FIRST LESSON: Psalm 85:8-13
SECOND LESSON Romans 10:5-15
SERMON: “Bible-mail Mis-scription”
My Internet/cable/phone provider does something really cool. If you leave a message on my Comcast voicemail, it attempts a written transcription of your message and sends it to me in an e-mail. It’s a great service because if someone calls meat home while I’m at work with my e-mail open, I know I have a phone message and if necessary I can respond right away. I use the word “attempts” because rarely does the transcription come through without errors. Most often it fails to get my name right: “Hey Alan, this is . . .” A friend called a while back and the service transcribed Hesperia as Asberry. A-s-b-e-r-r-y isn’t even a word. There is a name, Asbury, which is spelled A-s-b-u-r-y. A couple of weeks ago I got a message from “reese-with-at Social (?) Security ministration.” That was actually Latrese Whittaker from the Social Security Administration. My personal favorite, I will never forget happened when our beloved choir director called around Christmas time last year and sang the opening sentence of his message. I don’t remember what they did with the song, but Xfinity transcribed his next sentence as, “I sound like a holly dog.” I had to listen to find out what he actually said: “howling dog” - And no, he didn’t sound like a howling dog, but it still gives me the giggles to think of him as a “holly dog.”
There are all kinds of things this automated transcription service has difficulty understanding. An article by Bob Kaylor in this month’s Homiletics notes a similar problem with the ‘auto-correct’ feature meant to correct texting mistakes on tiny cell phone keyboards. One mother’s text, reacting to a picture of her daughter, came through as “You look affordable.” She meant “You look adorable,” but then maybe the kid shopped at a thrift store. Another mother wrote to ask her son, “Where are you?” His text came back, “I’m having a little seizure.” Mom quickly texted back, “Oh no! I’m calling 911 for you right now!” “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s -- I’m eating pizza!”
Various techy forms of communications sometimes make people say something completely different that what they mean. The same thing can happen in Christian life when we misapply, misunderstand, mistranslate, and misquote scripture.
How many times have you heard someone say, “God helps those who help themselves” ?
Sorry, this is not in the Bible, nor is it biblical. It is actually a quote by Benjamin Franklin, who is not exactly a great theologian. This quote is really quite opposite of what the Bible teaches. Take for example the following Scriptures: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6
How many times have you heard someone say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Another proverb-ish sounding verse, but not in the Bible. Strangely, it is from the mouth of John Wesley, the great 18th century evangelist. Whether he meant physical cleanliness, or heart cleanliness, we don’t know.
“To thine own self be true.” Buzzer sounds again. Not in the Word of God, but from Shakespeare’s pen in his famous play Hamlet. And again, it is not even a biblical concept. The Bible says to be true to God our Father, not ourselves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.” is not even there. While the concept may be correct, the Scriptures do not word it this way. The verse this quote is likely to be attributed to is:
“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Proverbs 13:24
“Money is the root of all evil.”
This is a misquote of I Timothy 6:10, which actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Then there are some non-biblical assumptions that get made. People say, “Eve ate the apple in the garden.”
There is no mention of a specific fruit in the story of Eve’s sin. It is simply called “fruit.”
There are several words that we use when we talk about God and Christ, words that never appear in the Bible: Trinity –– incarnation –– valid theological concepts, but not found in the text. We talk about God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the word “trinity” is not there. We talk about God coming to us at Christmas, born in the flesh, but the birth narratives don’t use the word incarnation.
The terms “altar call,” “rapture” and “slain in the Spirit” never appear in the Bible.
Apparently some Sunday school teachers need to exercise more care when teaching Bible stories to children. Some amusing misunderstandings from kids include the ideas that:
Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt during the day, but a ball of fire during the night.
Moses led the Jews to the red sea where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients.
Moses died before he ever reached Canada . Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the battle of Geritol, and . . .
Jesus was born because Mary had an immaculate contraption.
I’ve shared some humorous examples of biblical misquotes and mistranscriptions, but it’s not so funny when people take the core of Christian faith and alter it in ways that distort the gospel, add unnecessary burdens to people’s lives or cause people to turn away from Christ in disappointment and disdain. Whenever someone says, if you take such and such a position on this or that issue, you’re not really a Christian, they pour contempt on what Jesus did for us all on the cross. When someone says if you are not this denomination or that one, you’re not really a Christian, they limit the effectiveness of what God has already accomplished. When someone says if you have committed this particular sin, you are not saved, they deny that sin is sin and that Christ died once and for all. When people are led to believe that good works and following strict rules will get them into heaven, grace becomes twisted into law.
God sent the Son into the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
From today’s lesson: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
First, “Confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.” The implications of that confession would have been startling to those Roman Christians. For them to say that Jesus is Lord means that Caesar is not Lord, and to say that meant they were committing treason against the empire (which was, in fact, the charge that sent many of them to their deaths). Confessing Jesus as Lord meant then, and it means now, that we’re giving our allegiance to a new world order, with Christ as the ruler of all. To speak of Jesus as Lord is to say that we’re his subjects and that we will order our lives according to his lordship.
Second, “Believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.” Death is the curse that results from human sin. The law told us what sin was and reminded us of its consequences. Jesus, however, has reversed that curse. In Jesus, God has defeated death, and those who believe in him with their whole hearts will share in his resurrection. And because death has been ultimately defeated for us means that we can live as people who are free from fear. “Salvation” isn’t just some future hope, it’s a present reality!
Faith, in other words, isn’t a set of rules, it’s a way of life. Paul doesn’t want us to be auto-corrected; he calls us to be Christ-corrected. “No one who believes in [Jesus] will be put to shame” says Paul (v. 11). It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or a Greek, or if you’re affordable or adorable; when you are in Christ, you will always be made right!
Finally, it’s not just about getting ourselves Christ-corrected, it’s about sharing him with the rest of the world that’s been constantly getting the wrong message. “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?” says Paul, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (v. 14). Sharing and living out faith in Christ are the ways in which God uses us to bring his Christ-correcting grace into the world. It’s not about badgering people into it, but about sharing the grace and love of Christ. After all, we above all people know that we are poor auto-correctors, but we also know that, in Christ, God is making the whole world right, including us.