Westminster Presbyterian Church | Des Moines

The Good (Hard) Book

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“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)

Oh, the many times I’ve wished I could be a fundamentalist! My faith and evangelism would be so much easier. You quote a piece of Scripture, without concern for context, or relevancy for that matter, and if anyone questions you, the simple reply is, “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that!” How can you argue with that? Simple, definitive and straight forward. But the Bible, and the mind of God, for that matter, is not simple, definitive or straight forward!

 

It takes time, study, and the support of those who have spent their lives studying Scripture to assist in interpreting the Holy Scriptures. One needs to have a working knowledge of the Biblical languages, ancient history, theological background, an understanding of literary criticism, etc., in order to make a well-informed interpreter of a Biblical passage. That is hard work and cannot be done alone. That is probably one of the reasons why, throughout the Old and New Testaments, the faithful are called to live out the faith in community. This way we can learn from each other.

 

The Roman Catholic Church often gets a bad rap for “keeping the Bible from its people.” Conspiracy theorists often claim it was for the clerical leadership to control the hearts and minds of the followers in some Orwellian fashion. While there may be a level of corruption in any large institution, religious or secular, that is not the main rationale for the Roman Catholic Church’s careful treatment of how the Bible is used.

 

The Roman Catholic Church knows the power of the Bible. They know that there is no single correct interpretation. They have also watched their Protestant brothers and sisters splinter into hundreds, if not thousands, of separate denominations over the smallest of differences regarding Biblical interpretation. Much of which is pretty far-fetched. Guarding Biblical interpretation is a big part of why they have remained so immune from crippling schisms.

 

Mainline churches, like ours, struggle to define and defend our understanding of the complex nature of Biblical interpretation and theological inspiration. Today, make a commitment to reading your Bible and saying a prayer each day. You do not have to read chapters per day. Begin by using a good Study Bible, in the New Revised Standard Version. I recommend The HarperCollins Study Bible. Read from one heading to the next. Then, read the notes at the bottom of the page. It will slowly begin to give you examples of how to approach and think through the Bible. In a future newsletter article, I will give you examples of good books on the subject for your consideration. Read and pray. We are people of the Book. It is a great place to start.

Flesh and Blood

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“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)

 

Jesus regularly shared words and stories with double meanings. Today’s passage includes Jesus’ command to eat his body and drink his blood. The religious leaders pondered its meaning. They didn’t quite understand the multiple meanings behind Jesus’ words. Jesus was not encouraging cannibalism. Likewise, he was unwilling to reduce his words to a metaphor for requiring food distribution and enhancing political power.

 

For Jesus, his words were an invitation to take Jesus into ourselves. In the Passover, the lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people. In eating his bread and drinking his blood, Jesus’ sacrificial act is acknowledged, but so also is the promise of salvation. What Jesus is affirming, rather than a single, one-time act in the past, through Communion, Jesus continues to bring forgiveness and salvation to the world.

 

Jesus became flesh and blood in his birth on Christmas morning. He lived his earthly life fully human, with all the imperfections of flesh and blood. He knew our discomforts and pain. He knew our mental and physical hardships. He knew the ultimate reality of being flesh and blood: death. But Jesus regularly transforms the worst of life into something wonderful. The flesh and blood that ends in death, becomes a momentary stop in a journey that continues beyond the grave, to life eternal. By eating the flesh and drinking the blood, we follow the Jesus beyond death, to God’s heavenly kingdom.

 

The next time you participate in the sacrament of Communion, take a moment and thank Jesus for the incredible gift of offering his flesh and blood. At the heart of it, Communion is not simply a “remembrance” or a “real presence,” but a union with God. In partaking of the flesh and blood, we take Christ into our very being. We take Christ with us in life, in death, and in the resurrection. Can we do anything less than to sing praises to our God?!

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