What is your greatest possession?

Are you familiar with the story of Mary Jones? Mary was the daughter of a weaver. The family lived in Llanfihangel y Pennant near Abergynolwyn at the food of Cadir Idris at the end of the eighteenth century. She learnt to read and developed her Christian faith through what were called ‘circulating schools’ organised by Thomas Charles, a famous Methodist minister based in Bala. The nearest copy of a bible in her mother tongue of Welsh was kept at a farm house over two miles away and Mary desperately wanted her own copy. For this she saved carefully for over six years. She then set out to walk over the Berwyn mountains to Thomas Charles in Bala barefoot to obtain her copy. Can you imagine her dismay when she arrived to be told that he had none left to sell!
Thomas Charles so admired her faith and determination that he took her in until a fresh supply arrived. He then sold her three for the price of one and she returned rejoicing. It’s a heart-warming story, but it does not end there. Thomas Charles resolved to increase the supply of bibles in Welsh in Wales. Then, in partnership with a fellow minister, Joseph Hughes, he helped found the British and Foreign Bible Society known today simply as the ‘Bible Society’. If you are looking for a trip out, you can visit ‘Byd Mary Jones’ a centre in the former church at Llanycil just west of Bala which tells the story and has nice café to boot on the shores of the lake.
It’s so easy for us to take the bible for granted. It’s not like the only copy is in a farm house down the road! If we want to look up anything, we have copies in the house, in church and the library. It’s available in a multitude of English translations on the internet. There are now two further translations in Welsh besides the one by William Morgan which Mary would have bought. When something is plentiful, we can cease to appreciate its true value.
Why is the bible so valuable? Why was Mary prepared to go to such lengths to obtain her copy? Why do people risk deportation or death by distributing copies in counties where it is banned today? Why do the Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators continue to pour great resources into translating the bible into many of the 3,000 languages which currently do not have a full bible in their own language? Why is it so important that people have it in the language of their heart, even if they speak English or another world language with plenty of bible translations?
An answer can be found in the charge which Paul makes to his apprentice in the gospel; Timothy recorded in the New Testament reading today. (2Timothy 3.14-4.5)
The scriptures can make you wise for salvation. (verse15) Timothy had known the scriptures since he was a child. Perhaps he too was tempted to take them for granted? But Paul stresses that it is the words of scripture that give the wisdom, the knowledge, the how to of salvation. Do you want to be saved? Do you want to be healed and made whole from the heart problem of sin endemic in every human person? Then it is the bible, both old and new testaments which tell you how for certain. They tell us that Jesus is the name given under heaven by which one might be saved. (Acts 4.12) They tell us how to access that salvation through faith. They tell how we might live a fulfilled life now and in eternity. Haynes manuals have become vital reading for those who want to tinker with their car. Their website has a section headed ‘practical lifestyle manuals’ where you can buy their books on everything from beer to chicken keeping. However, the only real manual on the subject eternal salvation is the Bible. Surely that makes it hugely valuable.
The Scripture is ‘God breathed’. (verse 16) In the days before emails and skype, people who were separated by distance used to write letters to one another. Those of us old enough can remember how special it was to receive letter from a loved one…SWALK on the back?! (Sealed with a loving kiss). You would recognise the writing, may be there was a hint of familiar perfume about the letter. The idea that God has breathed the scripture speaks of his intimacy. It reminds us that these are the words of his love letter to the world; to you. In Christ, God offers us a close intimate relationship of love in which he loves us infinitely and we are called to love him as the first commandment. The bible is a vital part of the communication of this relationship. To help with this, some of you use notes to help you read it and benefit from it during the week. They can be easily obtained in print form from Mana Christian Bookshop in Charles street in town or on line by googling ‘Bible Society’, ‘Scripture Union’ or Bible Reading Fellowship.
Do you have a place in your house where you store odds and ends because you never know when it might come in useful? In some households, it’s called the ‘man drawer’, but I am sure it’s not just a man thing. The use for some things are not always obvious but the time comes when it’s just what you needed. It can be a bit like that with parts of the bible. Paul says here that all scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (verse 16) I am sure you have questioned the use of some of the bits of the bible when they are read in church; rules in Leviticus or battles in Kings and Chronicles. Yet, it has been my experience that the more exposed and familiar I have become with the scriptures, the more useful it is in a variety of life situations. When wrestling with the problem of pain, the book of Job is helpful and pertinent. The book of Ruth speaks about community, friendship and social justice. We need to realise that the bible should not be regarded in the same way as we might a novel to be got through or like an encyclopaedia to be dusted down and referred to occasionally. May be it is more like Bradshaw is to Michael Portillo; a travel guide acting like a companion along life’s journey constantly opening up new vistas and providing fresh understanding.
At Church Committee last week, it was decided that a DIY approach was needed to prevent the car park becoming a quagmire this winter. A truck load of stone would be ordered, and volunteers sought to move it. Everyone suggested an item of vital equipment to get the job done; wheelbarrows, shovels and one of those compacter things which goes guuuuurrrr. Christian faith is not just about being saved and nurtured. It is also about sharing with God in his mission. There is work to be done and Paul reminds Timothy and us that the bible is a vital tool for this: ‘so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work’. (verse 17)
Those of us who drive will all have had the experience of having to complete a journey in thick fog. It’s not pleasant. When we lived in mid Wales, we would often have to drive over the army firing ranges of the Eppynt. At over a thousand feet they were often shrouded in think cloud and you would inch along hoping that you would end up in the rough and encounter unexploded ordinance. Today’s world, just as in Paul’s day is filled with many distractions, much false teaching and fake news. It is easy to be drawn only to what seems attractive, to what our itching ears want to hear. (verse 3) Against this, Paul advices Timothy to preach the Word, both in season and out of season. The message is clear. God’s word offered to us in the bible acts as a marker enabling us to keep on track amidst the fog of competing messages presented by the world around us.
So, the bible tells us how to be saved, is a love letter from God, it is useful in all situations in life, provides us with tools to share in God’s work and guides us through the complexities of life. How valuable is that! A musical based around Mary Jones’ life is called ‘Greater than Gold’. May the bible be worth more to us than our most costly possession.
Last Sunday after Trinity, Bible Sunday 28.10.2018

Rev Jonathan Smith

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