What To Do With Difficult Passages

Sermon for Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Romans 6:12-18
Luke 12:39-48

This evening I’m going to talk less about today’s readings in particular and more about what we can do with difficult-to-understand Bible texts in general.  Notice I said “what we can do,” because often we have to say “I don’t know” when asked the meaning of a Bible passage.  But there is always something we can do.

This evening’s passages are not necessarily the most difficult-to-understand Bible passages, but they do pose some challenges.  In Romans, Paul talks about sin – never an easy topic – and about being a “slave to righteousness.”  And this evening’s Gospel passage is the parable of the unfaithful slave, which really compares us to slaves and talks about what is demanded of us (and about “beatings(!)”).

While I might have some ideas of how to understand these passages, I do know what we can do about these passages, and difficult Bible passages in general.  We can do at least three things:

  • Get curious
  • Keep reading
  • Keep praying

Get curious.  “Get curious” means to ask questions.  For example, in the reading from Romans, we might ask, What is sin?  How is it related to “passions?”  (What does Paul mean by “passions?”)  What is an “instrument of wickedness?”  An “instrument of righteousness?”  Why would Paul ask, “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  What is a “slave of righteousness?”  If we can get curious about a passage, it puts us in an open and receptive place that might prepare the way for deeper engagement with the text.

Keep reading.   And not just the context immediately surrounding the passage.  Keep reading Scripture!   Often the key to understanding one passage is found in another.  The key to Luke 12 might be somewhere else in Luke, or perhaps a different book altogether.  One of the best ways to understand Scripture is to read more Scripture!  It’s all connected; it’s all inspired by the Spirit.  So the more we read it, the more tools, the more context – the more grace – we will have at our disposal for making sense of it.

Keep praying.  Talk to God about the passage!  Like, “Jesus, what does it mean to be a slave?” Or, “What is this about receiving beatings?”  Or just simply, “Jesus, I really don’t get this passage,” or “I really don’t like this passage.  Help!”  To open a conversation with God about the Bible is probably just what God is hoping for.  God likes that we engage with Scripture; God hopes that we can come to experience more of God by engaging with Scripture.  God will surely help us on our way as we seek to draw understanding from it.

One of the best ways to do all of the above  – to get curious, to keep reading and to keep praying – is to keep coming to Eucharist where, in the symbols of bread and wine, all the Bible’s passages are gathered up.  The more we eat and drink this Sacrament, the more we eat an drink meaning into these Scriptures, and breathe them and engage with them and live into them… and become them.   Which is an extraordinarily joyful way to live.

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