Grace-Trinity is currently working through a sermon series entitled “Living the Questions”. Individuals have submitted questions, and I was blessed to preach on the question: “Is the Bible Relevant” on May 10th, Mother’s Day. I hope you enjoy it!
John 1: 1-5 (CEB) In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
Judges 4:1-10 (CEB) After Ehud had died, the Israelites again did things that the LORD saw as evil. So the LORD gave them over to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, and he was stationed in Harosheth-ha-goiim. The Israelites cried out to the LORD because Sisera had nine hundred iron chariots and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was a leader of Israel at that time. She would sit under Deborah’s palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in the Ephraim highlands, and the Israelites would come to her to settle disputes. She sent word to Barak, Abinoam’s son, from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the LORD, Israel’s God, issued you a command? ‘Go and assemble at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand men from the people of Naphtali and Zebulun with you. I’ll lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, to assemble with his chariots and troops against you at the Kishon River, and then I’ll help you overpower him.’” Barak replied to her, “If you’ll go with me, I’ll go; but if not, I won’t go.” Deborah answered, “I’ll definitely go with you. However, the path you’re taking won’t bring honor to you, because the LORD will hand over Sisera to a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. He summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh, and ten thousand men marched out behind him. Deborah marched out with him too.
I grew up in three different Presbyterian churches (and heavily influenced by another two) – going to Sunday school, occasionally VBS, youth group, and always Church on Sundays (at least when we weren’t at the cottage). So, I grew up familiar with the Bible, but somehow never really studied it.
It was too big. Too many characters to keep track of. Weird rules and strange stories. And memorization wasn’t – and still isn’t – my “thing.” Despite this, my experience in the church, with its theology, and my personal spiritual experiences led me to seminary. There, in a class on the Prophets, I met Deborah.
Deborah was a Prophet who lived during the time between Moses and the Kings, a time when Israel was a collection of family groups attempting to follow God under the direction of the Laws of Moses. It was a time of predictability in the midst of social insecurity: they would be true to God, then turn away from God, then bad things would happen, and then God would appoint a prophet to help get them back in line. In the case of Deborah, the lives of a group of Israelites were threatened by a much greater political and military force. Through Deborah’s faith and direction, this force is vanquished. As a Mother of Israel, God directs Deborah to instruct Barak on how to fight Sisera and his forces. But this job that God gives her isn’t just the roll of messenger, but also as a mother. She not only has to push Barak into following God’s plan, but physically go along with him to “hold his hand”.
How many mothers have to do this? How many times do mothers know by instinct or experience what their kids need to do?
The first few weeks of our son’s Kindergarten year were interesting. I expected a few jitters about riding the bus to school, but I didn’t foresee having to literally pick him up and force him onto the bus as he cried and struggled every morning. I had to watch him look at me with confused and pleading eyes, and for the rest of the day I had to mentally block him out of my life – or I would live tortured with the thought that I was traumatizing my son. For almost three weeks I had to do this, but slowly, it got better. Now in first grade, he loves to get on the bus to talk with his friends and finally get to school. One morning I even gave him the option of riding the bus or me driving him, and he wanted the bus!
Deborah’s story is a story of an amazing woman – a woman I can look up to. While the Scriptures focus on Deborah’s most dramatic moments, it also mentions the hundreds if not thousands of people who came to her for advice and direction. What kind of woman – or person – does it take to do this?
I imagine Deborah to be this approachable, intelligent, patient, flexible, and creative person. A person who had personally been through many good and bad experiences, and knew the good and bad stores of others. A person whose daily interactions made an impact – even with the smallest actions or comments making a difference. A woman who knew that not everything goes right, not everything is easy, and sometimes you are going to have to take risks – but God will be there with you along the way. A woman who was uniquely intuitive, but most importantly, someone who accepted who she was, because she knew that God loved her.
And that is how I want to be as a mother. I force my kids to do things they don’t want to do, hoping in the long run it will work out. I also make comments or take small actions in their lives, hoping that each course correction may eventually help them to get on the right path. But all along, I know that God is with me on this journey of motherhood – on this journey which includes amazing moments, and a good share of battles.
I have been blessed to experience Deborah in many other women who have taught me that sometimes it just takes shoving your screaming child on the bus day after day to mother – or as defined by Google: to bring up (a child) with care and affection – which in Deborah’s case, was to guide someone else on their journey, and walk along-side them when they need you to.
But, I am not just a mother. I am an individual, a woman, a wife, a consumer, a fan of British public television, and a million different things. But mostly, I am a person trying to figure out my relationship with the Divine, with God.
Deborah’s story speaks to my soul. She is one of my heroes. Deborah is one of the many women in the Bible who are included not because they are a mother or wife, but for their direct relationship with God. She is a woman I get, a woman I can hope to be like, and a woman who I claim as a great-grandmother of sorts – an ancestor through our common faith story.
This faith story…the one Deborah is part of, the one in which God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Creation play the leading roles…and the one which we – you and I – helping continue to write today…can, does, and should impact on our lives.
This Bible isn’t just a collection of laws enacted to try to keep a group of people together in dangerous times, it isn’t just phrases for people use to justify their personal point of view, and it surely isn’t a text to be disregarded as something irrelevant to our modern society.
Yes, it is badly written – and any decent writing instructor today would tell many of the authors to expand the details, and probably would tell Jesus to cut out some of the metaphors. But if we can depart from our 21st century literary criticism and find a way to lengthen our Twitter-styled attention spans…we will be eternally blessed.
First, the Bible is relevant because it is already such a major player in our daily lives. Like it or not, it has shaped and continues to shape our country’s laws, our society’s changing standards, our personal relationships with loved ones, and international relations in general. The Christian Bible – for right and wrong, and if you believe it or not – and its relationship with our sibling faiths – Judiasm and Islam – is part of your life.
But most important…to me anyway…is that it is the faith story that I have freely accepted being a part of.
I don’t like it when horrible things happen to women and children due to social structures – and then the guilty are not punished. And yes, I don’t understand why God condoned the destruction of cities so that the Israelites could move into the promised land – which by the way, isn’t probably what really happened. And when it comes down to it, I really don’t care if Mary was a virgin before or after Christ was born – or even if Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child themselves.
What matters to me is that this is an amazing story of individuals, families and whole societies of their experience with God.
I can’t deny that there is a God. And I also can’t deny that I have had “spiritual” experiences that good “frozen chosen” Presbyterians don’t usually talk about. There is something beyond all that we can see and touch…something that all this was created by and through…something that continues to interact with us. And to find that something…I turn to the Scriptures.
I turn to these pages and pages of confusing and contradictory and scary stories to find out what this “God” is. And in these pages, time and time again, I find myself.
I find my own story of doubt and wonder, of denial and praise.
I find my own story of trying to figure out how to live in the midst of this world – a world both broken and healed.
I find my own story of trying to answer the questions of who I am, where I came from, and why I am here.
And I find my own story among the words…”Be Still…and Know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
And your story is in here too.
Why? Because this Bible shares ancient stories of our spiritual family.
You are part of this. You are part of this story of the relationship of creation and God.
You are part of these scriptures, because they have formed you, and with your own life, you are adding to them.
This is your story. I pray that no matter where you are on you spiritual journey, that you will look into these pages and not only see yourself, but see who you can be. And I pray that you see confirmation in the Word, that you are good, that you are a blessing, but most importantly, that you are loved.
Blessings on your journey…