First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Committed to Christ: Bible Reading

Committed to Christ: Bible Reading; 2 Timothy 3:10-17
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; September 19, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer

Judie shared with you this morning the Bible she received from her teacher when she was confirmed in the faith.  I’ve brought along my 3rd grade Bible that I received at Epworth Methodist Church in Fort Wayne.  Mine doesn’t have my name engraved on it and it’s not in as good shape as Judie’s Bible is, though I know from Judie’s story that she used hers more than I did mine.  I’m glad that we have more kid-friendly translations these days because the Revised Standard Version was too complicated for this 3rd grader to understand.  The small print and lack of pictures wasn’t so inviting.

It’s kind of interesting: I remember going to the sanctuary for the first time when I received this Bible that day, and then going back up to the Sunday School class afterwards.  I’d never been in the sanctuary of that church before, except that day, when they brought us in to show us what was going to happen as we received our Bibles.  I guess kid’s Sunday School and worship services happened concurrently there at least at that time.  I’m glad, when we’re able to live out our preferred schedule that kids can remain in worship and have this experience with the whole family of faith, although I’m also glad that children’s church is available, too, because I know an hour can be a long time to sit.  (I’m sorry that’s not an option we have right now)

I’m curious as we talk about the Bible: did you hear your first Bible story as a child?  As a teenager?  As an adult?  Do you remember what that story was?

Was there someone in your family who took it upon themselves to read the Bible to you when you were young, or to help you get to know what’s in the Bible?  Or was scripture something you learned about later, maybe on your own? 

If you attended worship, did they have Sunday school for children?  Was that something you were able to take part in?

Our answers to these questions (and others I didn’t think to ask) all contribute to our relationship with our Bibles today: to how we read it, if we read it, how it speaks to us. 

When we did the confidential survey, some of you included comments that I wonder if you might like to talk to me about.  Please don’t hesitate to call the church office or my cell phone and we can set up a time to do that.  So far, 44 surveys have been completed; if you haven’t done that yet, there are blank ones available under the turquoise box.  Please take one and return it to me asap and your results will be included with those that will be reported next week.  Out of the 44 completed, 5 of us state that we don’t read the Bible but would like to.  Two state we used to read the Bible but don’t anymore. Eighteen of us sometimes read the Bible, 11 of us read it frequently, and 5 of us read scripture daily.

There was a more detailed survey that might have been helpful for you to respond to, that also contributes to your relationship with your Bible today.  We won’t write down your answers, and you don’t have to raise your hands, but I’d like you to think just a bit about your responses to the following questions.  Would you say: 

  • You have a hard time reading scripture; that the words don’t have much meaning for you…(or)
  • That you’re blessed and your faith is strengthened each time you read it.
  • Does it sometimes feel like God has written it just for you?
  • Do you evaluate your ideas to see if they fit with the Bible?  (You may remember that the Wesley Quadrilateral which identifies Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience as the means by which people can explore everyday issues and make decisions that are consistent with our faith.  Using the Quadrilateral, Scripture is always the first thing we look at.)
  • Would you say that Bible reading is one of the highlights of your life and faith? Or, that it’s not particularly helpful in your life and faith?

We all have different experiences, of course.  Some of us have been raised in the church and others of us haven’t.  Some of us have had the opportunity to look at different translations and have found one that works well for us, while others of us have been taught that the King James Version is THE version, and whether or not we are able to read it comfortably, we’re not going to change because those voices in our head are still loud and clear and we really do want to do the right thing.  Some of us enjoy the stories, the poetry, finding a phrase that somehow seems particularly relevant to what’s happening right now in your life and challenges you to consider new meaning and possibility, while some of us read the stories, are turned off by the violence, and are puzzled about what these ancient writings have to do with what we’re dealing with in the world here and now.

I know.  It’s complicated. It’s different for all of us.

Some of us have had helpful and affirming experiences, while others of us haven’t…and still others of us have had little experience, and feel very much like beginners even though we’re pretty competent when it comes to other things in life.  Bible reading can be a humbling and intimidating experience.

Let’s look for a bit at the scripture this morning, a letter that Paul wrote (or more likely, one of his secretaries or followers wrote on Paul’s behalf) to Timothy who has been an important part of Paul’s ministry team. At this point, Paul is imprisoned or perhaps has already died, but he writes to encourage Timothy.  Paul lists the challenges that HE has endured, and knows that as Timothy has followed Paul, he too, has faced opposition.  Timothy, too, has dealt with false teachings, and it has been hard.  And so, Paul wants to remind Timothy of what he has…what resources are available to him and within him. 

