I wonder how many Bibles you own and how often you open them. For many of us, we in the fortunate position of being able to freely acquire Bibles and have a wide range of choice – colour, translation, notes or not, maps or not, and so on. Owning a Bible is not the same as actually letting the Word of God between its covers impact on our lives. Mahatma Ghandi said that the Christian Scriptures are ‘dynamite’. For many, they are simply a place where dust settles; not so for William Tyndale whom we remembered at the Tuesday 2pm SLT service, who gave his life that we might have the Bible in our heart language.
The readings were Jonah 3, Psalm 130, Luke 10:38-end.
I wonder how long it would take to read the whole Bible through. I seem to remember that a church near to me did this as a fund raising effort and it took several days with many different people helping with the reading. Of course, I’m making an assumption here, and that is that the full Bible is read, every word of it. There is an alternative that is rather like the cheat some children use when asked to count to 100: ‘1,2, miss a few, 99, 100’.
It’s possible to read the Bible in 50 words. For those who haven’t come across this, here it is:
Although that sums up the message, it really is a cheat and is surely not paying enough attention to the Bible. Few of us would consider that we had read the Bible by just running down that list, but still we probably don’t give the Bible enough of our time. It’s said that: ‘A person who merely samples the word never acquires much taste for it’. That suggests that the Bible is an acquired taste and we must take some time to get used to reading it.
Today we remember someone who took the Bible very seriously indeed and wanted to make it possible for ordinary people to read it for themselves. William Tyndale was born in Gloucestershire around 1494 and studied at Oxford and Cambridge universities. He wanted to translate the Greek Bible into the English of his day but the Bishop of London would not let him. Rather than allowing himself to be deterred, William went to live in Hamburg in 1524, never to return to his homeland. He worked on his translation and in 1526 the first copies began to arrive in England. The Church authorities attacked this translation as something subversive. William continued to work to improve his translation as well as writing various books on theology. In 1535 he was arrested and imprisoned in Brussels for heresy. On this day in 1536 he was strangled and then burnt at the stake. The final words he spoke were, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.’ The quality of the Tyndale translation was such that it formed the basis of the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible which was produced early in the 17th Century.
In the first published version of the New Testament from 1526, William included an ‘Epistle to the Reader’. This is a short extract from that epistle:
Give diligence, reader, I exhort thee, that thou come with a pure mind, and as the scripture saith, with a single eye unto the words of health and of eternal life; by the which, if we repent and believe them, we are born anew, created afresh, and enjoy the fruits of the blood of Christ: which blood crieth not for vengeance, as the blood of Abel, but hath purchased life, love, favour, grace, blessing, and whatsoever is promised in the scriptures to them that believe and obey God; and standeth between us and wrath, vengeance, curse, and whatsoever the Scripture threateneth against the unbelievers and disobedient, which resist and consent not in their hearts to the law of God, that it is right, holy, just, and ought so to be.
You can tell by William’s words just what great value he placed on the Scriptures and what benefits he could see coming from them. He was so dedicated to allowing people to have these benefits that he forfeited his life.
All of our readings today also show the value of the Scriptures. The psalmist notes that in God’s word ‘there is hope’. In the ups and downs of life, whether they are brought on by external circumstances or through some fault of our own, it is so good to know we can find hope in God’s word to get us through the tough times.
In the Old Testament reading we find the reluctant messenger of God, Jonah. He went into the city of Nineveh and called out the message he was given, the word of God he was asked to carry to those people. The people took the word seriously and mourned for their faults. Even the king took it seriously, clothing himself in sackcloth and declaring a fast for all people and animals. He allowed God’s word to show him clearly the evil ways and violence of his people and he called them to repent and change. Taking the message to heart resulted in God changing his mind and sparing Nineveh. How easily the king and the people could have paid scant attention and faced destruction at the end of the forty days.
In the story of Martha and Mary, it was not a book or scroll that provided God’s word. They were actually extending hospitality to Gods’ Word, Jesus. They had the opportunity to hear the words of God fall from his lips. Each chose to respond in a different way. Martha busied herself trying to be the perfect hostess, probably catching snippets of what Jesus was saying as she went about her tasks. Mary, meanwhile, simply sat and drank in everything that Jesus said, hanging on every word. Both were showing their love for Jesus, but Jesus commended Mary’s approach above Martha’s.
Martha illustrates so well our modern life, with its hectic pace and everything taken in via sound bites. There is always more to do than we have time for, we are driven by the need to do well, to hit targets, to earn bonuses, and so on. Even in retirement people often find that their days are overfull. They may even wonder where they found the time to work! Mary seems more like the pull we are beginning to see towards the old way of doing things, the monastic tradition in the church, the slow food movement, the return to creating things rather than buying them mass produced.
I would think that most of us can put our hands on several Bibles in our homes. They are probably different translations, maybe some with study notes. All very nice, but unless we sit and actually read what’s between the covers and let the words really have time to enter our very being, the only thing we gain is another few volumes to dust each week. It takes discipline to put aside the clamour of the ‘to do’ list for part of each day and live life at the pace of eternity as we absorb the words of eternal life. Those words have been captured for us by faithful people over many centuries. They have been translated into our heart languages by dedicated scholars and brave men like William Tyndale. It’s all too easy not to place the value on the Bible that we should.
I’d like to give the last word to Mahatma Ghandi who said:
‘You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor