Spotting bible misuse – Sermon Text

Believe that God loves you just the way you are.
Believe that it’s Ok to be LGBT.
You hear some preacher say it’s wrong, get a horrible twinge and wonder, what if they’re right?

What’s happening only makes sense if you understand the way the bible is being used. – which again only makes sense when you know how the mind works and the tactics many preachers use.

Many preachers use a tacatic called Pacing and leading in their sermons. It’s very common. It’s very effective and used by teachers, politicians, and used car salesmen, and used It goes like this.

Isn’t it lovely to be nice and warm here in the day centre.
Every Sunday, just for a brief spell, the day center becomes a church.
where we all get together
sing songs, hear a message
and spiritually grow.

What was wrong with that sentence? Well, in what way is being here making you grow spiritually?

Being here is not making you grow spiritually. Maybe if you struggle with something, that might have an effect. Or if you decide to live the message, that might have an effect. But being here doesn’t mean anything. Yet, I say it, and you take it in. Why?

We accept it because the suggestion was placed in the middle of a sentence of truisms. We’re in the day centre, it’s nice and warm, (It’s always nice and warm), we’re together, we sing songs, hear a message, our brain is nodding away, ‘yes, yes, yes, yes’ and I can pop a suggestion in there as bold as you like and it’s just accepted.

Let me ask a completely off the wall question. When you look up into the night sky, especially when the moon is full, bright, and shining. You must have asked yourself the question, Why is the moon made of cream cheese? Do you know why?

Even though you know the question is silly your brain looks for an answer. Questions are like suggestions, they sit in your mind and lead you. So when some preacher tells you that the prophets of old foretold the coming of Christ, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he preached love and peace, healed and fed the crowds, was betrayed, and died on the cross, then rose on the third day, if you’ve met Jesus you know these to be true. So whatever the preacher says next must be true too.

Maybe it’s that you’re doomed if live your life as a gay man or lesbian woman, doomed if you lack the faith to live by their rules, doomed if you dare to embrace your true gender, – your brain nods away and your heart hurts. Thank God your heart hurts! Do you remember the story of David, the seventh son that God chose as King over Israel? What did the prophet Samual say, after overlooking all the warriors his eyes settled on the shepherd boy and he said – God does not look at things the way we do, god looks upon the heart. Your heart knows the preacher is wrong – no wonder it hurts!

Translating scripture for preaching is a serious business and you have to be careful because many pulpits are the domain of politicians and salesmen.

There are two words for you to remember. Exegesis and Eisegesis. Exegesis is what scripture reveals. Eisegesis is what you can make scripture say to sell your message, whatever that is.

So – how do you genuinely translate scripture? There are lots of methods but besides the actual voice of God these I believe are the most important.

The first is the actual LANGUAGE, Translation.

In December of 1977, then President Jimmy Carter planned a trip to Poland to deliver a speech.  At this time Poland was struggling under pressure from the Soviet Union and president Carter wanted to go to show support.

First, the president wanted to ask what the polish people wanted for the future. But unfortunately he had a really bad translator. The translator told the people that the president “wanted the Polish people carnally”.

Then things went from bad to worse to worse. Carter mentioned how he was glad to be in Poland.  Seemed like a harmless thing to say, but it was translated as he was happy to grasp Poland’s private parts.  Then, later on, he spoke of his departure from the United States, which unsurprisingly was translated to mean that he had abandoned the United States forever.

He wanted to tell them how he admired their constitution, which was then somehow translated to how the President thought their constitution was stupid.

So, sometimes there’s just bad translation, and to be fair translating words can be really tricky. But Carter went to support the people of Poland and ended up telling them that he’d left the USA for good, wanted to fondle their private parts and know them carnally, even though he thought their constitution was stupid. I kid you not.

And then every Language is full of Homonyms – which are words which have one spelling and pronunciation but can have different meanings. It’s bad enough just listening to English.

bark (a tree’s out layer and the sound a dog makes)
current (up to date or the flow of water)
lie (to lie down or tell a lie)
match (to match things that are alike, or a stick for making a flame)
Pole (a person from Poland or a rod that holds a flag)
pound (unit of weight or to beat something – pound into submission)
spring (a season or a coil of metal)
tire (to grow fatigued and a part of a wheel)
address (what I’m doing right now – I’m addressing you, and I live at an address)

The San Pietro church in Vincoli, (Veen collie)Rome, has a statue of Moses sculpted by none other than Michaelangelo. It’s absolutely beautiful except for one little mistake. Moses has horns.

Why? Because Michelangelo had a really badly translated version of the bible.

The story of Moses in Exodus contains a Hebrew word that could have meant either “horns” or “glowing.” – Remember Exodus 34:29 Moses came down from the mountain and his face was ….. – Unfortunately, Michaelangelo ended up using the wrong translation.

The verb karan is derived from the noun keren (קֶרֶן) which means “projection” or “horn”.

When used in reference to an animal, the word keren always means “horn”. For example, in the story of the Binding of Isaac (Gen 22:13) we read: “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns(קַרְנָיו).” keren

However, when the word keren is used in reference to a human being in the Bible, it has a figurative meaning. For example, in the Prayer of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1) we read: “My heart exults in the LORD, my horn (keren) is exalted in the LORD.” No one imagines that Hannah has a physical horn sticking out of her head. Rather, she is using the word keren to mean “my strength that projects outwards.”

