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Brown Bread and the Gospel

For both individuals and their churches, and like the rudder on a ship, the Bible sets the direction of the earthly sojourn. As the German theologian Karl Barth said of preachers, so might we say of all us, keep a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other and we’ll figure out quickly enough what to do. Or as those remarkable Puritans put it, “brown bread and the gospel is good fare.”

Phillips Brooks, the 19th century Episcopalian bishop and author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” once compared the Bible to a telescope:

The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, then he sees worlds beyond, but if he looks at his telescope, then he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through, to see that which is beyond; but most people only look at it; and so they see only the dead letter.

Many of us would like to look through our Bibles but find the “lens” too clouded to see those “world’s beyond.” Admittedly, the Bible can be a tad perplexing and not just a little confusing and even troubling, but we don’t have to understand the whole universe to enjoy a telescope, and so with the Bible: the fact is that the Bible is quite clear on any number of topics and themes.

Among them on my list:

  • The most revolutionary document ever to surface in human history—Exodus 20.1-17
  • The utter simplicity of the faith venture—Luke 10.25-28
  • The heart of the matter—1 Corinthians 13
  • The requirements—Micah 6.8
  • That somebody (Somebody) is serious—Matthew 25.31-46
  • That Paul is my brother—Romans 7.21-25
  • That hope has the last word—Romans 8
  • That hope has a name—John 1.1-14; Matthew 1.18-24; Luke 2.11
  • That whatever we think of him, there is more to him than we think—Colossians 1.15-23
  • That the Bible does not grant us the luxury of boredom—Philippians 4.8-9
  • That there are “worlds beyond”—1 Corinthians 15
  • That in the meantime, it does matter—Isaiah 6.8; Romans 12.1-3

Setting the course, correcting a course, pausing to figure out if a course even exists, much less matters, we have a primary text, something of a “telescope,” the Bible, but only if we use it. Good fare, indeed.