WORDS, AND THEIR MEANING.

Once, at Ealing, in West London, a man came up to me, and asked: ‘In order for Hanger Lane?’ He knew exactly what he meant. Because he asked the question in English, he expected me to know what he meant – but, for a brief while, I didn’t.  He was Swedish, and had a powerful accent: but I was able to discover that he wanted to find a road called ‘Hangar Lane’. 
 
The original writers of the Bible knew just what they meant, when they wrote what they did, in Hebrew, Aramaic and New Testament Greek. 
 
Translators have done the hard work for us: rendered the scriptures into English; and produced updated versions; but we still need help.
 
Theologically, it can be asked: ‘Did the contiguity of God’s shekinah, and Christ’s kenosis; at the river Jordan; produce incongruity?’
 
Put in simpler terms; that explain things; the question begins to make sense.
 
‘Was the closeness of the presence of God: right there, alongside the humanity of Christ (at his Jordan baptism) was it at all out of keeping?’ The answer is ‘No!’ and; digging a bit deeper into the meaning of it; we see that God’s enabling closeness to Jesus, then, is the root of our faith, now.
 
Books trying to explain things to us (‘Commentaries’ and Bible-study notes) often use religious technical words that, themselves, need explanation: as does the Bible itself; our hymns, and the service book that we use.
 
Towards Understanding Christian Meanings.
As a child; and reading a comic; I came across a story about a boy who had broken a ‘priceless’ vase; and was in a lot of trouble. I wondered what all the fuss was about. If it was without price; then, surely, it was without worth. For some years, I believed that ‘priceless’ meant ‘worthless’. Then, one day, there came the dawn of understanding.
 
With regard to biblical teaching: it is all too easy to get so used to a particular idea of it; or even to having no particular idea at all; that the ‘dawn of understanding’ never comes.
 
Foreign students, struggling to learn English; can feel like giving up at certain points; one of which is o..u..g..h.  The letters are pronounced differently; in dough, enough, cough, through, bough and bought.
 
Many church attending people; struggling a bit, with the complexities of meaning; in both the Bible, and the Christian faith; also sometimes feel like giving up, and, sadly, often do.
I believe that it is well said; that the numerical decline of the Church, in Western Europe; is rooted, not so much in lack of spiritual interest, but in boredom; itself rooted in a lack of understanding, that is left uncorrected.
 
Some while ago, there was a series of television advertisements, which asked something like: ‘Can you help me to get my car mended?’ to which the answer was: ‘No, but I know a man who can’, and that man was an A.A. mechanic.
 
Two strange things are found at the heart of many, many churches.
 
The first is this. When Christians are ill; and can’t help themselves to get better: they ‘know a man (or woman) who can’ and go to see their doctor.
 
When he or she writes a prescription; and says: ‘This will put you right within a week or so’, they are hardly likely to say: ‘That’s just your opinion’, and never bother to get the prescription filled, and take the medicine.
 
When Christians need legal advice, and cannot, themselves, get certain things done: they know ‘a man (or woman) who can’ and consult a solicitor.
 
When he or she says: ‘Sign here, and here; and the matter is settled’, they are hardly likely to ignore the request, and struggle on, without the matter in question being properly dealt with, and resolved.
 
However, it is the experience of the Church; that many people who want to make more sense of the Christian faith, and what it stands for; but can’t manage to do so, on their own: are remarkably reluctant to turn inward, to the Church’s own resources; and, instead, continue to struggle along, as always, on their own.
 
Very often, the minister (the man or woman ‘who can’) is just about the last person to be turned to, in matters of theology, doctrine and spirituality; although readily turned to, for various other reasons.
 
There is a historical precedent for this, in the earthly ministries of Christ.
 
Throughout the gospels; many of the people who approached Jesus for help; or rejected his approach to them; did so for social and humanitarian reasons.
 
‘My servant is sick: will you heal him?’ asked a Roman centurion.  ‘Make me well; make me socially acceptable once more’ begged a leper.  ‘Should I believe in a man who comes from that one-horse town of Nazareth?’ asked Nathaniel, who, very soon, perhaps to his surprise, became a believer. 
 
‘Teacher, tell my brother that he has got to share the family inheritance with me’, shouted someone from a crowd around Jesus.  The Pharisees, who were something of self-appointed religious leaders, asked Jesus: ‘Why don’t you and your disciples do things in the ways that we approve of?’
 
People who are mentioned in the New Testament, and who approached Jesus for purely religious and spiritual reasons: are noticeably few. And so it is with today’s Church.
 
Any group, congregation or church family that wants to make real progress, must first be equipped for the spiritual journey. Such a group, congregation or church family, must enter into a teaching and learning mode: to discover something of itself and its calling; …where it is at; and why; …where it could be heading, and how; …or it will never fulfil its own hopes, let alone the hopes that God has of it.
 
The other strange thing, that is found within the Christian life; is that church members are far more likely to spend time, energy and money on something entirely secular, than they are on religious and spiritual matters.
 
Many people learn elementary Spanish; buy new clothes; run up large credit card bills; and buy expensive insurance; ready for a Spanish holiday.
 
It is not very likely that they will take similar trouble, in learning ‘the language of heaven’: in clothing themselves with righteousness: and availing themselves of the entirely free assurance that is given in Christ.
 
Words have inherent meaning; that we might not be quite sure about, until we enquire, and make our own discoveries. Such new discoveries might be just the thing to give greater direction, purpose and fulfilment to our lives.
 
According to Jesus, words also have an inherent power: a power that we might be totally unaware of, and remain unaware of, if we never search.
 
He said: ‘I tell you, on the day of judgement, men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned’. (Matthew 12: 36-37).  
 
Words, of course, are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ in themselves. But they are an index of the heart.
 
The kind of words that we use; the intended meaning we give to them; and the attitude of heart and mind, as we speak; make them either ‘good’ or bad’.
 
What we say; and what we do, in the light of what we say; is a powerful indication of who we really are: and who we really are, either puts us in a position of spiritual danger; or of spiritual safety, with the Lord.
 
Do we know who we really are? If we believe that we do; against what did we measure ourselves?  Was it the ‘yardstick’ of biblical meaning; the only one that Christ recognizes: the only one that St. Paul powerfully advocated?
 
St. Paul wrote, to Timothy: ‘All scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’.
 
‘God-breathed’ sounds a strange expression to our modern ears; but it makes a great deal of sense, in terms of biblical meaning.
 
Fearing misunderstanding, earlier translators wrote: ‘All scripture is God inspired’:  but our N.I.V. translation gets back to the original meaning.
 
‘Inspire’ has three aspects of meaning: breath, life and spirit.
 
The O.T. says that God ‘breathed’ life and spirit into Adam (Gen.2:7).  The N.T. says that Christ, after his Resurrection, but before his Ascension, ‘breathed’ the Holy Spirit into his remaining eleven close followers.
 
St. Paul; specially chosen by Jesus, to teach people how things should be done; used exactly that image when he wrote: ‘All scripture is God-breathed’.
 
God ‘breathed’ directly, upon Adam. Christ ‘breathed’ directly upon the eleven. The beginnings of our receiving: of life and spirit: are indirect, but every bit as effectual, through the Bible.
 
Through the gift of God; in the person of Christ; and enabled by the Holy Spirit: we are people of enormous potential for good.
 
Whether or not our potential is realized, and fulfilled: depends entirely upon whether or not we desire, and allow, Christ to ‘breathe’ on us.        Amen!