start understanding and relating the Scriptures to the details and situations of our particular lives.
Over the next couple of months, we are going to take time to look through various Windows into the Word – into the Bible. At times we will get up close and personal, dig right in and see what we discover, what we might want to wrestle with. We will be joined two Sunday mornings from now by our friend Bryan Moyer Suderman, along with the congregation of Bloomingdale Mennonite. This will be followed by 4 Tuesday evenings, starting Sept 26, with Bryan entitled “Reading the Bible with Jesus”, an inspirational Bible study on the Gospel of Matthew and how Jesus engaged with the Scriptures he was given. It will be interactive and engaging. Bryan will keep asking us ‘What do you notice?’ We will see the details, but then try to connect the dots, try to put things into a larger perspective. Take note of the flier and brochure about Bryan, and the signup sheets. Each evening will begin with a simple soup supper at 6:15 and then our interactive session with Bryan at 7pm. The first 2 are at Elmira Mennonite, and the last 2 here at SJMC. This is a great parallel to our regular Sunday morning worship. In October and November in worship we will step back from the smaller view and details of Scripture and take a look at the larger windows of whole sections of the Bible – One Sunday each on the Torah, History, Prophets, Wisdom and Worship, Gospels, Letters and Apocalyptic writings. This is opposite to what we did in Lent when we took the last week of Jesus’ life and slowly and carefully walked through each detail and scene over 6 weeks, or what we did this summer by looking at one bird of the Bible at a time. Here we cover the whole Bible over 7 weeks – the Big picture, the larger perspective and ask what each of these sections or genres of the Bible contributes to our understanding of the Bible and our life of faith. This is where we begin to see how the whole arc of Scripture hangs together, from where we can place each of the smaller stories. It will give us the larger structure and framework, out of which to place the details. I want to invite as many of you as possible to bring your own Bibles to worship during this series, to be able to page through them as we walk through each Sunday. Next Sunday we give out Bibles to a few milestone ages, including our Grade 9’s whose study Bibles are in the lower foyer for people to sign.
So what might we discover this fall about the Bible and about ourselves? What windows will give us new insights, new glimpses into God’s love? What windows will still feel cloudy? What windows will offer perspectives we have never thoughts about before? May God’s Spirit be present as we enter into God’s Word. Amen.