Sermon for February 23rd, 2014. Rev. Harrison mentions a Texas Bible Translator Plug-in (which also works for Pittsburgh, and a couple of other places), which can be found at: http://donteatthefruit.com/2013/05/texas-bible-second-person-plural-chrome-extension/. The text for this sermon was 1 Corinthians 3:10-23.
Why Texans Are Good Bible Readers
A couple of years ago, a sort of nerdy Bible scholar (maybe that’s redundant) wrote a computer program to translate the Bible into Texan. You probably didn’t realize that the Bible needed to be translated into Texan, but Texas English (and Southern English in general) have a feature that standard-TV news anchor English doesn’t have, and that’s “y’all.” I’ve posted the app on facebook in case anyone wants to try it for themselves.
When I was a youth leader in New York, all my kids thought it was hilarious that I used the word “y’all,” but the truth is that when it comes to reading the Bible, it’s actually a pretty helpful word. That’s because both Greek and Hebrew have separate words for when you’re addressing people in the singular, or the plural. The King James hangs on to that distinction. “Thee” and “thou” are singular, and “ye” and “you” are plural. But modern English translations have dropped that out. They don’t make a distinction, it just uses “you” whether you’re talking to one person or a whole passel of them. But that can lead to a lot of confusion, where you think the Bible is talking to you as an individual, when it’s really talking to y’all as a group. In other words they use the Bible uses the word “y’all,” even if modern translations don’t.
This parallels a trend of increasing individualism when it comes to faith. We tend to read the Bible as if it’s all about us as an individual, and doesn’t have anything to do with how we relate to the group, but that’s not quite right. For example, you’re familiar with Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” right? Well, the Texan i.e. correct translation reads, “Work out y’all’s salvation with fear and trembling.” How different is it to know that we’re supposed to be working out our salvation together, as a community, rather than individually, on our own? It’s the difference between trying to right a sinking ship and getting into a lifeboat and leaving everyone else behind.
The culprit here is modern technology. That’s right, the person who put the church on the web and facebook is telling you that it’s modern technology that is destroying our sense of faith as a community activity. And that technology is the book. When everyone has their copy of the Bible, we’re encouraged to interpret it on our own and in isolation from the people around us. Before books became commonplace, Scripture was read aloud to a group, the way we do in church. This encourages interpretation as a group act, something we do together rather than alone. That’s the way the Bible was originally meant to be read, which is why its so important that we come together for Bible study, like we do in Sunday School or in our Women’s Bible study, because when we read it together it broadens and deepens our understanding of the text. I’m not saying that you can’t read the Bible by yourself, I think that’s one of the great spiritual practices you can do. But if you only read the Bible when you’re alone, you’re missing out on an important dimension of faith.
It’s one of the great tragedies of modern American Christianity that so many people think it’s all about believing the right things and don’t think it’s important to join a community of faith. Because when you don’t have a community of faith, you don’t have folks sharing how they hear the passages, and you don’t have folks to bring you casseroles when you’re sick or hurt, and you don’t have folks to challenge you to grow in your faith and in your commitment to God. It’s no wonder that people who go to church live longer, are happier, give more, and volunteer more than people who don’t.
Anyway, when Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians “Do y’all not know that y’all are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in y’all” (Texas translation), he’s not telling us that each one of us is a Temple; he means all of us. Together. And God’s holiness dwells in us. Together.
Paul is writing this letter because the Corinthians have divided into factions, each loyal to different people. They have lost that sense of togetherness, and have each become loyal to their particular brand of faith.
They started dividing into factions, based on who had been leading the community when they joined. Some were followers of Paul, some were followers of Apollos, and some were followers of Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter. And reports had come to Paul that this division was causing problems in the church. It’s pretty easy to see how division can cause problems within a church. Maybe someone has been in charge of a ministry for so long that they feel ownership over it, which is good, but they respond to suggestions or offers of help as threats to their power, instead of trying to find ways to incorporate new ideas into the ministry. Sometimes churches get cliquish, and they push away or marginalize anyone who doesn’t belong to one of the important families of the church. Maybe churches spend so much time fighting turf battles they never get a chance to reach out to the folks who need them.
These kinds of things happen. We’re human. We can get possessive over things even when we don’t want to be. We can get frustrated when someone doesn’t appreciate the work we’ve put in. We can accidentally exclude people because we forget the folks we don’t see as often. And for me at least it’s comforting to know that none of these things are new problems. They are human problems; they’ve been around since the beginning. But that doesn’t mean that we accept them as the way things have to be.
What Paul says, is that this type of division will not stand up to the tests that we will face. He compares the community of faith to a building. He says that the important thing is not who built which part of the building, but that the building is built well. Paul says, “I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it.” Who did what, Paul seems to say, is irrelevant. It’s not about who gets credit for it. It’s about whether or not the building is built well.
Because every community will be tested. Every church runs into its share of challenges and goes through periods of turmoil and conflict. But if it is built with integrity, it will be able to stand up to those challenges. When the storm is over, the building will stand because of the strength of the materials and the skills of the builders who put it together. I remember my neighbors had a great big old oak tree in their front yard. This was in Tennessee, where the trees grow straight up into the air like fenceposts. It was about this big around and maybe 70 or 80 feet high. And we had this storm, and it fell straight onto our neighbor’s house. Right on top of the room where my friend Erin lived. And it just bounced right off. Their house was built with strong bricks upon a strong foundation. I’ll never forget coming out the next morning and seeing that tree lying down beside the house, and looking up at the roof and seeing where it hit, and thinking, man, when I grow up, I’m going to live in a brick house.
The way we build well is we hang on to our foundation, which is in Jesus Christ crucified. This is the foundation that Paul laid for the church, and it is in and through Jesus Christ that we find our salvation. He shows us how to live for each other instead of for ourselves. He shows us how to offer ourselves to God’s will instead of our own. And he shows us how to love without any regard for our own safety. This is what it is to build upon the foundation of Christ. And if we can do this, then we will find salvation, not alone, but as one building, standing the tests of time, y’all.