Stony Point Presbyterian Church, NY – October 15, 2010
Sermon Title: The People of the Books
Bible Texts: Psalm 119:97-106 and 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
98Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
99I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation.
100I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
101I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
102I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me.
103How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
106I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
May the presence of God our creator be with us all. May the peace of Jesus Christ be with us all.
What a delight to be here this morning with you all. I am honored and grateful to worship God with you. I want to thank Rev. Marjory Rossi for inviting me and allowing me to preach today.
What a joy that we can join our hands together in worshiping God with brothers and sisters of different religious traditions and read together two of our sacred texts. What is happening here this morning, I believe, is fundamental not only for our co-existence but also for the very future of our world.
Our two texts for this morning talk about the importance of the Word of God to us: how it instructs our lives, how the word of God gives us guidance and prepares us to do God’s work in our world.
Growing up as a conservative Protestant in a Presbyterian church in São Paulo, Brazil, I have learned to have an intimate relationship with the Bible, both the stories of the Bible but also the book, the material book. I use to carry my Bible with me all the time. When I was a teenager, to carry a Bible was a burden. In the larger Roman Catholic country in the world, to carry the Bible then was to be set apart, to be counted among the few and strange protestants. More than that, to carry the Bible was about gaining an identity, an identity that I had to sustain and respond to its challenges and demands. The Protestant identity then was marked by the negation of Catholicism.
For Protestants like me, Roman Catholics were not real Christians and my goal was to convert them and everybody else. To be a good Protestant at that time, I had to: NOT to drink, NOT to dance, NOT to go participate in Carnival, NOT to engage in some kinds of impure conversation, NOT to play cards, NOT to go anywhere on Sundays besides the church, NOT to mingle with non Christians and etc.
To carry my Bible was a manifestation of my very being, a kind of a watchtower on my conduct and behavior. I remember carrying the Bible in my hands as I walked through the streets of Sao Paulo and trying to hide it sometimes. I would hide it when a pretty girl walked by because I did not what her to know who I was. I hide my Bible so that people would not know WHO I WAS. Yes, my Bible contained my entire identity and could express not only my religious affiliations but my beliefs, my priorities, my cultural views, my vision of the world and even the very way of my being.
I believe that even today, when I carry my Bible I am making a statement of who I am. It is under the light and the shadow of this book that I have become who I am. It is this holy book that continues to organize my life and my constant becoming.
As I grew up, I gained a larger perspective of things:
- I had to learn that my Bible is not the only sacred book in the world.
- I had to learn that more than half of my Bible is a sacred book of another religious tradition. Not only that, I had to undo the assumption that me and my religious group had a much better sense of the “Old Testament,” even better than the Jews. The reason was clear: I had thought since Jews could not accept Jesus as the Messiah, they couldn’t read their own sacred text properly. More than that, I had to learn that I could not simply supersede the old with the new, and had to become way more careful to deal with these sacred texts, not only the Hebrew Scriptures but also the ways in which I interpret the New Testament. And all of that is because my identity is always at stake whenI interpret not only my sacred book but also how I engage somebody else’s sacred book. Thank God for good education, which our Biblical texts stress so firmly today. It was education that helped me shift gears in the understanding of my faith and my identities.
- Also, I had to consider that besides the Torah and the New Testament, there is also the Quran, the sacred book of our Muslim brothers and sisters. If I don’t learn about these sacred texts, I will not be able to understand my Muslim brothers and sisters and why they do what they do.
- Also, I had not only to consider the importance of All Scriptures for my brothers and sisters’ lives but also, I had and have to know how they read and sing and relate with their sacred books. Thus I had/have to visit them where they worship. A Synagogue or a Mosque, I must go where they are in order to learn about them. Like our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters are doing here this morning visiting us. Every time I go there I learn something different. One of my favorite parts of the Jewish and Muslim worship is the singing of the Scriptures. It is so powerful and if you open your heart, the singing will get into your soul and bless you deeply. I am so sorry many Christian branches lost the tradition of singing the Scriptures.
To learn the prayers and the singing of my brothers and sisters will not make me a Jew or a Muslim. It will neither take away my belief in Jesus Christ. Instead, singing and listening to other people’s sacred scriptures will give me ways to expand my spiritual life and enrich my own faith. If I am able to pray the prayers of my Jewish and Muslim’s brothers and sisters and sing their songs, I will gain possibilities to stretch my sense of identity in the world and in my relation to God in Jesus Christ.
For to engage in any religious dialogue, one does not need to shy away from one’s beliefs but instead, religious dialogue should send us all back to our faith wondering how we should learn more about ourselves. Then I learn and respect the faith of people who are different than me and it makes me wonder how much I am bound to them and how I should foster their full humanity.
In the second century, St. Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive!” Thus, for my full humanity to be alive I have to make sure that my muslim and Jewish and Hindu, and Buddhist and Xinto, and Candomblé, agnostic, and atheists’ sisters and brothers will have conditions to live their lives fully. And that include all of the poor around the world.
Only then, when the glory of God shine on then is that the glory of God will shine on me and we will fully live.
These two texts we read hear this morning talk about the power and the importance of Scriptures to order and guide our lives.
In this letter to Timothy, Paul, a Jew whose curriculum was the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings, as well as the Israel’s book of law and the prayer book, this Jew now brings the continuity of the importance and the power of Scriptures for him into his Christian understanding. The result for us Christians is that, the care and love and respect for the Scriptures we received would have not happen if it was not for the care and love and respect already seen, experienced and fostered in the Jewish community in regards to the Hebrew Scriptures.
