Word and Light by Reverend Jim Rausch
When I was an adolescent – I don’t know exactly how old I was – I remember hearing someone ask a pastor, “Where is the best place to start reading the Bible?” Well, I was young and naïve enough at that time to believe that there was only one correct answer, and that surely the pastor would know it.
Well that pastor seemed to believe the same thing because his answer was given confidently: The Gospel of John. Now I know that there are many more correct answers to that question, but the Gospel of John is certainly up there as one of the top possibilities.
Did you hear the first three words? John, somewhere around the year 110 A.D., wrote these words to hearken back to the very beginning of the Scriptures in Genesis: “In the beginning…” In the beginning was the Word. He uses the Greek word, “Logos,” which has all kinds of ways of being translated. Logos can mean God’s reason. It can mean God’s speech or communication. So the English word we have to translate it is “Word.” And this Word, John says, was in the beginning. This Word was more than just communication or reason, it was God’s own self. “The Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.”
This Chapter – this Prologue to the Gospel of John says more about who Jesus is and what Jesus does than some entire books. It gives a telescoped view of what the Gospel of John is going to be about. It lays out the themes that the Gospel will talk about.
I love studying the Bible now, but I didn’t always. In fact, for a great deal of my life, the Bible seemed to go over my head. When I went to church, we used to repeat the psalms responsively, and I remember phrases like, “the fullness thereof” made it seem like the language was to far removed to what I was used to. I thought this must not be for me, because I can’t understand it. However, I noticed around me people who not only seemed to understand, but actually craved Bible reading. And I wanted what they had, but it all seemed to go over my head.
There was a group of Christians in my high school that people made fun of a lot. They called them the God Squad. They walked around with their Bibles with notes falling out of them and every other verse highlighted. And I though to myself, “I’m supposed to be a Christian. Shouldn’t I be able to understand the and appreciate the Bible as well? Why is it so hard for me to read it?” So I would make up my mind I was going to read the Bible seriously, but invariably I would get bored or confused or tired and put it back on the shelf. For some reason I just couldn’t seem to make it click. This bothered me a lot, especially when I saw that others seemed to draw life from the Bible.
Well, that apparently was the Holy Spirit’s plan with me. As we have mentioned before, the Holy Spirt works differently with different people. For most of my life I didn’t like reading Scripture, I didn’t understand reading Scripture, and it bothered me. I didn’t know what to do about it. As I go on, I’ll return to the idea of the pastor who said that the best place to start reading Scripture was the Gospel of John. He looked at is as a good doorway in to the Bible.
That reminds me of what I now try to do when I help teach Scripture to others. I show them many doorways into the Bible. The Bible wasn’t opened to me until I went to seminary. In fact, I was scared to go to seminary because I assumed I would encounter in the other students there people who were highly advanced in their Bible knowledge. I was afraid my lack of knowledge would be sorely exposed. Well, I found out a few things quite early on. First, there were a lot of people there who were in the same boat as me. I also found out that I knew more of Scripture than I thought I did because I just showed up in church on a regular basis. Honestly, even though I thought it was just going over my head, some of it stuck and I didn’t even realize it. So, there is a virtue in simply engaging and trying. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Scripture opened up to me in seminary in various ways that “turned the light on” for me. So I thought what I would do in my calling and my career would be to try to help open up the Bible to others. It’s a favorite thing of mine to do is to help others keep trying and eventually welcome them to the light of Scripture. I relate to people who feel awkward or strange with Scripture. I understand when people feel the language doesn’t speak to them and to those who envy others who seem to love the Bible and what they receive from it.
Sometimes when I work with teenagers on this subject, it becomes clear that many of them feel like I did about Bible reading. It’s just not something that’s on their radar screens. It just doesn’t seem to relate. Some of them would sincerely like to read the Bible, but like me at that point of my life, they open it up only to find themselves feeling lost. Sp. I use this story with them: How many of you have ever been nervous attending school for the first time in a new school building? Maybe some of you have had that experience.
It’s the first day in a brand new school, you’re on your own, your parents aren’t there to help you, and here you are… especially if it’s a big, vast building – and you can feel lost and intimidated just walking up to the front door. What lies beyond that door, who knows? Well, how many of you, when you got to that place and were feeling so nervous, said, “Forget it, I’m going home?” Nobody did that, right? We didn’t have a choice. You have to go in and face what is there.
Well, Bible reading can feel similarly intimidating. Opening it up can feel like opening a door to a place you feel lost in. But like a school, the Bible is a place were learning can happen.
My experience on my first day of high school included encountering upperclassmen offering to sell me an elevator pass. Little did I know there were no elevators. So it’s true, there can be people there who intimidate you and make matters even worse. I didn’t know where the bathrooms were, I didn’t know where the chemistry lab was, I had to ask where my homeroom was, and I felt foolish about it all. I had to learn where my locker was, memorize the combination, there were so many things to learn it felt overwhelming. Part of me wanted to turn around and go back home. It was so unfamiliar, but I had to keep going. I had to ask for help.
