Summary: How you read the Bible - what you put into it and what you desire from it - determines how scripture impacts you.
bibliography: notes from Revelation class; story of the exile; Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris; Practicing our Faith by Dorothy Bass
I want to tell you a couple of stories. The first comes from a class I am in on the Book of Revelation, where the teacher of the class invited us to - of all things - use our imaginations in reading John’s Revelation.
You see, in our world today, we have this almost innate tendency not to trust or value what isn’t supported by hard core facts & data, is observable & measurable. We at least devalue to some degree, or hold in lower esteem that which is influenced by emotion, feeling, and intuition.
So what identifies for us the way the world is made and works is based upon logic, reason, and scientific support.
Such things create for us the “images” we have of the world - the way we view life, the way we see the world woven together.
But the invitation is to move beyond that two dimensional understanding of the world to see what cannot be defined by logic, reason, written words, ink on paper, statistics, information, or observation.
Its an invitation to dream and envision what can be; to see beyond what is observable. To imagine a future that may be very different from our present.
The second story is about the Israelite people and what happened to them when their world, their empire, their identity began to crumble,
and how that relates to our emphasis on reading the Bible.
There was a time when a wondering nomad of people came to inhabit the land they gave the name of their identity and their faith. They were Israel, the land was Israel, and their faith was the worship the one true God of their patriarch, Israel.
Once settled, they asked for a king. This king now became someone who stood at the apex of the relationship between God and the people. It creates a situation that can and does have dire consequences.
The first king was Saul. He started out with good intentions and promise but he didn’t produce good results.
Then there was the beloved David who faithfully worshipped God and who built Israel into a prosperous nation, although he had his fair share of faults as well. David was followed by his son, Solomon who built a grand and glorious temple in which to worship God. He too, added to the spiraling events that led the people of Israel further and further away from a faithful life with God.
And after that, the country began to fall apart. There was discontent and distrust. There was disquiet and unrest. There was a division in leadership and so the country split into two countries with Israel to the north, and Judah to the south.
Soon, noisy neighbors all around began making trouble. The people within Israel and Judah began to lose their way. It became not an issue of being faithful anymore, but about being “successful,” I guess you could say.
Religion and faith became measurable and observable. Life became not a matter of doing the right thing, but about being right in what was done. It became a matter of manipulation of morals and actions in order to achieve certain goals.
Sometimes, being right meant being legally right, sometimes right meant being culturally relevant, and often being right in such a way had very little to do with being faithful to God’s vision for God’s people.
It wasn’t long until noisy neighbors to the north were able to use their growing might against a country that had become so self-absorbed and had gone astray. Israel, the northern country, fell to the Assyrians.
And it wasn’t long before the same thing happened to the southern country of Judah until the capital city of Jerusalem was all that was left of the Hebrew people and the Jewish faith, and eventually, that fell too. Only by this time, Assyria had come and gone and it was the Babylonians who were the invading power on Judah and Jerusalem.
Common policy in that day to keep invaded countries under the thumb of the invader, was to take key people and leaders who might, in the remotest of ways begin thinking about revolt, and move them to other occupied areas or to the invaders homeland where they could be kept subdued and be watched. Essentially it was anyone of any wealth and position, so that the only ones left in the occupied homeland were slaves and peasants to do the farming.
So it was that many Israelites found themselves carted off to the land of Babylon without a home and without security, and without key elements of their faith.
And its not until then, at this point in their history, that the Israelites in many ways began to look around, and said to themselves, “How did we get here? Where did we go wrong? How could we have let this happen?”