Tuesday, February 26, 2013

perspective and the importance of a sweater

Each day I begin class by reading Scripture and saying a prayer. Usually the Scripture is a selection of a few verses that I find encouraging or instructive-- most of the time, these are "old favorites" that many of us Christians are accustomed to hearing: Romans 12: 1-3, selections from Philippians 2, Psalm 1... you get the idea.

 But, I felt a challenge to go beyond that because of the once-monthly women's Bible study I attend, in which we are studying II Timothy, and for which the first assignment was to read read II Timothy in its entirety several times-- to get the main idea, recognize themes, etc. In doing so, it occurred to me that when I read a short passage to my students, many of whom do not read the Scripture on their own, these passages are in fact lacking context. For example Romans 12: 1-3 makes much more sense and is even more powerful (at least _I_ think so) in light of the 'doxology' of Romans 11. While I think that reading those 'selected' passages to my students is beneficial, maybe it conveys to them (or even perpetuates, in the minds of others) that Holy Scripture is merely a collection of pithy sayings; or worse, maybe it conveys that Scriptures contains a lot of 'nuggets' of truth buried in a lot of 'hard to understand', ancient (read: irrelevant) writing. Yikes! (Am I being a bit harsh or hard on myself? Maybe... but bear with me and keep reading.)

So what was my response to this new-found awareness? I decided to read II Timothy to my students. All of it. Not skipping any verses. Not all at once, of course. I read sections 8-10 verses long until, after about two weeks, we worked our way through the four chapters of II Timothy. Obviously this raises a couple concerns, namely-- could the students remember enough of the passages from day to day that this read-through/fly-over would have any real value? Another concern, is... why should they care? Do they? Are they listening when I read? Are they thinking about the words? About the message? I did try to 'recap' the previous day's reading to the students, so that might have helped out a bit. I guess the next step is to ask the kids what they thought-- takes a bit of courage, but it ought to be done.

All that aside... Here is how *I* benefited from reading II Timothy aloud to my students: I became (almost painfully) aware of just how *personal* this letter is. Seemingly out-of-place asides like "Bring me my cloak" toward the end of chapter 4, and especially cautions about the deviousness or hurtful behavior of certain acquaintances of Paul's, are jarring-- why do I need to know that Paul wanted his sweater? Is Paul gossiping by letting Timothy know about the 'snakes in the grass' in his town? I won't attempt to answer those questions now; it isn't the point of what I'm writing and I'm not qualified to answer that anyway. Here is my point: Do you ever set out to read through one of the Epistles and, as you go, gloss over those parts that seem like 'personal business that can't possibly be relevant to me'? I certainly have! I do it *all the time*! Especially in some of those familiar epistles, I may even skim from passage to passage and focus only on my favorite parts-- those 'pithy sayings' that the Bible is so full of. But the Bible ISN'T a collection of pithy sayings; it's every-day life, the recording of which was ordained by the Holy Spirit. It's everyday life, but it's the everyday lives of people whose lives were molded by the Gospel. The Epistles really ARE letters-- sometimes even personal letters. Why is this important? Why should I care? (Why should my students care?)  because being a Christian IS *personal*. And it is REAL. Why else would Paul ask Timothy to send him a sweater?

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11: 33-35