We Shouldn't Be Here Today

23rd October 2011 Bible Sunday

Nehemiah 8:1-4 (5-6) 8-12 Colossians 3:12-17 Matthew 24: 30-35

Actually we shouldn’t be here today on Bible Sunday. We shouldn’t be here at all. We may not have noticed but the world ended a month ago. According to some calculations published last year, the world was going to end on September 29th this year. If you are feeling relieved at this news, it does depend on what calendar you are using. If you follow the Mayan calendar, the next date is 21st December 2012, so we had better get our house in order.

Throughout Christian history there have been predictions about the date when the world would be coming to an end. The Second coming, the Parousia, when Jesus will come as Judge. Different people have taken various words, symbols and numbers to act as some sort of code, whereby they work out the exact date, the world is going to come to an end. A prime book for this purpose is the Book of Revelation. It is full of symbolic language and was written to encourage the Christians who were being persecuted at the time.

Foretelling the date of the end of the world, has been very important to some people down the centuries, yet in the very verse straight after the last one read today, verse 36 reads “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We don’t know. Our Gospel today needs a little unpacking. The first Christians lived with the expectation that

Jesus’ second coming was going to be in their life time and this thought sustained them through all their difficult times and persecutions. After a while they realized it was not going to happen in that way. So that is when the Gospels started to be written, Paul’s and the other letters are generally earlier.

In today’s passage, Jesus is talking about the fig tree and how when the twigs get tender and the leaves come out you know that summer is near. We know the signs of the changing seasons. We can often know from the signs what is coming. Scholars argue over the meaning of Jesus words here. Jesus’ return did not happen in the life time of his hearers. It is possible that what Jesus was saying here was changed. No one was taking notes at the time and in Mark 9: 1 Jesus is reported as saying, “Truly I say to you, there are some standing here, who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God coming with power.” That came true as within that generation the kingdom of God did spread throughout the known world. What happened in the early church was that some of the sayings that were speaking about the kingdom, were attached to the Second coming and this may well have happened here. What the phrase “until all these things have happened”, might well be a reference to the coming sacking, and fall of Jerusalem, by the Romans in AD 70. Jesus was reading the signs.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible are our guide and mainstay. Having said that we need to remember that we cannot say Jesus actually said these precise words. For a start, Jesus was not speaking in English, and as I said earlier, no one was taking notes at the time. It is true that the oral tradition of what was recorded of Jesus sayings and teaching was passed down accurately, once they realized that Jesus return was not going to be soon and those who knew him and his teaching were being killed or dying. No one had thought about doing that earlier because they thought the end would be soon.

We have Jesus’ words being written down in Aramaic and Greek. Down the centuries it has been translated into many different languages including our own. We are keeping this year the 400th Anniversary of what we call the King James Version of the Bible. James would be surprised that his greatest claim to fame in history is the Bible translation that bears his name. As that was the authorized version that was not only used here in churches, but taken with traders and missionaries around the globe. It has had huge influence, not just in a religious sense, but has had an impact and has shaped our language, literature and culture.

What happens when you are translating from one language to another is that you are trying very often to find the nearest word, if there isn’t an exact equivalent. Even then the words of the language you are using changes its meaning over the years. So the work of the translators goes on. People use the work of those who have gone before but they also return to the original text and languages.

The Bible is still the best seller and continues to have huge influence in our world. It is the one which has been translated into more languages than any other book. The Bible Society, has been in existence for over 200 years and aims to have a Bible in every language in the world. It has been translated into the main languages but at the moment they report that there are 4,421 languages, where they don’t even have one book of the Bible in their own language.

Week by week here in church we read from the Bible. In some ways we take it for granted that some how apart from the language being updated, we think of it existing down the centuries in its present form. But it wasn’t until 1250 that it was divided into chapters by Cardinal Hugo. The New Testament was divided into verses by Sir Robert Stephens in 1551. The whole Bible divided into chapters and verses, first appeared in 1560 in what is known as the Geneva Bible. My mind boggles about how they managed to work out the readings before then.

A trivia detail about the Geneva Bible so called because it was prepared by the reformers in Geneva, is that it is also called the “Breeches Bible,” because Genesis 3:7 is translated: “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches”.

But what about this book or more accurately collection of books we call the Bible. In some parts of our world today, ownership, possession of it, brings persecution. Here in England back in our history the same was true as it was viewed as a very dangerous book to be in the hands of ordinary people. How the words of the Bible, the words of our scripture are interpreted are as controversial today as they have ever been. Some Christians, some Anglicans, interpret the words, literally and there are many hot debates between them and those who have a wider understanding and interpretation, taking into account factors, of who, according to the evidence do we think wrote this book, when and what was the culture in which it was written, etc.

What does the Bible mean to us? Is it something that is gathering dust on our shelves? Do we have some practice of personal Bible study? Would we like to do more, perhaps meet together with others to learn more and talk about what it means to us.? The Bible speaks of our faith family, history and stories. The words of Jesus, will never pass away and are still echoing round the world today, two millennia later.

And the words of today’s Gospel, that speak of the end of the world.? We don’t know when the world will come to an end, when Jesus will return. What we do know is that at some point our personal world, our personal existence, our life will come to an end. We believe that our death will not be the end of us and who we are, because of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. At our death, how far we have got on the journey towards becoming our true selves, the person God intended us to be, will be what matters. We like those followers of Jesus from earlier times, try by our lives, ministry and work, to proclaim the good news, to bring in God’s kingdom of justice and to show the lived reality of God’s love and care for all.

We pray in this Eucharist that God will give us his grace, his help to do this as we each go on growing into being the person God calls us to be. Amen

Sister Anita CSC

All Saints' Clevedon