Bibles. It seems natural to have them in the pew. It’s a church of course. If you go to any bookstore, they have them in abundance. Go to Amazon.com – they have 28,181 results for Bible. You have bibles in different languages with different helps. You name it, I bet there is a bible that has it…
And of course, all these different bibles are there to help us engage that sacred text, to try to understand its meaning for our lives today. Its not unlike a certain traveler on a deserted road in 1st Century Palestine…
An official in the court of the Queen of the Ethiopians who felt drawn to Jerusalem to worship, studying a scroll he picked up, a passage from Isaiah. He doesn’t understand the meaning behind the text, but a young man has come up to his chariot and asks if he needs help. The young man is Philip the Deacon, commissioned to be an evangelist in Acts chapter 6. He is led by the Holy Spirit to his encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip uses the text of Isaiah, to tell the eunuch about Jesus, he relates the passage to the imagery of the suffering servant found in Isaiah to what Jesus suffered in his last days.
This encounter is all about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads the eunuch to Jerusalem to worship and to read the text from Isaiah. He is an official of the Queen so he is able to read the text in the Hebrew or a Greek translation. But, he did not understand it. His faith was new he needed help putting the pieces together. The Spirit moves Phillip to the encounter with the eunuch and to help him understand the passage.
Now the eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized. He is prepared. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He travels home, continuing to study scripture. He is ready to say yes. In the earliest days, eunuchs would have been outside the covenanted community. In the book of Deuteronomy, it strictly forbids eunuchs from being a part of the community of faith. The prophets in the OT challenge this understanding. Jesus takes it one step further, and his disciples are called to go and baptize everyone. Jesus does not place limits on who can be baptized. So Philip baptizes the eunuch. The spirit sends them on their way, the eunuch goes home rejoicing and Philip goes on his way to continue proclaiming the Good News.
It does help to study scripture with someone else! But if we were in Church in the year 1524, there would be no bibles in the pews, we wouldn’t have one at home either. But one person was on a quest to change that… He fled England because he feared for his life. He was called a Heretic because he wanted to translate the Holy Scriptures into the common tongue: English. Only the Latin Vulgate was used. Luther had translated the NT into German. He wanted to translate the NT from the Greek into English.
His name was William Tyndale, and he completed the NT in English in 1526. When the work arrived in England, it was seen as subversive by those in power in England. The work was condemned. Undaunted Tyndale continued to translate other portions of the Bible into English. He wrote many other theological works. In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, arrested and charged with Heresy. On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was strangled then burnt at the stake. October 6 has become the feast day when we remember William Tyndale.
The life that William Tyndale lived, was not in vain. Much of his work on the NT became the working text and groundwork for the bible translated into English under the reign of King James I, known as the Authorized Version of the bible or what we call the KJV. It is amazing to me the battles fought over translating the Bible. Tyndale's whole premise was that lay people as well as the clergy should have access to Holy Scripture. His battle with the religious authorities was over who controlled Scripture. He believed that lay people could be as wise as their spiritual leaders and that lay people could learn, interpret, and understand the Scriptures if they were before them in the common tongue.
Now, God has given the bible into our hands. Inspired by the Spirit, Tyndale helped translate it into English. It is there for us to encounter it today. We can be like the Ethiopian eunuch, open the Scriptures and see what they say. It can transform us, like it did for him. And like Philip, we can learn together what it means. There in the midst of inquiry and faith is the Spirit abiding in us. In many ways, we are like the eunuch and like Phillip.
We are like the eunuch because we have the honest inquiring mind that wants to learn about our faith, to deepen it. To engage in worship of God with others that does not say we have to check our minds at the door. We might even feel at times like we are outside the beloved community (like eunuch's and gentiles did), but Jesus invites us all in, the Spirit pushes us to be the Body of Christ now. No members of the body are unimportant, no members of the body are worth less than others. Bring in the doubts and questions and let us learn together. And we are also like Phillip because we want to be a faithful messenger of God. To share our story with others, to tell how Jesus is in our life. To say what we hear in Scripture and to help others understand it too.
The Holy Spirit is with us in all of this: in honest inquiry and as faithful messengers. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we are the branches and he the vine, and the Spirit of God is helping us on the vine to keep the commandments of God, to love and cherish our God and our neighbors. It is the Spirit that compels us to worship and it is the Spirit that is with us in our questions of faith. Just like the Spirit was with the Ethiopian Eunuch. The Spirit is with us to share our story too, like Phillip the Deacon. The Holy Spirit was with William Tyndale and others who began the process of helping us to reincorporate the Holy Scriptures into our lives. To be able to sit down and read the bible in our own language.
Tyndale's last words were "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." In 1537, less than a year after Tyndale was put to death, Mathew's Bible appeared in England, with the King's authorization. Much of that Bible was Tyndale's translation. Indeed, the eyes of King Henry VIII were open and the move to restore all of the language of the Church to English had begun in England.
May the Lord open our eyes today, to see God's work in Scripture, in our lives and in the world around us. Amen.