14 September 2008

A Photographic Essay on Kneecaps

It was a rainy day here in Lincoln.  As #3 went down for a nap I retired downstairs with #1 & #2 with a desperate desire for a nap of my own.  Luckily the First Lady forgot (in all fairness I forgot also) to take a couple of dvds back to the library.  One of the overdue picture shows was The Great Muppet Caper; even though we watched it last week the 1 and 2 did not care to watch it again either -- I explained, oh yeah let us watch it again for you are sure to see stuff in it the second time that you did not the first time, it worked.  

I slumbered, but not soundly - every few minutes a question was posed to me concerning the muppets.  Upon fully awakening I came to the part in the movie where Gonzo explained to the gang how he was underneath a table doing a photographic essay on kneecaps.  Shortly after this scene Sam the Eagle made an appearance (Amazing aint it how many people in real life look like him, and I mean more than former Speaker of the House Tom Foley).  

The Pulled Pork BBQ Dinner.  Between 115-125 people attended making it the most attended event in recent history.  Everyone loved the deep fried pickles.  Here is the recipe: purchase some at least 1/4 inch dill pickle chips.  Coat them with seasoned flour (ap flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder).  Drop them in oil heated to 350 and cook for a minute or two.  For this dinner I had access to a local deli that not only an electric smoker but a frialator also.  I was there Thursday night, Friday morning, Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon.  All the workers kept asking, who is the new guy?

The Sermon.  It was  compact and tightly woven sermon.  I liked it.  I even made copies for folk to take home and they did.  Here is the text:

The Good Book: The Lively Word
text: it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness (Ezekiel 3:3)

By The Rev'd G. Travis Norvell
Lime Rock Baptist Church, Lincoln, RI
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Holy Bible, The Good Book, The Book, the sword, the Word of God, Beautiful Words Wonderful Words Wonderful words of Life to name just a few of the popular monikers of the Bible. Inspired, holy, uplifting, infallible, fallible, large, special, heavy, deep, old, bizarre, difficult to name just a few of the popular adjectives of the Bible. The Authorized or King James Version, The Revised Version or the English Revised Version (an 18th century adaptation of the KJV), The Revised Standard Version (a mid century revision of the Revised Standard Version), The New Revised Standard Version (a late 20th century revision of the RSV), The New International Version (the result of evangelicals upset with the RSV) The New International Inclusive Version (the result of NIV readers wanting less male dominant language), The Living Bible (a paraphrase version a father made for his daughter who was in 3rd grade), the New Living Bible (an updated paraphrase), the Jerusalem Bible (the Catholic Bible), the New Jerusalem Bible (an update), the Message a late 20th century reader’s version, The 100 minute Bible (an Anglican priest’s attempt to flatten the Bible which could be read in approximately 100 minutes) to name just a few popular versions of the Bible.

The Bible holds an endearing place in our hearts. We buy them for folk when there is a birth, a graduation, a send off, a marriage, a death, or time of distress. In my life I have acquired quite a collection of bibles (folk almost give them away as if they are good luck charms). The Bible is a book that is always at the top of bestseller lists, it has been translated into every language known to humanity, even klingon. We all have bibles they occupy spots on our shelves, coffee tables, and home altars. We all claim to hold the book in reverence, especially in this supposedly Christian nation. Odd then aint it that the majority of Americans then do not possess more than just a casual knowledge of the Lively Word.

Fortunately all of us gathered here this morning are trying to do something about our biblical illiteracy. There is nothing wrong with admitting our ignorance of the Bible, most Americans – even in the Bible belt only score slightly better than folk from other regions of our nation. In our case, however, ignorance is not bliss, in fact it can be quite fatal for our faith and flourishing as people of the book.

I would like to lay out for you four reasons why you should read the Bible.

1. The Tautology Argument. Tautology simply means circular reasoning. Mom why must I clean my room, because I said so. Why are you cleaning your room, Mom said so. Circular reasoning all contained within the argument. Read the Bible because the Bible says so! Happy are those (whose)…delight is in the torah of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:1 & 2) Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shall teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

2. The traditional argument. Read the Bible because your parents, grandparents and your ancestors before you read it. Read it because it is one of the important links in the chain that is Western culture and society. You cannot properly understand Shakespeare, the Constitution of the United States of America, or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.

