Pentecost—what we know as the birth of the church began as a Jewish holy day 50 days after Passover. On the first Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples and many other people are gathered in the upper room. Jews from all over are in town for Pentecost. Today we remember Pentecost as the day when those who followed Jesus were given the power of the Spirit symbolized as fire and wind. This is the Psalm read on Pentecost.
O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works—who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
Every week we read from the Book. We are people of the book—a way of referring to Christians, but also Jews. Why this book—the Holy Bible? How did we get this book? Is this book a rulebook or guidebook or something else? Is it infallible and without error because God wrote it or is it to be taken seriously but not literally because it is about God and not God?
Frederick Buechner, a theologian of the 20th century said this: One way to describe the Bible, written by many different people over a period of three thousand years and more, would be to say that it is a disorderly collection of sixty-odd books, which are often tedious, barbaric, obscure, and teem with contradictions and inconsistencies. It is a swarming compost of a book, an Irish stew of poetry and propaganda, law and legalism, myth and murk, history and hysteria. Over the centuries it has become hopelessly associated with pulpit-thumping evangelism and dreary piety, with superannuated (worn out) superstition and blue-nosed moralizing, with ecclesiastical authoritarianism and crippling literalism….
And yet just because it is a book about both the sublime and the unspeakable, it is a book also about life the way it really is. It is a book about people who at one and the same time can be both believing and unbelieving, innocent and guilty, crusaders and crooks, full of hope and full of despair. In other words, it is a book about us. And it is also a book about God. If it is not about the God we believe in, then it is about the God we do not believe in. One way or another, the story we find in the Bible is our own story.
Our story…a book written over a period of 3000 years and much of it over 2000 years ago. How can something written that long ago still be our story? Is it because humans throughout history wanted to know “why am I here?” and “what is my purpose?” Looking up into the inky black sky on a starry night they told stories of something greater than we could imagine—a mystery. They called that mystery, God.
Today you either brought your Bible or there is one in the pew. Let’s do some exploring. I’m going to watch the time and save some of this for another day. We will only scratch the surface of how this book came to be today. So let’s get started.
Bible is a collection of 66 books—not all books, some were letters, some were hymns, some are short (less than a page), others are longer. Two main divisions—old and new testaments, Jewish and Christian scriptures.
But the Bible we use is not all the biblical writings. One large collection is called the Apocrypha which means things hidden. Luther in 1534 published it as an intertestamental section—between the two testaments. It eventually became part of the Catholic Bible. We’ll tackle how writings became part of the Bible as we know it on another day. > Bible was not written in English. Original languages were Hebrew and Greek.
The Bible is the word of God through the words of human beings speaking in the idiom of their time. And the richness of the Bible comes from the fact that we don’t take it as literally so, that it was dictated by God. Desmond Tutu