On 25th October, the Last Sunday after Trinity and Bible Sunday, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 19, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, John 5:36-47.
If you were to check the www.daysoftheyear.com website you would discover that today is Mother-in Law Day, International Artists Day, World Pasta Day, Sourest Day (as in being grumpy) and Punk for a Day Day. (I wonder whose inventory can supply what’s needed for the latter?) What the compilers have failed to note is that it’s also Bible Sunday. Bible Society, which exists around the world, designates this as a day to celebrate the Bible and its importance.
It’s possible to have something of great value in our possession without realising it. The television show ‘Antiques Roadshow’ in the UK and similar programmes in other countries, is based on that truth. People bring items from home for experts to examine and to place an estimated value on. Sometimes the owners are shocked by the value of something that has just been a part of their surroundings without much attention being paid to it. In July a painting by the South African artist Irma Stern was found being used as a kitchen notice board in a London flat. Its estimated value is £1m. In October it was reported that James Bray, the vicar of St Giles’ Church in Wrexham, North Wales, found a First Edition King James Bible when he was clearing out a cupboard. It is probably worth about £50,000.
Few people will ever own a special copy of the Bible such as that found at St Giles’ Church. However, many people (around 75% of those in the UK) own a Bible of some sort. The book itself may be one of thousands very much like it. No one would pay a huge sum to buy it from the owner. Yet it is a treasure beyond price, lying undiscovered by many of the owners. The Bible can completely transform our lives.
In Psalm 19 the Psalmist tells of the value of God’s Word. It is perfect, trustworthy, right, pure and true. The effects it can have are to revive our souls, to give wisdom, to bring joy and light into our lives. The value of God’s judgements is more worthy of our desire than gold. The words are sweeter than honey. Jewish boys were reminded of this by having honey put on their slates for them to lick off when they first began to study the Torah. They were learning that encountering God’s words and receiving them into their lives was the sweetest thing in life. Yet for so many people today, the words of the Bible can be ignored. Even many Christians don’t place enough value on the Bible as it’s so easy to get a copy of it, and now we can also read it online whenever we want to.
For the people of Cuba, it’s not so simple to obtain a Bible. The cost is around a week’s wages and there are few Bibles available. As Scottish Bible Society tells the story:
“The Bible Commission in Cuba (their term for Bible Society) may import Bibles only if they are donated by another country. Our colleagues from the Norwegian Bible Society recently visited Cuba, and they met people who told them personally of the shortage of Bibles: Father Athenagoras, of the Orthodox Church, who has a congregation of 600 in Havana and a further 1,200 members around Cuba, said, “Everyone in our church wants a Bible. But almost no one has his own Bible.” Eddy Gonzales del Rio, the Principal of a Baptist seminary explains he longs for New Testaments to give to new Christians: “I cry and pray to God to get more Bibles.” Rev. Alain Montano Hernández of the Bible Commission in Cuba says, “The reason for the shortage of Bibles is simple: In the last ten years, the number of Christians doubled in Cuba. But how can we grow in faith without God’s Word? How do the new ones that come to believe and are baptised, grow in faith when we do not have a Bible or a New Testament to give them? Can the great growth of the church have sustainability when they do not get nourishment from the Word of God?” The Bible Commission of Cuba is asking for 1 million Bibles to distribute in Cuba – which they say would just meet existing demand.”
There’s no doubt that St Paul appreciated the value of the Bible. Writing to Timothy, he urged him to keep the sacred writings at the centre of his life. Like the Psalmist, Paul affirmed that the message in the Bible is trustworthy and listed what God’s Word can do in a person’s life: “the sacred writings are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” As far as Paul was concerned, the Bible is not just a set of words on a page but has power. It has the power to teach us about faith in Jesus and the salvation that comes through Jesus. Rev. Hernández in Cuba is equally convinced that the power to grow in faith lies in the words of the Bible.
Paul was right to be concerned for Timothy. He would be faced by those who wanted to disregard the message of the Bible, who would turn a deaf ear to its claims and seek out something more to their liking. If Timothy did not keep going back to the scriptures, he could easily find his faith damaged by the pressures around him. It is the same in our own lives. The culture around us seeks to influence us. We are not only influenced by those who are physically near us. As a result of the internet we hear voices and opinions from around the world. The only way we can discern the truth is by allowing our thinking to be influenced by the Word of God. It can’t happen just by owning a Bible. We actually have to read the words and give them time to sink in. As the collect of today puts it, we are to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ scripture.
Timothy came to faith as a result of being taught by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice who were both Jews who became Christians. Those two faithful women had used their position of influence over Timothy to teach him about the Christian faith. Had they not passed on what they believed, he might have remained in ignorance. I imagine all of us can think of someone who has helped us come to faith or grow in faith. Somebody has ‘gossiped the Gospel’ and we have benefited.
So now, like Timothy, we have the treasure of God’s Word in our possession. People treat very valuable things in different ways. Some owners keep their treasures in bank vaults, fearing they will be stolen. They have little chance to see and appreciate them. Others have their treasures available but protected by alarm systems to keep them safe from theft. Still others keep their treasures easily accessible so that they can be seen and touched and so that others have a chance to see, touch and benefit from them also.
Bible Societies around the world encourage Christians to recognise the value of the Bible in our own lives and to pass on the message to others. These words, more to be desired than much fine gold, sweeter than honey, are too good to keep to ourselves.