Last Sunday I preached at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah. It was my first time in a Methodist pulpit in almost 35 years. I used the assigned Gospel for this Sunday as my scripture lesson. That is the advantage of being a guest. I’m going to focus on a different part of it when I use it in Atlanta this week.
I have preached from the lectionary for almost 2,000 Sundays. It is a three-year cycle of assigned readings, which are taken from the First Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles. We usually use two of those lessons, plus a modern reading, story, or video through which a truth is expressed.
What is fascinating to me about the Bible is that every time I look at a text I find something new that I didn’t see the last time. In Savannah, this passage was perfect because it talked about people who went away from Jesus and those who stayed, so it gave me an opportunity to talk about why I stayed with the church, despite the fact that the denomination that bore me, baptized me, nourished me, and called me ultimately rejected me for who I am, not for anything I did. This week, that same passage will speak to the community where I seek to live out my faith about how we respond when Jesus says things to us that we really don’t like.
Three years from now, when this passage comes around again, if I’m still the pastor of Virginia-Highland Church, I have every confidence that it will have something new and relevant to say to us at that moment in time. That is what fascinates me about the Bible. I know how it was written. I know the contradictions and flaws; the sexism and militarism; the cultural biases and inaccuracies. Still, there is something mystical about it that I cannot explain. There is a depth and richness that endures and makes it, well, holy. I can read words that I have read a thousand times, and they suddenly leap off the page and, more than any other way, I know God still speaks.
I recently bought a new translation of the Bible because I wanted to read old words in new ways. The paraphrase The Message is a good way to read the epistles. The new translation I bought is The Common English Bible. If you haven’t been with this blog since the start, I began with Genesis 1:1 and worked my way through the First Testament. We compiled a book those writings, which you can order on Amazon. There is a second book called Liberating the Gospel that you might want to use if you find simply reading the Bible to be a challenge.
Rev. Michael Piazza