So too, when the word keren is applied to God, it certainly means a “ray of light”, and not a “horn”. You see this in the Prayer of Habakkuk where we read that: “God’s splendor was like the sunrise, rays (keren) flashed from God’s hand, ” Hab. 3:4

– But Michaelangelo didn’t know any better and because of this mistake, lots of Jewish people were depicted as having horns. Even today, five centuries later, there are people in parts of Europe and the USA that believe that Jewish people have horns.

So, language can be tricky and language is important.

Next is the setting, Sitz im Leban – or setting in life. Who was this scripture originally written for? Why was it written? What was the message it meant to convey and how relevant is that for us? Before you can look at how relevant a scripture is for you, you need to work out who it was written for, why it was written, and what was the situation of the person who wrote it.

For example, we take it for granted that in the 1st century Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix. But unless you know that the story of the Good Samaritan loses its punch.

We take it for granted that most 1st century Jews believed that illness was a punishment from God, otherwise Jesus forgiving sins to heal doesn’t make sense.

If we think the bible is one book it’s a bit of a mess, but when we realise that it’s a library of 66 books, not placed in Chronological order but in clusters of literary genre, we understand why Paul’s letters are after the Gospels, even though they were written many years before them.

Young lad says to his friends “I’ve just had the most awful time,” “First I got angina pectoris, then arteriosclerosis. Then, just as I was recovering, I got psoriasis. They gave me hypodermics, and to top it all, tonsillitis followed by appendectomy.”

“Wow! his mates said – are you OK now?

“Just about” he said. “But it was toughest spelling test I’ve ever had.”

The setting is important. Our reading tonight, the one that worries so many people, makes much more sense when you know the setting.

It was written to the people of Corinth, one of the oldest cities in the world. World power, conquered, leveled, rebuilt, leveled by an earthquake, rebuilt, even in Jesus time Corinth had been a major city for over 6,500 years.

From what I can gather it was known for three things. Banking. Prostitution. and Drugs. Funny how they seem to go together?

Well, in the ancient world there were no banks as we think of now, there were temples. So you kept your money at a temple, under the guardianship of a God and some.very heavy duty guards. And if you think this was only a Roman and Greek custom, remember the money changers at the temple in Jerusalem. It too doubled as a bank.

So, to not keep your eggs in one basket you’d keep your money in a number of temples. You’d go there to pray and do your banking. You’d also see a prostitute while you were there. The temple to Athena at the Acracorinth had over 1,000 prostitutes working there at any one time. The road that led there, over a mile long, was lined with small temples that sold sex and drugs. Yes, one of the main pastimes was using Opium. It was seen to be healing, used recreationally, and extremely addictive.

Imagine the church in Corinth setting up shop. You have been told by Paul you have freedom in Christ! There is no law! What do you do?

1 Cor 6: 12, What is Paul talking about here? It sounds like addiction. Is he talking about Opium? Is someone in the church feeding an addiction? Any kind of addiction can be dangerous, but narcotics very much so. Is he saying ‘I could take it, there’s no law to say I can’t, but it would be dangerous. That’s the reason I wouldn’t do it. Simple.

1 Cor 6: 15. Is Paul talking about parts of your body, or is he talking about you, as a member of the body of Christ? I think both fit here. Maybe they’ve written to him asking if it’s OK to open a brothel. After all, everyone else does it, and it would bring in money to build a church, feed the hungry. It sounds outrageous until you know about Corinth and common practice there.

1 Cor 5:1. There’s no law, Dad’s not getting on with his new wife, she likes me, I like her, why shouldn’t we live together? My dad’s not a believer, she’d be better off with me.

Now, I’m not saying that this is what Paul’s saying. His letter is half a conversation, and we don’t have the other half.

Do you remember the film Gremlins? It was on over Christmas and it’s been years since I saw it. I had completely forgotten it was so violent – I remembered it as a kids film. Anyway, there are three things you have to remember about Gizmo.

Keep him out of the light. – useful when you don’t have a huge special effects budget.

Don’t get him wet.

Don’t feed him after midnight?

Why? Because all hell breaks loose, gremlins everywhere.

But I can go in the light. I can get wet, even go for a swim. And I can eat after midnight. You don’t get to be a bear by accident.

The rules Paul had to lay down for the congregation in Corinth were not rules he had to lay down for the congregation in Galatia. In fact, he had to encourage them to explore their freedom in Christ and let the law go. Horses for courses.

I love my bible. I believe it’s the word of God. However, for the most part, it’s not the about God, it’s about us.

When we read Jesus life and teachings we get a sense of who God is, but when we read Paul’s letters we learn about Paul and his congregations, when we read the books of the prophets we learn about the prophets and the times they lived in, when we read the psalms we read expressions of human experience and human wisdom.

Just as the peacemaker sees inspiration in scripture, so can a bigot. When we realise that we understand that when scripture is used against us it’s not scripture that’s the problem, it’s the person using it.

Ask yourself. Does what they say empower you, or empower them? Does it free you or bring you fear? Does it lighten your load or weigh you down? Is it from God, or from the heart of man?

When Jesus spoke to the people it was always with love. So the next time you hear something said that touches you with fear have a closer look. It may not be what you think.

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