What do you imagine the biblical story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) to really be about? Sibling rivalry? The meaning is much deeper than that. Or what about Balaam’s Talking Donkey in the book of Numbers chapter 10 (yes…that is actually in the Bible!), Gideon and His Fleece(Judges 6), Jesus’ Cursing of the Fig Tree (Matthew 21), or the Rich Fool (Luke 12)? Ever heard of any of these fascinating sagas, all of which can be found right there in the biblical literature?
The point that I am trying to make is that a surprising number of Bible stories are commonly misinterpreted, even by well-intentioned readers. Far too often we merely scratch the surface of the biblical epic, make a quick life application, and breeze right by the chronicler’s actual reason for writing the story in the first place, how the cultural context conditions the meaning, and how the ancient Jewish people would have actually heard or translated it.
Beginning Sunday, August 12, I am launching a new sermon series titled, “Did You Get My Text? Decoding the Most Misunderstood Stories in the Bible.” Over the course of eight Sundays we will sort through modern-day distortions of these scriptural stories in an attempt to grasp their true meaning and purpose. My hope is that we will see, with free eyes, the life-changing truths contained in them.
Jurgen Moltmann is one of the most engaging theologians of our time. Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926. His German upbringing was thoroughly secular. At sixteen, he idolized Albert Einstein, and anticipated studying mathematics at university. He took his entrance exam to proceed with his education, but went to war instead. He was drafted into military service in 1944 and became a soldier in the German army, though he never identified with the Nazis. Ordered to the front lines, he surrendered in 1945 to the first British soldier he met. For the next few years (1945-1948), he was confined as a prisoner of war and moved from camp to camp, first in Belgium, then Scotland, and finally England.
Moltmann lost all hope and confidence in the German culture when he found out about the true horrors of the death camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. His remorse was so great, he often felt he would have rather died along with many of his comrades than live to face what his country and people had done. At this point Moltmann was utterly disillusioned.
And then, one day, a well-meaning American chaplain came by, handing out English-language New Testaments to these German POWs. Imagine that! German soldiers receiving English-language Bibles. Talk about a gracious, but hopeless gesture.
Fortunately, Jurgen knew just enough English to make some sense out of one of these New Testaments. There in the prison camp, under the influence of this English-language New Testament, Moltmann became a disciple of Jesus Christ. He would later sum it up like this, “I didn’t find Christ, he found me.”
After his release in 1948, Moltmann abandoned his field of physics and went on to study theology. Now he is a theologian whose works are read all over the world. He is best known for his ground-breaking book, The Theology of Hope. To this day, Jurgen Moltmann (who is now 92) carries that same New Testament with him as a reminder of how God continues to speak to us through the pages of scripture.
Does this make sense to you? The Bible not only provides us with a structure for our lives, but when we wrestle with it prayerfully, critically, intellectually, and in an honest way the Bible actually shapes our lives, if we will let it.
I sincerely hope you will join me on August 12 for this excursion into the strange but rewarding world of the Bible!
I wanted to also let you know that I have a “preaching surprise” for you the first Sunday of August and I will reveal that this Sunday as I share the concluding message in my current sermon series “Hymns My Mama Taught Me.” I have invited my parents and other family members to join me for an exciting and once-in-a-lifetime day of worship together!
Tonight as 6:30 p.m. in our Christian Life Center gym, I will host the third session of the Summer Institute of Religious Studies as we continue our investigation of alternative religious sects like the Mormons and Christian Scientists. This evening we will explore the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who they are and what they believe. Nursery and childcare are available. Come. There’s a seat for you!
Looking forward to seeing you soon!
P.S. Don’t forget about our Holy Land Q&A Session this Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. in Room 144. If you’re one of the 30+ travelers who are attending the trip or if you’re still thinking about joining, us, Pam Holton (our trip representative) and I will answer any questions you have about where we’re going, what you need to take, and what you can expect when we travel abroad. If you can’t make it this week, we’ll have a second session on Sunday, September 16. You can also find all the information we plan to present at asburyonline.org/holyland.