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A number of people quite rightly asked about what I said in my sermon the previous week (on Matthew 5:17-26) about how I was unhappy with the way the Old Testament Bible readings had sometimes been introduced.
Below I will reproduce what I said from my notes (for clarity’s sake and for those who missed it). But most important is to say that if you’d been at church last Sunday night, you would have heard me apologise at both 5pm and 7pm for the tone of my remarks.
In feedback, a number of people expressed encouragement for the sermon, but my own wife said to me that if she’d been the one who introduced the Bible reading the way I criticised – then even though I explained I could not remember who it was – then she would have felt crushed for ages!
And next morning at our weekly staff meeting, Liam likewise pointed out that I sounded cranky. And that was a bit ironic, since the underlying topic of the sermon included dealing properly with anger.
Both of them understood the point I was trying to make, but they easily convinced me that the way I said it was unhelpful and so I apologised for the tone of my remarks.
Further reflection leaves me certain that we should treat the Word of God with the greatest respect and never undermine it by the way we speak of its reading or contents. Of course we explain the key elements (as preachers and sermon leaders do every week). But no visitor or newcomer expects to understand every detail.
But reflection also helped me see that when I saw a problem emerging I should have spoken to whomever the person was with a gentle suggestion of another way of introducing the reading.
And clearly there was a training shortfall on my behalf, in not equipping Bible readers and Service Leaders properly.
The issue with a reading that might raise some difficulty for listeners can easily be defused. Simply add a carefully considered sentence of introduction to frame it in context, or to sensitively prepare for people for the tricky content in advance.
And if a reader is not sure what so say, then training them to consult a minister in advance as part of their preparation for reading is a simple step to take.
I hope these further clarifications are of assistance.
Warm regards, in Christ,
Here is the sermon extract again for context and clarity…
Matthew 5:17-26 (pm, 26/2/2017)
Unless you are new to St Michael’s, you’ll know that every week at church we have a second Bible reading, apart from the sermon passage, to expose you to another part of the Scriptures. Over recent months, it’s been from Exodus, beginning with the Ten Commands in chapter 20, and then taking small sections of the Law of Moses week by week: the case law. That’s the detailed application of the principles of the Ten Commands to various particular ancient situations in Israel.
As you’d also know, we invite people to give feedback on the Connection cards each week. And nothing has caused greater comment than people saying the Exodus readings from the Law of Moses seems odd, and out of context. In twelve years here, as we’ve read all manner of familiar and obscure parts of Scripture, I’ve never have had as many comments as about reading this Law of Moses. None of them have come from visitors. All have come from regular committed Christians, sometimes worried about what guests or people new to church might be thinking.
I encourage pastoral staff to always look for the grain of truth in any criticism. So once or twice you may have noticed I’ve given a word of context or explanation for these readings from Exodus. But still the feedback comes. And let me honest: I’m irritated! Now don’t worry, I haven’t kept a list of who writes what. I love those who comment, especially those who sign their name. That’s how we can improve.
So what’s the continuing relevance of the Mosaic Law? In Matthew 5:17, Jesus makes this decisive comment: Do not think I’ve come to abolish the Law! Clearly he had to say that because some thought he was messing with God’s Old Testament ways… And he said he wasn’t. Not a bit of it.
So that’s why I am irritated. It began one of the very first weeks when someone did their reading from Exodus 21 and apologised! They said, “This reading is a bit weird.” Now I’ve forgotten who said it. And it seems many agreed with you. So don’t take it personally. But I wanted to reply, “How dare you say God’s Word is weird. Don’t we believe all Scripture is inspired by God and full of authority for our lives today? That’s what Jesus believes. He’s not abolished it! If there’s something strange about it, maybe we have the problem. Maybe we are the ones who need to get our thinking straightened out. And that’s what I hope this section from the Sermon on the Mount will help us do tonight!