6th March 2011 - "The Glory and the Scriptures"
Colin Hull - St Peter's Tewin and St Michael's
Sally sat in the office with head behind the newspaper. Daryl and Brian were discussing a TV program of the night before when Prof Richard Dawkins had again been doing one of his usual anti-religion documentaries. Daryl and Brian were in thorough agreement with Prof Dawkins. People of faith believe in fairy tales and no sensible person of any intelligence bothered with religious faith. It was only for the weak minded and uneducated.
What should she do? Sit there and pretend she was not listening, or could she pluck up the courage to say she was a believer and follower of Jesus? Perhaps you can identify with Sally. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. It is in fact becoming more common. People of committed Christian faith are in a minority in this country.
Maybe we forget that for the first few centuries the Christian faith was a minority religion. For many Christians outside of Europe and America they remain so. For most of their history the Orthodox and Coptic churches of the Middle East have been a minority. For many Christians around the world faith is practiced in an atmosphere of rivalry with other beliefs, and sometimes face hostility or persecution.
It is against a background of scepticism and struggle for Christian faith that lies behind the Second Letter of Peter. Reading the letter we can discern some opponents and what they are saying and teaching;
Those who no longer believed anything about the return of Jesus in glory as judge.
There was a rejection or misuse of OT prophecy
There were libertarians- who argued that you do as you like because it does not matter. Having faith has nothing to do with way we live. They took the teaching of St Paul and his rejection of the Law as meaning you could do anything you liked.
The letter of Peter written to address these problems
The enigma of 2 Peter
But as we come to 2 Peter we face an enigma. Although it claims to be from Simon Peter apostle there have been many who have cast doubt upon its authenticity. Even in the early church there were doubts about it and it only just made it into the selection of writings agreed to be Holy Scripture. I won’t go into all the arguments but it is clear that even if it was not by St Peter it was written by some-one who knew him and his preaching and he was defending what Peter had preached. He was defending the gospel taught by Simon Peter, chief of our Lord’s witnesses and apostles. I want to pick up two things the author is trying to say-
1) The author affirms Jesus seen in glory IS coming back
It had been the preaching of Peter and the apostles that Jesus would return to the world in the future in glory, to complete the Kingdom of God and judge all people, good and evil. The author uses the story of Jesus appearing in glory on the mountain with Peter, James and John.
“we were with him on the holy mountain”
They had heard God testify that Jesus was his Son. It was a foretaste of the glory to come. This was a basis of faith that Jesus would return in the same glory as judge. Many years passed and Jesus had not returned and so many were loosing faith in that return. Even Paul needed to reassure his churches about this. As more time has passed the tendency to dismiss faith in that promise has increased even more. Or on the other hand fundamentalist sects and cults elaborate literal versions of the promise and try and predict when it will happen.
What do we say to that? Although we cannot say when or how it will happen, we should still hold firm to a faith in a future completion of the Kingdom of God, when Jesus will be Lord of all, when all evil is finally judged and the good and righteous completely rewarded. We do not have to be a literal fundamentalist to believe in the return of Jesus. It is better that we are not. We should continue to believe that we will all have a time of judgement, judged by our compassionate Lord Jesus. Loved and forgiven but judged in his compassion.We should trust that tradition that the one who was seen in glory is Lord of all. We also maintain the hope of the complete redemption of all creation, with the lamb with the lion together as well.
2) The matter of interpreting the scriptures
The letter implies that Old Testament prophecies were either ignored or misused. Following on from this is the warning that it is mistake just to rely on personal interpretation. The letter affirms that the apostolic tradition that Peter had preached was that all the promises are completed in Jesus. It is through the Old Testament we get glimpses of the promises of God and they all meet together in Jesus, in what he said and did and in the final kingdom still to come.
The letter goes on to say it would however be dangerous to interpret scripture just for ourselves and our own point of view. There were many people who were using the scriptures to support their own teachings that were different to the apostolic teaching. It was leading people astray.
In our own time there are cults and extreme churches that focus on certain aspects of the bible to support extreme political and social ideals. There are various forms of literal fundamentalism that create contradictory and confusing demands. For some the bible is a source of looking for evidence of extra-terrestrial visitations or doomsday scenarios. Such literal fundamentalism actually does damage to the gospel and distorts biblical teaching. We need to be aware of f the social and historical contexts in which it was written and meant to be read and understood.
So we have to be vigilant to defend Christian faith either from the atheist rejection or from forms of literal fundamentalism. If we don’t have that knowledge ourselves we need to seek out those who do. We need to rely on a broader interpretation other than our own and not deceived by extreme views. We have the resources of the Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant traditions and creeds to guide us in our interpretation.
Some of you will have been present at Coralie’s induction to the church at Eaton Bray. You will have heard the charge laid on her to affirm her allegiance to ...
..“the faith uniquely revealed in the holy scriptures, set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the formularies of the C of E bare witness”
It is something that every Deacon, Priest and Bishop must affirm at their ordination. Diane has had to do it a few times. It is something I also had to affirm and assent to as a Reader when I was licensed by the Bishop of Herford 23 years ago. Every Maunday Thurs the Clergy and Readers gather in the Cathedral to renew our ministry and commitment to this inheritance of faith. Promising to study it teach and proclaim it, and nurture people in their understanding.
But I know that some will say “in mainline churches that there are disagreements on particular ethical and moral issues such as women’s ordination or same sex relationships”. Yes of course there are. But what the churches hold in common about the life and teaching of Jesus in the apostolic tradition in the Catholic creeds and formal confessional statements of faith is far bigger and broader than these disagreements.
So I want to encourage you. Be continually learning about that apostolic and catholic faith of which we are part. I want to encourage you to read your bibles with the help that may come from commentaries and other bible reading aids. Maybe some-one here could arrange to run a book stall of devotional books and bible reading aids. Or find ways to share together devotional books that have helped you.
Next week we start Lent. It is at least one time of year when we should all spend at least some of our time to deepen our knowledge of the scriptures and about our Lord Jesus. If you have internet access why not join the St Albans Lenten challenge on the Diocesan website. You will receive an email of a short text each day with short commentary to think about.Or why not join one of the study groups that will be meeting in the Team. You could use it as an opportunity for fellowship with people from other churches. It is a time to share this common inheritance of faith with one-another.
Use this Lent as springboard to increase your growing in the knowledge and practice of our common faith.
The author of 2 Peter recalls us to some fundamental truths about Jesus. He was seen in glory on the mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John. It was a foretaste of a glory still to come, in which we will share, in which he will judge the world in goodness and compassion.
The scriptures are for all of us to learn from but always better to learn from others who hold to the apostolic truth.
Back to Sally
There she was wondering if she could find the courage to speak up about her faith in Jesus. She felt she did not know enough. She kept quiet. She felt bad about it. But later she vowed..
“I am not going to shy away from this again. I am going to learn more about the bible and my faith. Next time I am going to be ready to answer for my faith.
And the next time she was....