|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
April 29, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Last Sunday, in the adult Bible study that meets every Sunday after the 10:00 Service, we covered the
Story of Noah and his Ark. It was kind of fun to go over that, old, familiar story – surely one of the best
known in all of Scripture. You know, how the Lord got ticked off at humankind and decided to destroy
not only the whole race but every living land animal on earth with a worldwide flood – except for God’s
friend, Noah and his family; how he had Noah build a great boat – an ark – and then had him load 7 pairs
of each type of animal on earth onto the ark; and once they were loaded, how he caused the rains to
come and the torrents of earth and sky to open and pour water on the earth for 150 days! What a
This is not the sermon I intended to preach this morning – nor is it the Sermon I wanted to preach this
morning, and if that statement sounds redundant to you, it isn’t. It simply points to a fact that most
preachers learn early: that it’s not unusual to recognize that the sermon we’d like to preach is
sometimes impossible to preach for one reason or another and when that happens, we switch to an
alternate sermon, which becomes the one we intend to preach – and usually do. But sometimes that
doesn’t work out, either .
I wanted, this morning, to speak to you about our second lesson: the one from the Book of the
Revelation to John.
It’s not a book we read from in Church very often: only 11 times over the whole three year rotation of
our Lectionary, with over ½ of those coming during the 3 Easter Season rotas!
It’s a book most of us don’t often preach on, either, because it is a difficult Book, at best; a difficult
Book to explain, to understand, to grasp.
It’s a book that, some years ago, I considered my favorite in all of Scripture for a number of reasons.
The power and beauty of the writing and the imagery of the book I think is unmatched in the Bible! The
importance of that imagery in our Christian discourse is likewise unmatched, and the effect of the Book
on the development of our theology is deep and wide.
But I don’t hold it in such high esteem, any longer. I changed my mind, slowly, over the years, as I
realized how very difficult it is to understand the Book, and to keep its words and its ideas in context –
and how much damage the Book has done because of that difficulty!
I still love it, personally, but I have joined the great theologian, Origen, in wishing the Book, however
great it is, had never been written!
So rather than preach the sermon I had intended to preach, given the problems with this book, I
decided I would have to try to do some explaining about the book, instead – that is, in order to clarify
the difficulties that have made it such a problem in today’s world, I would talk about the book, itself! I
would give you some background to the book, talk about where it came from, and what the author
intended to say in his work.
But then I realized I couldn’t do that, either, because it is the very complexity of the book, itself, that
causes so much trouble – that makes it impossible to understand without really digging deeply into it,
and that makes it easily misused by people who have their own agenda in having the book say what
they’d like it to say!
Which almost brings me back to Noah and the Ark.
Noah and the Ark, actually, and a book I’ve been reading.
The book is entitled Religious Literacy*, and it’s subtitled “What every American Needs To Know – and
It’s about the change in America from a culture established and dependent upon a shared knowledge of
the Bible, and of historic Christianity, to a culture that is virtually totally ignorant of that great Book that
is the foundation of western society.
It’s about the change being spurred, contrary to what we’ve all been hearing in recent years, primarily
by the shift of emphasis among Evangelicals from Biblical knowledge to religious fervor.
And, overall, it’s about the dire lack of knowledge, amongst the majority of Christians in America, of
religious faith and faiths, in general, and about their own Christian faith, as well.
And it’s about various scientific surveys of the American Public that have shown, for instance, that:
Only ½ of adult Americans can name even One of the four Gospel writers.
Most Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible.
Only 1/3 of Americans know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (and it wasn’t Billy
Graham – one of the more popular guesses!).
A majority of Americans think the Bible specifies that Jesus was born in Jerusalem.
About 25 percent believe the Book of the Acts – where our first lesson came from, this
morning – is in the Old Testament, while 1/3 just don’t know which testament it comes
from; which leaves only about 40 percent that know it’s from the New Testament.
Most of us don’t know that Jonah is a Book of the Bible.
And – my favorite – 10% of us believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife!
I said in a sermon a couple of weeks ago that we Episcopalians are exposed to more of the Bible in the
course of our worship than those of any other Christian Church, what with four lessons read, and a
Book of Common Prayer that draws a substantial percentage of it’s text straight from Scripture. But I
honestly can’t speak to how much attention we pay to those sources, so I would be hesitant to test any
large group of Episcopalians, and compare our knowledge with that of the rest of the populace!
I share an important belief with many of my old-fashioned evangelical counterparts, in that I have always
believed the major thrust of preaching ought to be teaching: teaching about the Scripture’s, first, and
about the Faith, and then about the history and traditions of the Church. I know there are some of you
who would rather do without much of that – particularly the history part – but when I read material like
this book, and discover how really deeply runs the Biblical and religious ignorance of our citizens –
even though I Do believe we might know more a little more Bible, and understand it better – than our
modern Evangelical brethren, I know I’m right.
Many American Evangelicals, in recent decades, have traded their old and venerable devotion to the
Scriptures – a devotion that helped to keep the rest of us a little more on our toes – for a cheap
emotionalism and an emphasis on the emotional experience known as “being saved,” or “born again,”
rather than on knowing the scriptures and the faith! And their one-time wide knowledge of Scripture
has become a devotion to one-verse catch-phrases spoon-fed them by the preachers – with no depth,
no context and no real meaning!
But without their one-time prodding, it’s up to us. Somebody has to know the scriptures, and if the old-
time evangelicals aren’t going to carry the ball for us, we’ll have to do it ourselves. And then I’ll be able
to preach about things like the Book of the Revelation!
Oh, and by the way – the Book of Genesis does, of course, say that Noah took 2 of each kind of animal
on the boat with him – male and female – and that floods came for 40 days and forty nights, as you knew.
But don’t forget, as our old pal, Sportin’ Life said, “the things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, they
ain’t necessarily so,” because the Book also says he took on 7 pairs of all the clean animals in the world
– not two – and that the floods surged for 150 days, and that the floodwaters actually lasted five months!
And if you’d like to know what that’s all about, you need to read your Bible – it’s important!
In Jesus Christ’s Name! Amen.