A New Look at a Great Book:
Part 1, The Spiritual Lens
February 15, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic today is “A New Look at a Great Book, Part 1: The Spiritual Lens.” My friends, I hold in my hand a Bible, and I’m excited about this book. I have felt drawn to this series of sermons as with a spiritual magnet. I have some very strong internal feelings guiding what I should say today. And so, it’s with excitement that I share these messages with you. I am excited about this book, and I hope that you will be, too, more and more, every day.
First of all, let me tell you about something that happened in this church. A few years ago, a gentleman attended a service here. He came back the next week, and I asked if I could visit with him. We did. He said to me, “I like it here. I like coming to church and to these services. But I need to tell you that some of it is a mystery to me. I didn’t grow up in a church. I don’t know too much about the Bible. And wish I did.”
And then he said, “If I were a space traveler and I got out of my spaceship and came to church here and asked you to tell me what the Bible is about in just a few minutes, what would you say?” Well, I tell you, that was a challenge, but it was a good challenge. I did my best, and he seemed to be pleased. He’s a regularly attending member here today.
So, what is so special about this book? Why is it that someone around the time of the Civil War held this very same book that I’m holding now and got inspiration and help from it? This is no mere history book; this is no mere biography. There is something very special about this book that has energized people for thousands of years. And there’s something about it, I dare say, that brings you here today and attracts you to it. On some level, I’d say, you respect it more than the average book. Why? Let's explore that together. I’m hoping that as we talk together your respect and excitement and fascination for this book will grow and grow.
If you were new to the Bible, what would be important for you to know? First and foremost, the Bible is the story of a great love relationship: the relationship between God and people. It is a dynamic book. It is a book of living reflections where we see ourselves in the light of God's love. The Bible is more of a conversation with you than a story told to you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Now, I could tell you that it is a book of literature. I could tell you how it’s set up. I could tell you that it is divided into two main sections, the Old Testament, or the Hebrew scriptures, and the New Testament, the Christian scriptures, the story of Jesus, and that would be true. I could tell you that the word Bible comes from the word biblios, the Greek derivative that means books or library. It is actually a library of 66 individual books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. I could tell you how it’s put together.
I could tell you that there are different kinds of books in one cover. I could tell you that there are books of history, books of religious law, books of songs and books of sayings. I could tell you that there are books about prophets, and there are biographies, and there are letters in the Bible. I could tell you that. I could tell you all kinds of things about the Bible as literature – but would you be excited about that? I don’t know.
I could tell you that it’s a history book. I could tell you that it’s a book about the history of the Jewish people and the history of Christ and the early church. I could tell you that it’s a history about King David; I could tell you that it’s a history of the Jewish people as they left Egypt. I could tell you that—but would that captivate you? Would you be excited about that? Maybe.
Let me tell you this. There is nothing wrong with knowing about the Bible as literature. There’s nothing wrong with knowing about the Bible as history; that’s important, too. But I tell you this: you don't have to be an expert on things about the Bible to love and learn from and be blessed by the Bible! You just have to read it, and look at it in one more way.
There is one more way to look at the Bible, one more lens to use as you look at this great book: the spiritual way.
The spiritual way that takes us beyond history and literature, important as they are. I invite you, my friends, to join me in a challenge. The challenge is that sometime today or this week, you would go home and pick up this book – I’ll bet you have a copy at home – and read it from a spiritual perspective.
What does that mean? It means that when you read a portion of the Bible, ask yourself, “How does this relate to me symbolically?” Let me give you an example. Psalm 119 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” What does that mean? What does that mean symbolically to you personally? It means that maybe there’s been some darkness in your life. Has there been? And the Bible is a tool that can lead you through it. Looking in this book can bring you a sense of light, if you look at it symbolically. It’s something that can lead you through this time of darkness. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” What does the darkness symbolize? What does the lamp mean to me? What is it like to have light when darkness is all around? Suddenly, the Bible communicates with us in a way that is “right now” and most meaningful.
Let’s look at the scripture that we talked about this morning, Psalm 30. “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.” What are your foes? Maybe your foes are the negative ideas that pull you down, and God is drawing you up, so that they won’t drag you down. God is the One who is drawing you up! He wants to draw you up! When you have no power of your own, God draws you up. God has the last word, and the last word is, “Yes!”
The psalm continues, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.” How wonderful, that feeling of healing! Take that thought personally; take it for yourself. “O Lord, you brought my soul up from Sheol,” from the lowest places. Have you been in the lowest places? Do you know what that feels like? Sheol is the darkest pit. The scripture is telling you that the Lord is bringing you up from those lowest places. He has “restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” Maybe those around you are despairing, too, but God is restoring your life. “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.” Can you feel a song rising in your heart? Can you find one thing to be thankful for? This is what it means to read the Bible spiritually.
This is what makes the Bible more than an ordinary book. If you take the Bible symbolically, if you ask, ‘how does this apply to my life?’ then you are reading the Bible spiritually. And whatever information you have about the Bible as literature and as history reinforces that. But the most important thing is that you are reading the Bible from a spiritual, symbolic standpoint.
And so, if you or I pick up the Bible this week and open it up to any page, I invite you to say, “How does this apply symbolically to me?” And you will find a power and energy in these words that are absolutely tremendous. And then you and I will be able to tune in to why this book was so important for so many years to so many people. Read it symbolically. Read it spiritually. And the Bible will have a whole new meaning for you.
Now, if a certain page you turn to isn’t a rich harvest of spiritual meaning for you, don’t worry about it. Just turn to another place. Your inner spirit will tell you when the Lord’s Spirit has spoken to your spirit. Give it a try; dive in. Look for those inner meanings. See where the Lord is leading you. Your love for the Bible and what it can do for you will grow and grow.
Let me leave you with one more important thought about the Bible. The beginning of the Bible we read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness hovered over the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.”
And on the sixth day, God created people. He “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created him.” He created the image of the perfect person.
And then, after a time of spiritual development, the moment arrived when Jesus came to earth. Jesus is the centerpiece of the Bible. The Bible is the story of the climb of the human spirit to that highest point when the scripture was fulfilled, when the image and likeness of God came perfectly to earth. Jesus is the center and the crown of the Bible’s story. In Jesus, we see what God is really like. There's just one book that tells us about this: the Bible.
And so, my friend, I invite you to do this: take the spiritual step of taking the Bible in hand and saying, what does this verse mean to me? How is this verse symbolic to my soul? And hear what the Lord has to say to you. He has powerful words of love to speak to you through this instrument of His grace, this vehicle to communicate with Him, this door to your relationship with Him. I pray that you would enjoy it, that you would let it restore you, and that you would let it inspire you. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with us and our relationship with God. It is a mysterious and very special kind of bridge between you and God.
More next week. We’ll talk about why there are so many translations of the Bible. The week after that, I invite you to bring in historic Bibles – Bibles that are important in your lives, a family Bible, perhaps. And we will talk about those special Bibles.
God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski