Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mountains flattened, elements melted, and a giveaway

Loving my new Common English Bible - I've been using the New Testament for a year or so for the lectionary readings in Sunday worship, but now this translation is out with both testaments and I use it for both personal and public reading.

I'm preparing for Sunday, December 4, and am looking at the lectionary texts in the CEB.

The Call to Worship at the beginning of Sunday's service will come from Isaiah 40:1-11, specifically verses 3 to 5:

A voice is crying out, 'Clear the Lord's way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The Lord's glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; The Lord's mouth has commanded it.

I will be preaching on 2 Peter 3:10-13:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

I think the CEB translators have made some good choices here in dealing with the Greek text and English equivalents: compare "the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed" with the less clear "the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed" in the New Revised Standard Version. I prefer the CEB's plain "since everything will be destroyed in this way" to the NRSV's murky "since all these things are to be dissolved in this way." The NRSV's verb "dissolved" may be closer to the original Greek luomenon, which means "loosened," but the CEB and New International Version translation of "destroyed" better expresses the ancient writer's meaning.

As a participant in the Common English Bible Blog Tour, I am able to give away copies of this new translation - a Bible which I am using every day. I'll be selecting someone who comments on this, or any, blog post here at Daniel in the Lions' Den to receive a CEB, for your Advent journey.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tear open the heavens...

I've been cramming what is usually a week of preparation for Advent services into one day, for various reasons, the chief one being Advent seems to have sneaked up on me! I'm now thinking about the Scriptures we're reading this coming Sunday, November 27, and what to say about them. I cobbled together a Call to Worship for our Sunday liturgy, based on the lectionary passages for the First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37.
O that God would rip open the heavens and come down, and make the mountains shudder.
But isn’t this season about tinsel decorations and Santa?
The sun will become dark, the moon won’t give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the planets will be shaken.
But isn’t this season about lights twinkling in the streets?
Then you will see the Christ coming in the clouds, with great power and splendour.
That sounds more like it – the hope we’re looking for, the promise of something better to come. We can’t wait!
But now we must wait. Keep watch! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Come, Lord Jesus. We wait for this hope to arrive, we long for Jesus to return, we look for the signs of God coming among us. Let us wait and worship together.

In writing, I picked up on Isaiah 64:1-2: "If only you would tear open the heavens and come down! Mountains would quake before you like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil" (Common English Bible) - but went with the language used by The Message translation, "rip open" and "shudder" - and Mark 13:24-26: "In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won't give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendour"(Common English Bible). I kept much of the CEB wording for the Mark passage. I was trying to incorporate the eschatology in the readings for Advent 1, the waiting that is so countercultural for us in Advent when Christmas seems to start the day after Hallowe'en, and the consumerist trappings of the secular Christmas.

A version of this Call to Worship has now been posted by LiturgyLink, so it's available for other time-pressed pastors this coming Sunday!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

For the Bible Tells Me So

Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.
2 Timothy 3:15-17, Common English Bible
The Bible is the story for us of God's revelation to humanity, in the story of Israel and in Jesus Christ. As Marcus Borg says in The Heart of Christianity, to be a Christian is to be centred in the God of the Bible.

I believe what this early Christian document, the Second Letter to Timothy, says: Scripture is inspired by God. However, this does not mean, for me, that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. Much of what ancient communities wrote was inspired, but is not meant to be historically factual; this does not mean it is false, as it is true in the sense of metaphor, and witnesses to truths about God.

There are commentators who state that if any part of the Bible is held not to be literally true, then the entire edifice of faith collapses. I think this does a disservice to both the Bible and Christianity, and devalues metaphorical language. It also does not serve the Bible well to state that one translation only is valid. We do not have one definitive version of the original texts - the Common English Bible lists five different manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint for the books of Samuel alone. The 1611 Authorized Version, called the King James Bible, is now celebrating the 400th anniversary of its beautiful language which has made such an impact on English literature and speech. Yet we now have better Hebrew and Greek manuscripts than were available to the King James translators. All translators have to make choices in rendering ancient words and their underlying concepts into today's speech.

In the season of Advent we will be reading from two translations in worship at Ingleside and Newington: the King James, to end the 400th anniversary year, and the new Common English Bible. This should provide some great, and thought-provoking, contrasts between a venerable translation and a fresh version. I think we can learn from how the translators have rendered, for instance, the Isaiah 64 reading for next Sunday:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
Isaiah 64:6a, King James Bible

We have all become like the unclean; all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag.
Isaiah 64:6a, Common English Bible

What do these words tell us about ourselves? About the translators? About the attitudes and taboos of the time? Does the way the CEB translates the Hebrew speak to us in a way that the King James does not (or the New Revised Standard's "filthy cloth" or The Message's "grease-stained rags")? Lots more to come.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blog Tour is Coming!

I'm participating in the three-month Common English Bible “Thank You – Come Again – I Promise” blog tour. It starts tomorrow, Sunday, November 20, the start of National Bible Week, and ends January 31. I have been using the Common English Bible in Sunday worship for the New Testament readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the last year. In the season of Advent I'll be marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible by mixing the KJV and the Common English Bible - should be an interesting and thought-provoking contrast between the English of the beginning of the 17th century and today. And if you like the Facebook page http://facebook.com/LiveTheBible, you'll be able to print calligraphy Bible verses!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I got nothin'

I certainly got nothin' on the blog lately. It's not like there hasn't been anything happening! I had great experiences at the Outlaw Preachers (re)Union in Nashville in September and Future of Ministry Symposium at Queen's School of Religion in Kingston in October. I welcomed a delegation from the United Church of Christ, Black River-St. Lawrence Association in New York State to our United Church of Canada Presbytery meeting, and participated in a series of gatherings of congregations in our Presbytery leading up to votes this month on whether congregations want to enter into discussions with their neighbours about sharing ministry (and possibly buildings). And my churches and the Presbytery decided to move me from three-quarter time ministry to full-time. So there's lots going on. I just got nothin' here on Daniel in the Lions' Den.