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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


29th February 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Lent 1

On my shelves I have many Bibles - an occupational hazard you will be thinking. Some are small, some big, some old, some new. There are different English translations, one in French and a Greek New Testament. The most precious have personal and familial associations. One inscribed with my grandfather's name and 'Nasariyah 25/6/15' came back from a previous campaign in what is now Iraq. There are Bibles given at my confirmation and Ordinations.

During this Lent I have invited two preachers from different traditions in the Church to come and talk about what the Bible means to them, in the hope that this might encourage and inspire us in our Bible reading, but today here are some of my reflections. As you know a good sermon has to have three sections and certainly no more than one 'and finally...' For my three sections I have thought about what the Bible meant to me as a child, a teenager and now.

  1. As a child the Bible as a book drew me. Bound in black leather the Bible both looked and smelt different - that musty churchy smell. It was meant to be that way, the title Holy Bible told you that. To handle the Bible and to read it was to be put in touch with God. In those days in the 1960's only the Authorised Version was available. I liked the sound of the old language and even if I didn't always understand it was part of the given ness of the faith. The Bible seemed very old. I liked the associations with the past, whether Tudors and Stuarts or my own family members. I also liked the pictures, Moses getting water from the rock, and especially the gory stories of battles and executions. It is striking how images from a non-televisual early childhood stay with you in later life. So the Bible was book that looked, smelt, sounded and felt different. It was Holy and put you in touch with God and characters from the past. Its many stories and pictures engaged my imagination.
  2. As a teenager I wondered if Christianity was true. I continued to believe that it was and felt quite threatened by arguments to the contrary especially any suggestion that the New Testament was somehow false. Once at University, reading history but also very interested in religion I discovered that the questions and insights of biblical scholars deepened rather than destroyed faith. My approach was conservative but not fundamentalist. Reading newer translations of the Bible with other young Christians helped me to personalise my faith, to own it in an adult way, what the Evangelicals call conversion. The Bible became more familiar, still Holy but in a different way. What the Good News Bible lacked in literary terms was compensated for by its line drawings that captured the essence of Jesus sayings. To a teenager the Bible was about newness and the possibility of discovery and fresh horizons.
  3. Now (which I suppose I have to call middle age even if some contemporaries think of themselves as enjoying old youth!) I try to say the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer that always includes two readings from both Testaments. I now find myself reflecting on childhood experiences especially as I now have children of my own. The past, where I come from, is important. I have returned to the Authorised Version in annoyance with the more pc versions. Political- correctness is too much first thing in the morning. I like the direct earthiness as well as the poetic beauty of the KJV. There is a sense of being in continuity with past generations. I also like noticing the many phrases that have passed into every day English. That is how I connect with the Bible at the moment. Beyond such musings is the experience of being challenged by God through Bible reading. There always that freshness no matter what version I use. At low times or complacent times the Bible has a capacity to bring the reader up short, to hear again the call of the gospel to be confronted and comforted by the person of Jesus Christ.

I hope that in what I just said you have found something to encourage you in your own Bible reading and to help you connect the Bible with you own experiences. The things I have touched upon, childhood experience and the influence of books, family history and the big questions of life and the concerns of mid life are very important to many people. The fascination with 'Harry Potter' and the 'Lord of the Rings' suggests the continuing appeal of the big narrative. Our society has deep concerns about the upbringing of children. Family history is a growing pursuit. Behind the many manifestations of modern life there is a restless searching after truth and meaning. The challenge for the Church is to introduce the Bible to the many modern people who have such concerns and yet for whom the Bible remains a closed book.

Amen

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Last updated 15/02/04 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd