We are people of the Word. Scripture shapes everything we do: from the prayers we pray, to the service we engage in, to the format of our worship. Scripture is “a witness without parallel” to the unfolding story of God. It is “sharper than any two edged sword” and “a light to our path.” Scripture is important. At times it is also confusing, filled with difficult passages, archaic practices, violence and more. The Bible has been used to justify evil acts as well as to call nations to repentance and new life. It’s amazing what approximately 800,000 words can do.
This Sunday we will give each of our third grade students a Bible. Designed for children, it includes tools and resources to help in their reading; more importantly it also includes each of the 66 Books, all 1,189 chapters, each of the 31,178 verses and yes, all 800,000 words. In it’s pages they will find the 23rd Psalm and the 77th Psalm. They will read the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 and Jesus sending the Syrophoenician woman away. In the Epistles, they will read about the early church and find the comforting words “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” as well as difficult words like “slaves obey your masters.” Are they ready for all that complexity? Will they understand everything they are reading? I don’t know; but I do know this. Scripture is one of the great gifts God has given the church. In all its complexity, it still speaks and guides. It takes time and effort to read scripture, and it is a lifelong process. We give Bibles to third graders, because we know that they have a part in that unfolding story of God’s love, justice and compassion. Scripture helps us find our place and our purpose in that story. Even if it is complex, we trust that God will be with them in their reading and guiding their understanding.
During Sunday School this year, our third graders will be reading through their entire Bible, learning how to find things, connecting stories, finding out about the context that shaped the passages they read, and discovering how to read those words for themselves. Am I worried about handing 800,000 words to a nine year old? Not at all; because we are a people of the Word and I am excited to see how that Word will live in each of them.