Read the Bible, Generation Z

St Mary’s Leigh, & St John’s Hildenborough, Kent. Deuteronomy Ch.6: v4-9, Matthew 22: v34-46.

One of my favourite TV programmes is Newsnight.  30 years ago, Jeremy Paxman was its presenter, and whatever problems I may have had during the day, it was good to watch all the people Mr Paxman interviewed, squirming under his sharp questioning.  I could go to bed thinking that at least, any questioners I may have had during the day had not given me anything like such a hard time.

The ability to answer anything people throw at us, with grace – and yet to get to the bottom of what the issue really is, is a great ability, a great gift.  Jesus clearly had that ability, as we see him answering the Pharisees, here at the end of Matthew 22.

Jesus answers their question clearly, but then asks them a question back – directly:  “What do you think about the Christ, the Messiah?”  They give an evasive reply, they know that the common people are calling Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.  So they give an evasive answer: “The son of David.”  No-one can argue with that, their scriptures state it quite clearly.

But Jesus knows his Bible, the Old Testament, better than the Pharisees questioning him.  Jesus knows His place in the Jewish scriptures.  He turns to the verse in one of the Psalms of David, Psalm 110 v1, where there is the enigmatic statement about David’s “son” being his lord.  “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”  The Pharisees could not answer.

“In their own scriptures, it is stated that the Messiah is indeed David’s son, but he is also David’s Lord as well.  That does not fit their idea of a merely earthly and political Messiah.  Jesus is trying to open their eyes to the futility of a Messianic hope which does not rise above the human level.  Son of David is not an adequate title for him.  He is Son of God, whom Matthew knows to be exalted to the right hand of God, where he shares God’s rule over the world.  No lesser concept is big enough to embrace one who is both David’s son and David’s Lord.  But, the Pharisees have blinded their eyes to the truth, wilfully turning away from the One who had come to reconcile them to God.  Woe has come to the leaders of Israel, and that is the subject of the next chapter in Matthew’s Gospel.” (thanks, Michael Green, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel!)

But we now, go back to the first part of our Gospel reading, the two-fold commandment as it is called, which summarises the 10 Commandments.

For 23 years, as team rector of St Lawrence, Morden in south London, I stood under great golden panels with the detail of all ten of the commandments, inscribed into the glass of our east window, a fine example of 17th Century Dutch glass-making.  In early morning sun-light, the sun shines through the glass bathing the whole church in golden light.  And as I read through the old Communion service, reading out the ten commandments, I – and the congregation – had time to think about all of them.  All ten.

I wonder if I put you all on the spot, and asked you each to recite the 10 commandments, could you remember them all?  Sadly, I suspect that most people these days could not, I suspect that most RE taught in schools, does not require children to learn them.  (After the service, I was told by one teenager that at the local church school, she had been taught the 10 commandments).

When, about 100 years ago, some churches stopped reading them out every Sunday, clergy began to ride light on them, and society followed.  Keeping the Lord’s day special was the first to be undermined, when parliament allowed big shops to open on a Sunday.

50 years ago, if a clergyman got divorced, he could no longer lead a parish.  That is how I got my first parish, after serving a 5-year curacy.  The previous vicar’s marriage had broken up – sadly, I think one could truly say that for him and his wife, it was a ‘no fault’ divorce, on either side, but still in those days, rules were rules.

Now, marriage in today’s society means something very different than between a woman and man, for life.

Telling the truth – not bearing false witness.  Shall I go on?  We have plenty of this commandment ignored in modern politics….  I could go on, but I want to get to the heart of what I think our readings for today, say.  And that is, we must be careful not to pick and choose what is God is saying to us – just as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day did, and just as most people do today.

 “Yes of course, we love God (in our own way)….  Yes of course we love our neighbour as ourselves.”  How many times have I heard over 50 years of conducting funerals, “They never hurt anyone.”  The number of perfect individuals I have been asked to bring to God at their funerals in the hope of resurrection, runs to well over 1000.

No, it is not enough to just live by the two-fold commandment, making “love” to mean what we want it to mean.  To live by God’s law, the law of love – for that, to understand that, you need 10 commandments, and then the whole of scripture to explain how it is through the cross, the death of Jesus on the cross, you can receive God’s Holy Spirit to guide you, and to herp to guide society.

It takes a lifetime.  Until 100 years ago, most people in Britain had a basic understanding of the Bible, even if they chose not to live by it.  In my South London parish of 30,000 people, in1950 most children went to Sunday School in the afternoon, led by dozens of Sunday School teachers,. in several of local state school buildings.  Literally thousands of children.  Now, barely a handful attend Sunday schools, at the same time as church services in each of the four churches in the parish.

Two weeks ago, I found myself outside Tonbridge station, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  It was heaving with teenagers coming out of the various schools from up the hill, catching buses and trains.  Streaming down the road, as far as the eye could see, jostling one another, and any unfortunate people standing in their way.  How many of them have any meaningful understanding of what it means to live, happy and meaningful lives, as God intends?

You know, a higher proportion of people in China are practising Christians, than in Britain.  Probably in Russia as well, whatever we think of their governments.

I finish with the challenge to you, to read the Bible regularly, daily if possible.  The best way to do that, that I know is with Scripture Union.  “Daily Bread” and “Encounter with God” printed notes, on short passages of the Bible for each day.  In three years you would cover the Bible, apart from the bits that are doubled up anyway.  You don’t have to pay for Scripture Union notes to be posted to you, although I find it really useful to have a printed copy, and I can give you details on how to get them posted to you.  You can also  find them on the internet, free.  Just google, and follow the links.  Then, if you have time, follow through to Facebook, and join in a discussion.

And I ask for your prayers, that with a few others, I am working on ways to encourage teenagers to read their Bibles, and so to find Jesus, his background, and a sure guide for their future – the  never-ending future they have been created to enjoy in the face to face presence of God in Christ, as well as making the best of their earthly lives.

Because teenagers spend so much time on their ‘screens’, I am hoping we can find a way to use the internet positively, maybe by using an app some of you will know already, “WhatsApp”, which has a moderate level on encryption.  Of course,  the dangers that go with much of social media need to be avoided, but to avoid it altogether, is a bit like the burning of printed Bibles back in the 14-15 hundreds, to avoid the general populace being contaminated without priestly interpretation.  I am suggesting that parents also join the “WhatsApp” group, and use the Encounter with God / Going Deeper notes, while the teenagers use the more basic Daily Bread / Explore notes.

Scripture Union has a scheme involving what they call “Faith Guides”, and my  idea is that in smaller churches, and in villages, the same kind of youth fellowship could grow up, led by a faith guide, such as many of us probably benefitted from, a generation or two ago.  Please pray.  I am keeping your families and children’s worker here in Leigh, David Bennie in the loop.

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