Sermon Text: Show & Tell, Again
It’s Show and Tell time again.
This is my Bible from high school. Back then, it was a new translation. It was called the “New International Version,” or the NIV. Over the past 40 years, it has become the best-selling translation of the Bible in North America — more popular than the New Revised Standard Version and the old classic King James Version.
It became my favorite, too. But as the years went on, and I grew up a little, something about it started to bother me. I can tell you what I mean by quoting a verse from this Bible. It’s from the first chapter of John’s Gospel: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
It’s that phrase “every man.” Now, years ago, that was understood to mean every person. In the year 1969, the first lunar astronauts left a plaque on the moon which says, “We came in peace for all mankind.” These words referred to the entire human race. But over the years, our language and culture have changed. That male-centered language does not work well any more.
I remember when a college student was home visiting. She had grown up at St. Mark’s.
And that Sunday, we happened to be using Rite One in the Prayer Book. That’s the traditional language liturgy from centuries ago. That old translation of the Nicene Creed talks about Jesus Christ, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” So this young woman asked, “What is it with just the men?”
She was right, of course. It no longer makes sense for me to refer to you sitting here today as “the men of this church” when I mean “the people of this church.” So my favorite Bible, the New International Version, missed that helpful language change.
But then something cool happened. In the year 2001, a revised version of the NIV was published. It was called “Today’s New International Version.” And the team of Bible translators made language about human beings consistent with how we speak in the 21st century. Now those words from chapter one of John’s Gospel are translated like this: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”
The phrase “light to every man” became “light to everyone.” It’s actually truer to the intent of the New Testament writers. So this newer New Testament, called “Today’s New International Version” has become my new favorite.
But then I heard a radio interview with one of the translators. I actually took a class with this New Testament scholar in Chicago in the 1970s. He talked about how people in conservative churches are very upset about this language change. And they successfully stopped the publication of Today’s New International Version. Here’s my copy, and I guess they won’t publish it any more.
It amazed me that in the year 2009, when I heard the interview, Christian people would be so unhappy about calling us “humankind” instead of “mankind.” They want to read the letters of the New Testament as addressed to “my brothers” instead of “my brothers and sisters.” Wow. This makes me sad.
I always hope that following Jesus makes your heart bigger, not smaller. I always hope that following Jesus means adopting his wide-open heart toward the poor, the outcasts, the children, and women, instead of keeping ideas of male rank and status intact. I always hope religious faith makes people kinder and more compassionate instead of narrow and rigid.
In today’s story from Mark’s Gospel, a stranger casts out demons in the name of Jesus.
But some of the “official” apostles get upset. Jesus says, “Don’t stop him...whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, make the circle bigger and keep the doors open.
And here is my third Show & Tell item today. It is a framed greeting card that I keep on the wall of my office here at church.
Some of you will remember Hilde Zerwekh, one of our faithful members who died some years ago. Hilde always had a big heart. This card has several versions of the Golden Rule. The version we know, spoken by Jesus, is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But the card also has the same teaching, the same Golden Rule,
quoted from the Jewish tradition, the Muslim tradition, the Buddhist tradition, and the Hindu tradition.
The test of any religious or spiritual practice is whether or not it leads to practical compassion. I always hope that following Jesus makes your heart bigger, not smaller.
I always hope that following Jesus means adopting his wide-open heart toward everyone. I always hope religion will make people kinder and more compassionate rather than rigid and narrow.
Years ago, I saw a slogan that sums this up. This would make a good motto on the sign outside every church. Big God, Big Church. God’s heart is big enough for all of humanity, and in fact, all of creation. Our church should be big enough to welcome anyone who chooses to walk with us.
We may have a small church here in Chenango Bridge. But we have big hearts. And our doors are always unlocked. Literally. People can come into this church day or night to pray or meditate, or just to get warm.
I think that’s an important image for us to live up to. Open doors, open hearts. Big God, Big Church.
In residential neighborhoods, you’ll sometimes see a street sign that says, “Slow down — this could be your child at play.” I think God likes that sign.
Let your religious practice open you up and make your hear bigger. Everyone you meet is one of God’s children. You are, too.
So look at them all — male, female, young, old, gay, straight, black, brown, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist — and see what God sees: your child at play.