07/10/2022 ~ Eighth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Proper 10; Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-10; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37 VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7960701/video/728867633
What the Bible Tells Me
“Just then an expert on the Law, a lawyer, stood up to put Jesus to a test and said ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” — Luke 10:25-26.
I have mentioned this before. I served a church in rural, upstate New York, the town of Norwich, for 23 years. I was the longest serving pastor the church had ever seen in its 200 plus year history.
The previous record holder was there 19 years, from 1860 to 1879. That pastor was one Samuel Scoville. Sam was the son-in-law of Henry Ward Beecher. As you probably know, Henry Ward Beecher was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Harriet, of course, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and received her vision for that work during a service at First Parish Church in Brunswick. As I have also said here, First Parish sent me to Seminary. I like the symmetry, the balance of that juxtaposition— Brunswick, Norwich, Sam, Harriet, Henry— makes sense.
Before that Upstate New York Church I served not one church but five churches and I served them all at one time. How did I do that? I was the Assistant Pastor at a five church cooperative in Waldo County. I know— five yoked churches— it sounds very Methodist.
Those churches worked together to hire a Senior and an Associate pastor but each was different, had different people, different ideas about how to be church. Each, therefore, needed to be seen by the pastors in its own specific way. I mention all this because I think I learned a lot serving five churches, probably more than I would have learned serving just one church.
Now, there is one more thing I want to mention: I loved being in Seminary. It was a great experience. Indeed, I say Seminary is necessary and important. The Master of Divinity degree is 90 credits, three years, the same as a law degree. What some do not realize is the skill set of a pastor and a lawyer is similar. In more ways than I am about to mention but I always say we both interpret ancient and obscure documents.
But neither a pastor nor a lawyer learns everything they need to know in school. As you work in and at either of those professions if you do not learning something new nearly every day, you’re doing it wrong. A lot is learned by just doing the job.
But I also need to note this important fact: a pastor does need to know something about the law, the laws of the town, city, county, state, federal law. Let me mention the obvious example: do people come to a pastor and ask that pastor to officiate at a wedding ceremony? Yes.
Well, a pastor needs to know something about the marriage laws in the State and the procedures in the county or town or city. Why? If you officiate at a marriage you act as an agent of the State and you are regulated by the State. Further (and I often tell this to a couple at whose wedding I will officiate) the couple needs to realize once married, they enter the wild, wacky, wonderful world of American contract law.
But a pastor has other interactions with the law. So yes, I have visited people in jail, had professional interactions with police officers, judges, lawyers. And yes, I have referred people to lawyers when they need that help. The professions do overlap. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as Luke: “Just then an expert on the Law, a lawyer, stood up to put Jesus to a test and said ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’ Jesus answered, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’” (Slight pause.)
When leading Bible Study I say the first question we need to ask is ‘what did the words we are looking at mean to those who first read and/or heard them?’ To be clear, it’s a question which cannot be fully answered. But unless the question is asked and answered as well as we can it is nearly a lock that what a passage might mean to us now, today, will be beyond our reach.
In this passage the one who questions Jesus is an expert on the Law. And our Twenty-first Century ears immediately hear the law as being about judges, courts, lawyers, etc., etc. We think of the law as a set of rules.
But that kind of law— rules— is not what the word Law means here. Indeed, if you were following the reading in the bulletin you might have noticed the word ‘Law’ is capitalized. In this case, that capitalization indicates the word Law refers to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch.
And in New Testament times the Law— capital ‘L’— these first five books of Scripture— were not thought of as a set of rules. The Law— capital ‘L’— meant these are lessons. These are instructions. But these are… not… rules.
So, when we hear this person who asks the question of Jesus is an expert on the Law, capital ‘L,’ we need to realize that the real area of expertise being indicated is not about laws within the legal system. The real area of expertise this person has is the Pentateuch.
Indeed, if we listen to this passage with Twenty-first Century ears we readily construe the word Law into something which means a set of rules. But this expert— and I am sure you noticed this— on the Law gives the right answer because this is not about a set of rules.
The answer the expert on the Law gives is love God and love neighbor. Please notice— love God and love neighbor— this does not sound anything like a set of rules. It does not sound like a list which says ‘don’t do this,’ ‘don’t do that.’
Loving God and loving neighbor is not about a prohibition, rules, strictures, something we should not do. Loving God and loving neighbor— is what we should do.
All of which brings me back to the question posed Jesus: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
You see, Scripture needs to be viewed through a specific lens. And how we read Scripture, the entirety of it, needs to be based on loving God and loving neighbor.
Therefore, when we read a passage in Scripture and we come away with a meaning that fails to reflect loving God and loving neighbor, there is only one conclusion to draw. We did not look at that passage of Scripture in an accurate way.
So yes, Scripture is about the law— the law of love, about loving God and loving neighbor. And that is the whole message of the Bible.
That is, indeed, what the Bible tells me— love God; love neighbor. I could be wrong but I suspect Jesus agrees. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is a précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: [The pastor holds up a Bible]— “The Bible— I think too often we look at Scripture like it’s a magic lamp. Rub it and we might get a conclusion we like. That is, in fact, why we need to study Scripture and why we need to explore what the contexts were when it was written. And hopefully try and figure out what it might mean today. I effectively said that earlier. If the idea that we should love God and love neighbor does not jump off at us every page we’re just doing it wrong.”
BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.