Paul points Timothy back to those who taught him the faith: to his mother and his grandmother who were Jewish followers of Jesus—they raised him in the ways of Christ. Your faith has been in you your whole life, Paul says, and the Word will instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ.  All scripture is inspired by God, Paul tells him. 

It’s helpful to remember that the New Testament that is so important to us and to our faith is still being written at the time Paul is writing.  He and Timothy are contributing to the New Testament in their life experiences!  And so Paul is affirming that their history and tradition will equip Timothy and carry him forward in the work God has called him to do.  Though his faith may waver because of the challenges of this day, he’s been given what he needs to carry on, to do what he needs to do.

We talked last week about how prayer helps us establish a relationship with Jesus; so does Bible reading.  Reading and “listening” to what scripture is saying to us helps grow that relationship, too.  As we read our Bibles, we are given the opportunity to learn and to grow and to better understand God’s way.  We can read stories/words that inspire us, that carry us on when we’re facing opposition.  We read words that comfort us and carry us forward. 

I think of the pastor who sat down with a parishioner who was agitated, who was in the final stages of a terrible disease.  The pastor sat down next to the woman and took her hand, and began to read from scripture, “The Lord is my light…” (Ps. 27:1), she said, but before she could finish the sentence, the patient did, “and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”  The young pastor began reading one comforting scripture passage after another, only to have the patient take over the reading of each one—except the patient wasn’t reading. The exercise quickly settled the patient like a baby held in his mother’s arms. As Timothy had learned scripture, so too, these verses had been instilled in this woman from her earliest days, almost as if they had been given to her for that very purpose on that very day. 

My literature teacher in high school was very interested in our class memorizing Shakespeare, but I didn’t attend Sunday school regularly and not at all in middle school or high school, so memorizing scripture was never something I was challenged to do, although my grandmother might have been the motivating force behind my knowing the 23rd Psalm.  But, I have experienced, over the course of time, a recalling by memory of particular texts that have been meaningful.  When I hear the beginning of the text, I can continue it by memory.  But I’m not sure I know enough scripture by heart that I could fill anxious or worried moments with words from the Bible. Perhaps you can relate.

Still, scripture points us to God.  Scripture helps us to better see God, to better understand God, to better know God’s presence.  In 2nd Peter, we read that God’s Word is like “a lamp shining in a dark place" (1:19). A lamp doesn’t eliminate the darkness, but it helps us to find our way through it.

But we can’t benefit from Scripture if we don’t have some knowledge of what’s in it.  There’s a cartoon of a young man talking on the phone to someone, who says, “I think I've made one of the first steps toward unraveling the mysteries of the Bible ... I'm starting to read it."

Today I want to encourage you to take a step forward in whatever you’re doing now when it comes to reading scripture.  If you have a translation of the Bible that works well for you, then I challenge you to begin reading it regularly if you aren’t already.  If you need to look for a new Bible (the best translation to use is the one that you’ll read and can understand without difficulty), I would encourage you to look for a Study Bible.  My favorites are the Common English Bible, the New Revised Standard Version and the New International Version.  I also like the poetic language of Eugene Peterson’s Message, although it doesn’t have verse numbers (only Chapter numbers) so if you’re looking for a particular verse you have to compare it to another Bible to figure out which verse is the one you’re looking for.

You can study on your own: I’ve made copies of a Bible study plan that you might find useful.  There’s an option to read the entire Bible in one year, or in 3 years.  You could also choose to start with a gospel.  Mark is usually the one recommended for beginning Bible students, but Luke is my favorite.  Pick whichever gospel you think you’d enjoy.  You might challenge a friend to read with you if you’re not ready or able to join a group.  You can check in on each other, whether or not you’re reading the same text to see how one another is doing and encourage each other.

I invite you to take the commitment card you’ve received today, and I’ll read through it with you because the writing isn’t any bigger this week than it was last week.  Place a checkmark on any/all of the statements that reflect who you are and what you’d like to do.  When you’re finished, write your name on it, bring it forward and place it in the turquoise box.  It will be returned to you after the first of the year so you can see how you’re doing, and if you’re following through with what you want to do.

As you read, may the gift of God’s Word carry you through this day and those yet to come.  Amen.