3. The National Public Radio (NPR) argument. You cannot be an informed citizen of America without a basic knowledge of the stories, themes, and contents of the Bible. Every four years we as Americans elect or reelect our President. Even though there are specific instructions in the Constitution banning a religious litmus test to lead this country, there is a de facto prerequisite that our President be a Christian. This year, like all other, there are two Christians running for the office. How do you expect to make a decision about what kind of Christian you want to be in the executive chair unless you have a working knowledge of what the Bible contains. The candidates both represent clear biblical traditions but without knowing which one you identify with you cannot properly make an informed decision.

Furthermore, in our pluralistic society, where a cacophony of voices constantly vie for our attention we need to know the contents of our own voice and tradition. Last week we as a nation marked the seventh year of the tragedies in New York City, Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. But has our understanding of the Islamic faith grown past a mere caricature? Do we know the side of the story present in our Bible not only of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac but also Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael? Living in our multi-faith and pluralistic socieity is going to require a deep understanding of our own narratives.

4. Finally, the Travis Norvell argument. Read the Bible because through song and story, history and imagination, and poetry and prose the great book of books tells a very particular story of what it means to be a human being, who God is, and how we are to live in a covenantal relationship with God who created us.

The Bible stands as a vessel vacillating between humanity and God as an aide in our relationship. The Bible informs (builds up), critiques (tears down) and reconstructs our thoughts, experiences, and dreams about the relationship.

Now allow me to offer four cautionary words.

1. The Bible is really old and from foreign cultures very different than ours. Nevertheless we can identify with the characters of the Bible quite easily. Therefore, we think we can just pick the book up and automatically viola, complete understanding. The Bible always has been, is, and always be a communal book meant to be read and understood in community. The world has already experienced enough nut cases claiming a direct revelation from God, let us spare the world another. Read and discuss the Bible together, preferably with a person or two who disagree vehemently with you.

2. You will never master the Bible, it is bigger than your thoughts, more expansive than your imagination and greater than the sum of all your learning. This book was passed down from generation to generation in an oral manner long before it was written down. The Bible was cut and pasted, whittled down and added to, elaborated and edited by folk wiser than we are. Despite all of our advancement and progress there are parts of the Bible that are lost to our understanding. We keep those parts but at the end of the day we throw up our hands and say I do not know, and that is okay. The Bible’s contents have stood the test of time again and again as a wellspring for saints and sinners.

3. The Bible is not perfect. It is in many ways still a work in progress as we evolving human beings are still a work in progress. The portrait of God, as a whole, portrayed in the Bible is not neat and tidy but is messy and unfinished. The Bible is a product where the best and worst of human beings and of God are on display for all the world to see. Always remember the Bible is a fully human product, soiled with prejudices, biases and troubling thoughts of the authors who penned its words.

4. Finally, the Bible is not the end. The Bible is a helpful guide, the one guide that judges all guides and helps along the way for human beings. But it is not the teleological point for human destiny, God is. The Bible is an ambassador that points to God but it is not God. Do not treat the Bible as an idol to be worshipped, the Bible simply points to the One, The Living God, to be worshipped.

In conclusion, Sisters and Brothers, take this book and read it, treasure its contents, find a translation whose rhythms and cadences speak to you, and you will find the stories, songs, poetry and prose a resting place for your troubled minds and great source of strength and comfort for your homesick souls. These words will knock you off your pedestal by reminding who you are and your place in this world. These words will also pick you up and nestle you close to the bosom of God. View this book as a life long wrestling partner. View this book as living words which allow you to nurse from the breast of God as the Bible nourishes your starving body.

The Bible is not God, but reading it, studying it, chewing it and digesting it sure does put you in a place and peace of mind for God to knock on your door and spend time with you.

Take these words digest them so they go from a mantelpiece to part of who you are and how you see the world.

Take these words and hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life. Amen.

Let us pray the collect found on the cover of your bulletin:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be 
written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise
hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that,
by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace 
and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which 
thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and 
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and 
ever. Amen.

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