Preaching “right” from the Bible

IMG_0024When I arrived as Rainbow’s new pastor two years ago I was gifted with colorful slips of paper which had people’s worries, prayers, and hopes written on them. I reviewed these slips of paper recently and smiled when I read the following hope: “That our new pastor will preach right from the Bible.” A part of me was relieved that this wasn’t listed as a worry, and then another part of me wondered what this person meant by “right.” Right as in direct or right as in correct? Maybe both?

I’ve been trained in the school of thought that all we do in worship pivots around scripture. The songs we sing, the prayers we offer, the sermons all connect back to the selected scripture. Scripture, I’ve been taught, is the anchor that connects us to the past as well as to our fellow Christians around the world. And yet Christians will forever disagree on whether or not this anchor is movable,  adjustable, or fixed for all time. What we understand about ourselves, about the world, about science is always changing. Life experiences move us every which way. Is there, many of us wonder, a way to probe scripture, remain curious toward what is contained in and what inspired scripture without worshiping scripture or idolizing the Bible? Is there a way to pivot around scripture in a way that still allows us to question, critique, and challenge?

This coming Sunday we will take a look at what the Bible says about the Bible. For example, read Psalm 119, Nehemiah 8:1-12, and Luke 4:14-21. (Stars in your crown for anyone who can properly pronounce all the names in the Nehemiah reading.) We will think together about the way scripture may or may not anchor our worship and our lives. My working title is, “Stories that anchor us, experiences that move us.”

As further preparation, I invite everyone to read and reflect on the following questions written by Mary E. Klassen, sister to Rainbow member Carmen Shelly and director of communications at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). I first met Mary when I was a student at AMBS. Already then I admired the way she encouraged worship leaders, congregational members, and pastors to care for the oral presentation of scripture. In her article “Making the music of scripture,” Mary asks:

  • How often in our worship is scripture viewed as not much more than a routine segment of the service? Is it only a prelude to the sermon?
  • How often is scripture read without expression and seemingly without preparation? Do we view the oral reading of scripture on Sunday mornings as something anyone can do because we all can read? We want to include children and adults with varying skills and backgrounds in our worship services, so do we view scripture reading as an opportunity to be inclusive at the expense of being effective?
  • When you listen or read scripture ask yourself: Is it poetry, law, story, wisdom? How does the passage contribute to the whole of God’s message to us in scripture? In what ways can this particular text make a connection between the story of God long ago and us now?
  • Consider the contexts of the reading. Within the text itself, what comes immediately before and after the passage? Within the worship service, is it a call to worship, is it for meditation and prayer, does it lay the foundation for the sermon?

Mary’s full article can be found in Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology: Vol. 6 No. 1, Spring 2005. Published by the Institute of Mennonite Studies at AMBS and Canadian Mennonite University.

Finally, in case you missed the last two worship services, or in case you want to review these sermons for further review and reflection, here you go:

August 16: The warship that is worship

August 23: Singing for our lives


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