As always, this sermon was written to be spoken. Re-reading it, I know it seems clunky in some places. It’s at times like this I wish I could pop over to see you and read it to you in person.
Does anyone listen to Desert Island Discs? I wonder; do they still give you the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible in addition to your book choice? It used to make absolute sense to me that they would do that. I mean, who wouldn’t ask for those two books when given the choice of texts to take with you if you were stranded? But now, I’m not sure that many people would have them at the top of their list. I did a bit of googling to find what the nation’s favourite books were and of those lists where the choices were ranked, the Bible made it way down into the 40s. In one list it was beaten by Bridget Jones’ Diary. Gallup, the pollsters have done lots of work over the decades on Biblical importance in the UK. Their results are quite shocking. Bear with me – there are a few statistics coming up but I think they’re worth hearing. In the 1940s Gallup said that 90% of British homes possessed a Bible. In 2010, that figure had fallen to 52%. The amount of times that book is picked up has also fallen dramatically with fewer than 9% of people saying they read it at least once a week. 21% of people say the Bible has an effect on shaping their lives. But in 1980, only 29% said it didn’t! That’s a huge difference. So, it’s clear that we are living in a time when fewer and fewer people are encountering the primary text of our faith.
Now, I guess we might say that’s not a problem. For us within these walls, even if we don’t pick up our bibles or engage with the scriptures any other time of the week, we know that when we come here and settle into our pews we will hear the word of God. We are still getting a balanced diet of scripture and still learning those important messages that God reveals through engaging with His word. But our own growth, important as it is, isn’t our only task as Christians. We have a duty and a calling to show Christ to others. How can we do that if no one except us in our road owns a bible?
I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying “You may be the only Bible someone ever reads”. It seems to me that in this time and place, that could not be more true. We are not going to encourage people to read the Bible in any easy way. We’re a long way from the times when books were hard to come by or reading was the major pass-time. Most of these lists of books that I talked about earlier are compiled with one aim in mind – to encourage people to read. They are often entitled “the 100 books you must read before you die” or something equally threatening and apocalyptic. They acknowledge the fact that people are reading less and printed text is not our main way of gaining information. Now, we get our information, build our moral and ethical code, from other people. We read opinions in 140 characters on Twitter, hear soundbites on the radio and, since social media has become so popular, we demand that our soundbite views are heard and respected, even if we haven’t thought them out terribly well. The place of traditional, handed down wisdom and truth, such as that we as Christians believe we find in the bible, is disappearing.
The books making up the bible were written thousands of years ago. Those books were selected and put together finally about 1500 years ago. But God’s revelation did not stop then. We heard in today’s Gospel reading that Jesus’s words will never pass away. the Bible will always be a guide, relevant and living. But today’s text says that there are other signs and revelations. God’s Word became flesh in Jesus. He remains with us as a constant revelation. The Holy Spirit guides us in our lives, proclaiming love as shown through Christ and illuminated in the words of our sacred texts.
Without the texts to point to people where God is active in the world, to give them the story of His saving grace and His desire to bring the whole of creation into reconciled relationship with Him and each other, how can we talk of the Kingdom?
We are the only Bible some people will ever read. It is through our lives, our example, our connectedness, our joy and our sadness that people will see the story of salvation. It has to be through our daily interactions that the work of the Holy Spirit, the inclusive radical love of Jesus and the overwhelming grace of the Father can be read. We are the Bible for so many who will never encounter it another way. What Gospel are you preaching today?
Shall we pray:
Let’s start with a moment to think about the encounters we’ve had in the last week. Where were the times when we showed God’s love and acted as a living Gospel? Where were those times when we fell short and presented a picture far from you and lacking in love?
Let’s commit ourselves to being the front cover of the bible for our friends and neighbours, inviting them to take a closer look at the love only God can offer.
You give us your word, recorded by faithful people over generations, to teach us. You gave us your Son, to fulfil your word and bring your Kingdom to earth. And you give us your Holy Spirit to guide us and to enable us to see your will revealed afresh for each generation. Help us to take our place in the story of salvation, giving more people a glimpse of you and of your Kingdom where all are loved by their Creator, and all have a place by your side.