Sermon for 20 Pentecost Yr C, 17/10/2004
Based on 2 Tim 3:14-17
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
A grandmother placed a small fortune in bills in her worn old Bible and left it for her children, saying there were real “treasures” in the Scriptures for them. And they didn’t discover it until years later—because they never opened the book!
“Mommy,” said a little girl, pointing to the Bible, “whose book is this?”
“Why it’s God’s book,” said the mother piously.
“Well,” said the tot, “we better send it back to Him because we’re not using it!” 1
Why is it that so many people have Bibles, yet they only sit on shelves and collect dust? According to the Canadian Bible Society, only around 16% of Canadians read or study their Bibles on a regular basis. Not that long ago, the Bible was required reading for university students because many of the classics of Western-world literature were inspired by biblical themes. It is very sad to see how biblically illiterate Canadians are these days. In contrast to present-day Canadians’ neglect or indifference towards the Bible, listen to the following words of Martine Luther:
For some years now, I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know that it was and what it meant. 2
The Bible is the proper book for (people). There the truth is distinguished from error far more clearly than anywhere else, and one finds something new in it every day. For twenty-eight years, since I became a doctor, I have now constantly read and preached the Bible; and yet I have not exhausted it but find something new in it every day. 3
Elsewhere, Luther also emphasised the important function of the Bible because, he said, it is the cradle that reveals Christ to us. And following several New Testament writers, one of Luther’s favourite principles of interpreting scripture was to discover how a passage points us to Christ or is completed and fulfilled in Christ. Hence, in reading and studying the scriptures, we meet and are drawn into an intimate relationship with Christ. The following story illustrates this very well:
Some years ago a young girl was trying to decide what she should give her father for his birthday. Knowing he didn’t own a Bible, she thought she would buy him one with the money she had saved during the year. Then she wondered what to write on the flyleaf. “From Maggie” seemed too cold. “From your little daughter” would not do, for her father had just said she was getting to be a big girl. Finally, she went to his library to see what others had written in the choice volumes they had given him. She found that one of them contained this salutation: “With love from the author.” She remembered that he had always cherished this particular book, compiled by a very close friend, and therefore decided to use the same words. Later, when her father opened his present and saw the inscription, he was deeply moved; for he realized he was not personally acquainted with the Author of the Bible. He thanked his little daughter warmly; but that night, troubled in spirit, he thought he had better begin to read the precious gift he had received. Deep conviction gripped his soul as God’s great love seemed to leap at him from its holy pages. He encountered Christ reading those pages and eventually became a preacher. Years afterward, in telling the story of his conversion, he often held up that tattered little Bible and told how the words written by his daughter had touched his heart. 4
In our second lesson today, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy, a young, and perhaps timid pastor. Timothy, facing false teachers in his community, is reminded by Paul of how Timothy had been steeped in the scriptures as a good Jewish boy ever since early childhood. Before Paul had even come into the picture to teach and prepare Timothy as a leader in the Christian community; Timothy’s mother and grandmother had passed on the Christian faith to him by teaching the scriptures to him as a little child.
Is this also not a word of encouragement to us as parents or Sunday School teachers. We can make a big difference in the life of our children by teaching them from the Bible. Who knows how much influence the scriptures will have on our children if they are taught them at an early age. Perhaps they will grow up to be a modern-day Martin Luther, or Mother Teresa. So I encourage you as parents or grandparents and Sunday School teachers to continue to read and teach your children those wonderful biblical stories, which shall help them to encounter Jesus in very real and life-changing ways.
Our second lesson goes on to say that: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline in right living.” It is interesting that the word “inspired” here refers to God’s Spirit, which in the Greek language means breath or to breathe. God breaths life into the scriptures just as God breathed life into the first human beings when he created them. So, over against the false teachers in Timothy’s community who would downplay the scriptures by replacing them with other, (likely Gnostic) false writings; Paul urges Timothy to continue to base his preaching and teaching upon the scriptures. Paul says that the scriptures are the benchmark, the norm and basis on which every teaching, every truth claim is to be measured. Scripture, with the presence and help of the Holy Spirit, functions to show us the truth about God, human beings and the world. It also functions to show us and refute our errors. For example, in the early church and even among some sectarian or cultic groups today, there were a few very outlandish and erroneous beliefs about who Jesus was. Some thought Jesus was only divine and not human; others thought he was only human and not divine; others thought he was only a prophet, not the Messiah; others thought he never died on the cross and was not raised from death. Over against these erroneous beliefs, the scriptures correct us all and bear witness to the truth of who Jesus is as both human and divine, the Messiah; who died on the cross and was raised from death.
The other use of scripture Paul says, is: “for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for good work of every kind.” Here we learn that once we are taught and believe what scripture teaches us; then we are to go out and put it into practice by doing good work of every kind, which is based on and inspired by what we have learned. So teaching and practice go hand-in-hand. If we are taught correctly, we shall correctly live out the truths we have been taught in everyday life.
So today I invite you and encourage you to read and study your Bibles regularly to become proficient. In so doing, you shall be equipped to practice the truths of scripture at work, at school, in the home, or wherever you may be. For the word of God is a living Word, meant to be shared with everyone. May God grant us the Holy Spirit’s inspiration to do just that! Amen.
1 Cited from: R. Andersen & D.L. Deffner, For Example (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977), p. 31.
2 Cited from: Luther’s Works, Volume 54, p. 165.
3 Cited from: Ibid., WA TR 5, no. 5193.
4 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 13, No. 5, October, 1983 (Lima, OH: C.S.S. Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 26.