Bible as Radical Text

2 Kings 22

Radical Spirituality sermon Series

Jason Storbakken

We all have bibles – books that shape us, stories that give meaning to our lives.

Many bibles.

I have carried many bibles with me throughout my life: the canon of Beat literature; the ecstatic poems of Sufi and Bhakti saints; the Bhagavad Gita and Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita; and the poetry of William Blake.

But the first work that held me was Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

I discovered it as a sophomore in high school. And I always carried it with me, in hand or in my back pocket. I loved poetry from an early age, and in this work I discovered the greatest American poet.

I studied Walt Whitman’s word choices, the cadence and rhythm of the sounds he created, I memorized stanzas and recited them almost as prayers. And at the age of 17 when I left home to travel out West, I awoke every morning and proclaimed to all creation (but mostly to myself) the first stanza of Song of the Open Road.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.”

Whitman’s poetry and life shaped, not only my poetry, but much of my world view as a young person.

The Holy Bible

But what about the actual Bible? Most of us are here because it has impacted us in a significant way.

But, if you’re like me, you might have a complicated relationship with the Bible.

In all honesty, as I was preparing for this sermon, I felt all sorts of things come up from my past. Throughout my life, I heard many people who I love say things such as, “You need to go to a Bible church.” Or they used the term biblical in a way that somehow didn’t always seem biblical, but instead seemed to reinforce a very specific worldview.

Throughout history people have used the Bible to support all sorts of craziness. The most glaring example is the institution of slavery. The truth is there are a lot of verses in the Bible that support slavery, and genocide, colonization, and more.

Today, many Christians, especially those whose religious forebears once used the Bible to support slavery, are now using the Bible to support the marginalization of the LGBTQ community. And they do this supposedly on biblical grounds. But if you ask these same people if they believe that slavery should exist, most of them would say no – even though it is supposedly biblical (and, strangely enough, there are more verses directly supporting slavery than there are verses that seem to condemn homosexuality).

So, what is biblical? And who gets the right to interpret the Scriptures?

But first, a story…

One of our scripture readings was from 2 Kings 22 – the story of the re-discovery of the Torah!

The Kingdom of Judah was recovery from Assyrian captivity as well as a succession of horrible kings. Things were so bad that they forgot they even had a Bible – the Torah.

King Josiah was trying to be faithful and true. His dad, who was one of those horrible kings, died when Josiah was very young. He was made king at the tender age of 8. Those around him influenced him in right ways.

As Josiah matured, he set to restoring the temple. During the restoration, the workers discovered the Torah! They gave it to the high priest Hilkiah who told the king’s secretary, Shaphan, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD.”

The king’s secretary presents him with the book. The king, who, upon hearing a passage read aloud, tears his clothes as an act of repentance. The king then calls his wise advisors, the religious and political elites – Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam, Achbor, and Asaiah.

He asks them to go to God that the good LORD might reveal the meaning of these words. The words are strong – they deal with wrath and judgment. And it appears that these men – these powerful elites – don’t want to go to God or attempt to interpret the meaning of these words, so they go to the prophetess Huldah, keeper of the wardrobe, and they consult her.

Although she is not in the king’s inner circle of power, she is close to God’s heart. She speaks truth to these men, and does not hold back. She prophesies, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Tell the man who sent you to me, Thus says the LORD…” And then she goes in…

You see, the Torah (the Bible) was just a book to these men. They knew it was special, but they didn’t have the Spirit or the power to understand it.

Jesus

Just like when Jesus told the scribes, Haven’t you read, haven’t you read? These religious professionals were trained, educated, and socially elevated, but they had no access to the power of God – they relied on the power of men. The scribes in Jesus’ day copied the Bible over and over. They memorized whole portions of the Bible, but they lacked understanding.

So, where does this power to understand come from? This power that both Jesus and Huldah clearly had access to.

It appears that this power does not come from the status quo. This power is not a respecter of persons or status. It doesn’t come from Franklin Graham and Donald Trump. It doesn’t come from Cornel West and Barack Obama.

This power comes from the margins, the in-between places, that are often ignored or forgotten. It comes from the upside down places and the people who dwell there. It doesn’t come from thinking we have all the answers.

This power comes while taking a humble posture. It comes while spending time with God who is LOVE and who shows us how to love and how to speak hard truths when necessary because that is also love.

The Bible contains historical narratives, poetry, prophecies, letters, sagas, and more, but all of these stories, for us, point to Jesus, the agape incarnate – the highest Love!

This is the point of the Bible! The word (little “w”) of God points us to the Word (big “W”) of God. John, in his Gospel, tells us that Jesus is the Word (the Logos) incarnate.

And this Word is Love.

Much of the Bible was written under the yoke of oppression. Many of the prophetic books were written under the threat of military aggression from a foreign power (such as Assyria and Babylon), and other texts were written in exile, when the Jewish people were trying to reimagine their communal identity.

The Christian scriptures were written under Roman occupation and regularly uses the language of resistance and revolution, particularly in Jesus’ announcement of the coming Kingdom.

When we know whose side God is on, we know who the Bible is written for. The Scriptures were written by oppressed people for oppressed people.

This gives us insight into the character of God. Jesus’ choice to side with the poor, criminal, blind, and oppressed show who it is that God chooses to speak to and through.

Approaching the Word

It is important to approach the Word with reverence for God, trusting that those who wrote the Scriptures had encountered God and that the same Spirit that spoke to its writers may also speak to its readers.

May we humbly approach the Bible with openness and an acceptance that we likely have more questions than answers and that God does still speak to and through those who call upon the name of the Holy One.

May God’s Word continue to liberate the oppressed and bind up the brokenhearted. May God’s word continue to nourish our souls and awaken us to the beautiful mysteries of God.