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Preacher: The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Title of sermon: Divine Inspiration
Date/time/service: Sunday 25th October 2020 – Bible Sunday – Evening Prayer
Passage of scripture: Isaiah 55.1-11 & Luke 4.14-30
The Church faces many challenges. The Anglican Church seems to be constantly facing the possibility of division over disagreements and conflicts within itself. Most of these disagreements and conflicts have their roots in different approaches to the bible. At one end of the spectrum there are people who claim that the bible is the divinely inspired objective, historically accurate word of God. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who claim that the bible is a divinely inspired, many layered, work of art, which needs to be read with an awareness of the historical context in which it was written and constantly re-interpreted for each generation.
Those who see the bible as the historically accurate word of God have a tendency to weaponise sections and quotations of the bible in order to win arguments about what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Those who see the bible as a work of art with many layers of meaning have a tendency to interpret the bible to suit their argument – for example, they can use it to create a version of Jesus which suits their beliefs and world view. None of this is satisfactory.
What is interesting is that everyone on the spectrum of understanding about the bible will claim that it is divinely inspired. So what does that mean? How does divine inspiration work?
I must confess that when I began to reflect on this thought this week my first thought was of Charlton Heston playing Moses in the film The Ten Commandments. I pictured him on a mountain with a tablet of stone, a chisel and a hammer listening to the voice of God dictating (in an American accent),
“Number 6, Thou shalt not kill”.
This is of course a caricature but I wonder if, in essence, it is what some people think of as divine inspiration. The point is that if this is something like what happened it is not divine inspiration at all, it is divine dictation. It is only if we accept that the bible was divinely dictated that we could claim that it is the objective, historically accurate word of God. The problem with this view is that it depends on God being a dictator, imposing his ways upon us when the overwhelming evidence suggests that God is a loving Father who gives us freedom and invites us to share in his love and in his creative activity. God does not impose, God invites.
So having dismissed the ‘Charlton Heston Theory’ I had to think again about divine inspiration again – what does it mean and how does it work?
We begin with the premise that the people who wrote scripture were divinely inspired. I wonder if this is too narrow a view and that we should begin with the premise that, in order to do justice to scripture, a person reading it needs to be similarly divinely inspired? The basis of all divine inspiration must be prayer. When the poet or poets who wrote the Psalms began their work surely they must have spent time in prayerful reflection before committing their thoughts and images to the page? When we read the fruits of their divinely inspired creative activity we should read it in the same spirit of prayerful reflection so that the same divine inspiration is at work to bring insight and understanding to us.
When Christians meet to find a way through difficult problems we should only ever use the bible and bible passages in an atmosphere of prayerful reflection. The image that came to my mind as I thought about this was that to read the bible not in a spirit of prayerful reflection is rather like driving a car without a seatbelt. The bible is big and powerful and dangerous, without the restraint of prayerful reflection it can be hugely damaging and destructive.
I know that these thoughts are incomplete and leave many questions hanging – is the bible the only writing that is divinely inspired, what about the scriptures of other faiths, not to mention the works other great writers? That question deserves another sermon, my own thoughts would be that divine inspiration is not confined to the Christian scriptures but that I trust that those who compiled the collection of writings we call the bible did so in a spirit of prayerful reflection and by so doing have provided generations of Christians with a rich collection of writings around which and through which God is revealed to individuals and to the Church, a rich collection of writings that reveal, through prayerful reflection, the mind of God.
On this Bible Sunday let us pray that the same divine inspiration that that moved Moses, the Psalmists, the gospel writers, everyone who composed books in the bible, that that same divine inspiration will be with us when we read what they wrote and that we, like them, will recognise and understand something of the revelation of God in the meeting place of the words they wrote, the sacred words of scripture.
Let us pray
We thank you, Lord God, for your word spoken of old through prophets and apostles and recorded for us in holy scripture ; and most of all for your final Word spoken to us in Jesus Christ, made flesh for our salvation. Grant that through the written word we may behold the glory of the incarnate Word, who is now exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high, and to whom we ascribe all praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen
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