Eight fourth graders will come forward this Sunday as we present to them their official First Congregational Bibles. I like the look on their faces as they do, as though this is really a big deal, like going on a voyage around the world, as though it marks a serious and public coming of age.
May I put this in context? When I served in Colorado, an NHL hockey franchise came to Denver. So the Denver Post had a contest asking readers to pick how the teams would finish. I was glad for this, as I was fluent in hockey, and they were newbies. So I entered all four family members with variations on final standings. Despite thousands of folks doing so, I was confident we’d hit one of them. Sure enough, my daughter Lise won a hockey stick autographed by Gordie Howe.
She treasures that hockey stick to this day. But it’s hard for her to see all that it means having never played. She doesn’t know this heavy Northland stick with a flat blade and a lie five is the same Gordie used. She doesn’t know what it is like to carry a stick to a pond in winter and use it to shovel the ice. She doesn’t know that when I was a kid, and broke a stick, I’d have to repair it with screws and glue, as we couldn’t afford new ones. (Gordie was raised in a prairie home in Saskatchewan with nine siblings, and no indoor plumbing, using catalogues for his shin guards.)
None of this is to criticize Lise. It is a little like saying, if you want to understand the music of George Gerswhin, you have to spend time in a big city. Or if you want to get what Johnny Cash was up to in his songs, you need to spend time in the Deep South. None of it is self-explanatory.
When we give Bibles to our children, we typically quote the aphorism about the Bible being the most published and least read book in the world. That is true enough. Let’s start there. If we do not use these Bibles, if we don’t read them to our children, then our presenting them is in vain.
But we must say more. The Bible only makes sense as our children live lives of discipleship, lives of following Jesus. The Bible isn’t self-interpreting. (Think Church School!) It needs a life context where we relate to Peter, denying Jesus by a late night fire; where we’re like Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus, with Jesus before us, but unable to see who he is. Otherwise, we say foolish things like we’d never deny Jesus, like we always see Jesus clearly in our daily walk.
People who believe the Bible is self-interpreting, skeptical of this context of following Jesus, say silly things like, “The Bible expounds universal life principles running through the morality of all world religions.” I don’t believe that for a minute. I believe the truth of the Bible only makes sense in light of the people of Israel and Jesus’ earliest followers and our efforts to follow him.
All of this is to say, the Bible is a living word, requiring living interactions, not a dead rulebook. The Bible needs our transformation before it releases its secrets. Parts of the Bible never made any sense to me until I was sweating in a third world country, building footers for a house. As the Bible re-narrates our lives in light of Peter and Cleopas and the rest, we realize the story of our life is much bigger than we ever realized. As great as the God who is our origin and destiny.