Listen how Paul loves Scriptures and see is power: All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Had Paul not been instructed in the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures we would have not learned how precious and powerful All Scripture are for us.
As a matter of fact, Paul‘s use of the words sacred writings and All Scripture in verses 16 and 17 are both references to Philo, a Jewish philosopher. Paul is referring to the understanding that God breathed on the Scriptures. Paul adds that all of this care for the Scriptures is for salvation. Thus, the very purpose of the scripture percolating throughout our bodies, minds and souls have the purpose of preparing us to live better, to teach and equip us to do every good deed, every good work. So that justice precedes and follows us everywhere we go.
So, there is no purpose for all of these instructions, correction, reproof, training and the obtaining of salvation if all of that does not institute in us the need for good works. We are known by our fruits and our deeds show how much the word of God, these sacred writings and all scripture is actually vividly working on us.
Clearly brothers and sisters, Jews, Christians and Muslims have a sacred book. We are all the people of the book. But in what ways we, the people of the book are understood? What is our identity as the people of the book?
What if I was to walk on the streets of Sao Paulo again with a version of the Torah and the Prophets and the Writings without the New Testament in my hands? What identity would I gain? What if I started to carry a Koran? How would this holy book burn my hands and make me a different person? What good deeds, what good works would these books demand me to do?
And how should I relate to my neighbors if I am carrying these three sacred books, all of these sacred writings with me in my full hands? How would they contribute to my understandings about the relations between these three faiths and peoples? I don’t need to become a Jew or a Muslim. But I do need to learn more about mine and somebody else’s traditions. If I fully engage their faith by using their sacred texts, their singing and liturgical practices I will learn more about them as I will learn about myself.
The second part of Paul’s text to Timothy says: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
In a world that is consistently instigating us to hate each other, to make me think that you are going to harm my life and my faith, that I shouldn’t get closer to you because you will destroy my faith community and my family, we Christians must continue to preach a sound doctrine that follows Jesus Christ at the same time that it honors our neighbors and whatever faith he or she carries. To honor my neighbor, especially when he or she is not like me might not be my desire… however, I am bond to this gospel of Jesus who tells me I must love my neighbor the way I love myself. I cannot shy away from that demand.
I tell my students at the seminary in Louisville: preach this gospel without ceasing! Believe in it and preach it. But more than anything else, live it!
“Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” because our world desperately needs models of life lived together without the fear that the other will destroy us. Neither Jews nor Muslims, nor Hindus, or Buddhists or Candomblé people will destroy my life and my belief in Jesus.
Neither agnostics nor atheists, republicans or democrats, false preachers or leaders of their own desires will destroy what God has given to me in Jesus Christ. Because I do not frame them as my opponents or enemies but instead, I live with them as if the key of my happiness might be in their hands. So I hold their hands and walk with them!
Thus, I will not let anyone destroy my deepest commitment to make sure that my sisters and brothers Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Candomblé people, agnostics, atheists, republicans or democrats and above all the poor people will live their lives together and fully.
“The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” I will follow Paul’s instructions and continue to be sober and endure whatever it takes to carry this ministry fully. I will hold on to my Bible and praise God in Jesus Christ from the top of my longs. However, I will also carry the Torah in my hands and praise The Holy One with the Psalms and the prophets the way my Jewish brothers and sisters do! I will go to the Synagogue and learn their songs and prayers and make them my own. And I will also hold the Koran in my hands and praise Allah the merciful and go to the Mosque and pray their prayers and sing their songs. And I will make them my own.
Then and only then, I will know what it means to be the people of the book(s), now plural. My identity will be shaped by all of them and challenge me in many ways. I will continue to have Jesus as my salvation and that will always be my major piece of identity. However, I will embrace the Jewish and Muslim sacred books and learn what is salvation for them. For this process I will wait for God’s guidance to my feet.
As the Psalm 199: 105-106 says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.”
As the Quran says: “And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you. (The Elevated Places, Verse 204)
And as the New Testament says: 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
So, no burning of any book whatsoever! Our relation to the sacred books should be one of eternal awe, respect and thankfulness. Instead of burning, kissing the holy books!
My deceased father in law used to make his daughter kiss the Bible every night after reading her a story at bedtime before she went to sleep. We know Jews touch the Torah and then kiss their hands and some branches of Christianity kiss the Gospel. As related by Imam an-Nawawi, he reported when Ikrimah (may Allah be pleased with him) used to see the Holy Qur’an, he used to put it on his head and kiss it and show a great deal of respect for it, saying “This is the book of Allah, this is the book of Allah.”
Pope John Paul II at the end of an audience with Patriarch Raphael I of Iraq “bowed to the Muslim holy book the Qu’ran presented to him by a delegation and kissed it as a sign of respect”.
What if we start by kissing each other’s sacred books? If we start there, perhaps we can kiss each other later and learn how to live together and work for justice and peace!
Now, I kiss the Bible, I kiss the Torah, I kiss the Upanishads, I kiss Buddha’s writings on wisdom, I kiss the Quran, I kiss the mother of saints Candomblé, an African Religion.
From these kisses, I hope these sacred writings will guide my feet and make me be a person of all of the bookS and a person who fights for justice and peace! Shouldn’t we all be the people of the all of the sacred bookS?
May God bless us all.