(Antique set of autopsy instruments courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, February 5, 2012)
Readings for Sunday, February 5, 2012:
Psalms 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
2 Timothy 2:14-21
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.
--2 Timothy 2:14-21 (NRSV)
"Special utensils" have always been one of the small joys of my life, whether they are commercially made, fashioned by my imagination, or invented by others in my life.
To understand my penchant for gizmos and special tools, you have to remember I grew up with the infamous Ron Popeil commercials blaring on the TV as a child--the Super Veg-O-Matic (It slices! It dices! It chops! It makes julienne fries!), the Cap Snaffler (Snaffles caps off any size jug, bottle or jar!), and Mr. Microphone ("Hey good lookin', I'll be back to pick you up later!"), just to name a few. (Okay, so I admit I thought Ron lost it, though, with that spray-on hair, GLH-9.)
So, as you can imagine, it wasn't that hard for me to sign on to the concept of being fashioned into a special utensil for use in the service of God.
However, as those old Ron Popeil commercials used to say, "But wait! There's more!"
As we start looking over how these special utensils are made, we are cautioned in this Epistle to "avoid wrangling over words."
Unfortunately, when it comes to our faith, it seems the words we most wrangle over are the words of the Bible. At last count, over 450 versions of the Bible translated into English are available to the modern reader. It's a safe bet that there are at least 450 theological opinions as to the meaning of any significant passage from the Bible in one version alone. We can't even agree as Christians on the meaning of words like "salvation," or "grace," let alone hot-button issues such as our understanding of sexuality in the Bible as it pertains to same-sex relationships. As Marcus Borg says in the introduction to his book, Speaking Christian, "Christian language has become a stumbling block in its time. Much of its basic vocabulary is seriously misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike."
The end result is exactly what we see in our reading--it not only does no good but it ruins those who are listening. We have an increasing number of people in this country who would rather choose no religion--the group of people that Elizabeth Dreschler describes in her book, "Tweet if you Heart Jesus" as The Religious Nones. I suspect much of it is because they are, frankly, tired of watching the faithful wrangle over words. They're tired of having so-called Christian words used as knives to stab and slash at their innermost parts. They're tired of watching us filet each other with them and shred each other apart like julienne fries flying through the blades of a Super Veg-O-Matic.
Of far more importance is how these words transform us, rather than argue with each other over their meaning. When we look inward, and really sit quietly with God on this one while reading the words in the Bible, we are very likely to be shown those places where our impious words are stumbling blocks to ourselves. If they are stumbling blocks to ourselves, they are liable to be stumbling blocks in our interactions with others. The nuances of Biblical translation pale in comparison to the positive changes others see in us when we actually live the words rather than fight with each other about them. When we allow ourselves to be transformed by the words of the Bible, more useful stories emerge--stories of how we are changed as a result of following at least a few of the words of Jesus.
Rather than feel a need to be superior and "right" about the words in the Bible, what would happen if we reflected more on their potential to change us? As the old commercials used to say, "Operators are standing by for your call."