21. März 2019

Sermon on February 3th, 2019

Sermon: Frank Moritz-Jauk

Understanding the Bible. 2nd Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

Understanding the Bible. 2nd Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
Dear Church, I have already mentioned it in the greeting, but it has really not been easy to write a sermon in view of what happened at the General Conference.
The concern is simply great. From my perspective and the perspective of the Austrian pastorship, it is simply incomprehensible and painful how it could have come to this. What it will mean for us, as an Austrian Evangelical Methodist Church, cannot yet be said. It is still much too early for that.
But what we can see here and now, is that democratic game-rules cannot be transferred in a
‘one-to-one way’ to church decision-making.
I have always been so proud of the fact that in our church decisions are transparent and democratic for everyone. I do not know which of you has the same feeling. It is different from our Roman Catholic sister church, which is much more hierarchically organized. And I also ask myself who really has the power. Can the Pope really decide everything? I have my doubts, but that’s not what it’s about today.
Our democratic decision-making is certainly good in many areas and help us, for example, to bring lay people and ordained persons together on an equal footing and to discuss questions together. That is good. That is really good.
But democracy as such is not now suitable for joint decisions, but the electoral procedure, the majority voting procedure, is unsuitable.
Why? Because it leads to winners and losers. 53% have won and 47% have lost. That is a huge problem. That does something to people. Some are saddened to death and others dance and thank God that the truth has won. That is terrible.
Therefore one must not let common decisions be coordinated, but must SPEAK with each other so long, until one finds a common solution.
At least I learned that from Wilfried Nausner. I can still well remember the church board meeting, in which everything seemed too slow and too complicated and too laborious to me. “Why don’t we vote,” I asked. “Because we can only make the decision together if we have found it together.” Wilfried answered analogously. Meanwhile I believe that too.
Now we are faced with the shards of a democratic decision in which almost half of all those involved have been outvoted. Nearly half of all those involved disagreed. How should the way now continue, how should the decisions now be jointly supported?
In any case, the events over the great pond have led me today to use a text for this sermon which I actually considered “unpredictable” the first time. “Unpredictable”, by this I mean that I actually considered the text from the 2nd Corinthians that I heard today to be so outdated that I wanted to leave it to one side.
But I think we can see from this text what lies at the heart of the substantive discussion at the General Conference that has now taken place: It is about our understanding of the Bible.
Of course, or most probably, not only about the respective understanding of the Bible, but how that might play a decisive role.
The text from the 2nd Corinthians refers to events described in the 2nd book of Moses. There it says “that the skin of Moses’ face was shining because he had talked to God” and “because Aaron and all Israel were afraid to come close to Moses, he covered his face with a cloth”.
What does Paul make of it? He transfers the story with the cloth, which was supposed to protect the Israelites from being bound by the shining face of Moses, to the understanding of the Old Testament: “To this day, when the scriptures of the Old Covenant are read out often, this blanket lies over them in their understanding and is not taken away. It is only removed where someone joins Christ.”
Dear congregation, here something becomes visible which, in my view, is at any rate one of the painful testimonies of our Christian history. Something that can be seen in many examples of early medieval art. Where the church symbolizes the good and the synagogue the evil, the church the new and the synagogue the old. With what arrogance have Christians driven over the history of the chosen people, the Israelites.
But even if one does not want to pronounce or see it so dramatically: at least hopefully it will become clear, how such a statement about the Jewish understanding of their own writings is to be seen in connection with time.
Of course, it makes a difference how a former Jew, called Saul, becomes Paul through a conversion experience with the risen Christ.
Of course it makes a difference whether here a very young religion, Christianity, tries to make its own profile. To distinguish oneself from what was before.
Of course it makes a difference, as we see it from today’s perspective. A perspective in which our dealings with the Jews are to be seen rather from the Epistle to the Romans (also from Paul). There the former pagans are compared with the branches of a wild olive tree, which are grafted into the noble olive tree of the people of Israel. The decisive sentence is: “Let it be said to you: You don’t carry the root, but the root carries you.” (Rom 11:18)
That’s the way I see it.
Of course, I do not force anyone to agree with me. But I do not believe that it is our task as Christians to convert the Jews to Christ. Instead, I believe that there are good theological reasons that the people of God are and will remain God’s people.
And as a far-reaching consequence of the wording of this biblical passage, I go so far as to say that this biblical passage exemplarily shows us that we have to read the Bible in context and indeed in the historical context, and that we cannot translate it literally.
But where does this begin and where does it end? We have to find that out together.
But that is laborious, perhaps.
Maybe it is laborious, but I don’t know how things should be different. It can also be fun. To do research in writing and to consider together how we can understand that today. I believe that is why the Bible has remained a work to this day, a collection of writings that we take into our hands again and again and that never gets boring. This is what makes the Bible so interesting and I think one can also see a parallel – a picture – to faith in it. Because faith, too, is not something you find, pick up and put in your trouser pocket, but a living experience that is made anew again and again. Yes, it must be made so that it remains alive.
I can also illuminate our understanding of the Bible from the other side.
Imagine what funny consequences it would have if we were to faithfully incorporate all the statements of the Bible into our lives today. How could that look then?
Here is a small selection of examples:
Let us begin with the third book of Moses, chapter 1: It says here that the intestines and thighs of a bull are a sweet smell for the Lord when I offer them as a sacrifice by fire. The problem is my neighbours. They claim that the smell is not sweet to them. Is that why I should put them down?
In the same book, in the 3rd book of Moses, chapter 15, it is regulated that one may not come into contact with a woman when she is in the state of her menstrual impurity. Today we would say if a woman had her days. The problem is, how can you know that? You don’t necessarily see it on a woman’s face. How can you talk about it without getting a slap in the face?
Or in Chapter 24 it is stated that I may have slaves, both male and female, if I acquire them from neighbouring nations. One of my neighbours says that would apply to Czechs and Romanians. But not to Germans. Could that please be clarified? Why am I not allowed to own a German? They should be so intelligent and good-looking and empathetic and … at least that’s what I’ve been told.
I also know that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean. Can my son still play football when he puts on gloves?
So it’s no use, we’ll have to do translation work. Even if it is sometimes tedious and there are and may be different opinions.
I am convinced that we will not miss the main features of our faith. For God has promised that he wants us to find him if we sincerely seek him. The one who first loved us has a genuine, original, deep-seated interest in us finding a living relationship with him.
I deeply believe that.
And that is why I am not afraid of this necessary translation work that keeps God’s Word alive among us.
Amen.