However, as the teenagers can confirm, after a relatively short time, you learn where things are and how to get around without even having to think about it. How many are afraid to go in the building after that? None. In fact, the teens agree with me that before too long they could show me all kinds of places in the building because they have learned it so thoroughly… the janitor’s closet, the teacher’s lounge, the locker rooms… they know it all by heart so they don’t even have to think about it. Once you know your way around the building, what’s supposed to happen there – study and learning – can happen easily.
I like to compare that to the Bible. To crack open the Bible and start to learn where things are – and to embrace the awkwardness without saying, “Forget it,” and putting back on the shelf. We need to ask for help. We need to ask questions. There’s a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? What’s that? There are differences between Gospels and Epistles? What’s that? What’s an Epistle? I’ve never heard that word before?
It can be intimidating, but I love to help people find their way. Because the more familiar you get – the more you keep trying, you’ll be surprised with how much sticks. And when we face down that awkwardness, which never fully goes away, and learn to find your way to a book of the Bible, for example, learning and study can happen – just like learning and study can happen in school when you have learned your way around. That is one of my favorite metaphors about Bible reading.
I hope it encourages people to not feel so intimidated and to recognize the potential if you just persist and become gradually more familiar with it. If it helps you, consider that sometimes Bible reading still mystifies me. Not everything is open to my understanding, but I have tools now. I have tools to help study those things, and they are tools I want to pass along to others.
We’ll be restarting Bible study here at the church sometime soon. I’d like to know from those of you who have attended the kinds of things you have done in the past. I’d like to know what you would like to study and the formats in which you would like to do that in. With Covid it sounds like we’ll still be partly in person and partly on Zoom. One of the things I hope to start with is an overview of how the Bible came to be in a class called “How God Chose to Give us God’s Inspired Word.” It’s one of my favorite classes that helped me to understand the nature of Scripture and why we don’t need to be intimidated – why it’s fun to explore and ask for help and understanding. It helps us to know that there are still mysteries that can be unlocked if we take our time and go into Scripture together.
I’d like to get back to our chapter from this morning which says, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is God’s reason, God’s speech and communication. And it refers back to Genesis again when it says that all thing were created through him, the Word, the Logos. The first few sentences tease you in to wondering “Who is the Word?” but it’s not
long before it gives the answer – Jesus the Christ, who is the light and the life. That tells us what he came to do.
In a little preview of How God Chose to Give Us God’s Inspired Word, I’ll share this. We have the Bible in translations of the original languages, and translators have to make choices. We tend to think that it shouldn’t be that way. We want the perfect original, but that’s not how God chose to give it to us. God chose to give it to us in a way that we have to interact with it and make choices! We wouldn’t have chosen to do it that way, but God did. God trusts humans working through the power of the Holy Spirit to engage with Scripture, to seek understanding and to bring out all of the rich meaning.
For example, when it says, “The light came into the world, and the darkness could not overcome it…” if you were to look at twenty different translations, you could find twenty different translations of the Greek word for “overcome.” The darkness could not overcome it, extinguish it, defeat it… those are some of the possible translations that follow one particular path. If you look at other translations, another path emerges. The darkness could not understand it, comprehend it… So which translation is correct? They are all possible meanings of the Greek word. How are we supposed to come to the meaning of inspired Scripture if it can mean so many things? The New English Bible is the only translation to leave it as wide open as the original Greek – The darkness could not “master” it. These are clues to how God chose to give us the Bible, and they can be fascinating.
God gave us something that includes challenge and an opportunity to wrestle with things. Doing so, as in the case of John Chapter one, helps us to gain a greater knowledge of who Jesus is and what he came to do. I love that we learn that the darkness could neither comprehend nor overcome the light.
As we go on with the passage, it speaks of John testifying to the light. He affirmed that Jesus came to fulfill what the Old Testament foretold: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. John gives us this testimony: He is the one who is to come, and he exceeds me because he was before me. It seems paradoxical that he is both the one to come and the one who was. John chapter one is a tremendous prologue to the rest of the Gospel, and like that pastor said all those years ago, it is a great place to start reading Scripture. It refers to the Creation story of Genesis and to the prophets. It affirms Jesus as Word, Light, Grace, and Truth for all of us. So this is a great place to begin. And I am hoping that in this new year as we begin our time together, that each time we come to worship that it is a kind of Bible study for us. And remember, if you feel like I did, that you don’t have very much Bible knowledge, all the times you have attended worship have given you exposure that God has made stick in ways that would surprise you. God works with you and all of us in remarkable ways when we choose to show up. I encourage us to continue to show up, to be persistent, curious and enthusiastic. We can do so with the idea that we are all welcome in this place called Scripture, and we all can become familiar with it in a way that will help us study, learn and grow.
With that, I’ll bring it to a close in Jesus’ name. Amen.