If you’ve read posts on this site I hope you’ve noticed that I am committed to the Bible. I want preaching to be biblical. However, to be honest, I generally avoid starting a sermon with a Bible reading. For many, this is the way to start a sermon. After all, you are supposed to read the text and then preach your sermon on it, right?
Here are some reasons why I might not make the reading the very first element in the sermon:
1. It is too good to waste on the distracted. There are a couple of levels of distraction to be overcome. The first is the immediate circumstantial distractions. I don’t want people missing the Bible because they are trying to get comfortable after standing to sing, trying to find a pen that works, negotiating seat space with the extra guest that just arrived, etc. The second level of distraction is the larger life issues. I think we are naive if we think listeners are as motivated for the next chapter of 2Kings as we are. We have been studying it all week and loving what we’ve discovered. They have come to church with unresolved tension from the morning’s hectic preparations, with concern over a medical symptom they haven’t told anyone about yet, with financial burdens mounting, with a sinister request to see their boss looming for the next morning, etc. So if we stand up and begin with, “Turn with me to 2Kings 14…” they may not tune in again. Better to motivate people for what they are going to hear before reading it.
2. I want listeners tuned in to what they will hear. We live in a text for considerable time before preaching it (I hope), but listeners are coming in cold. Like stepping out of an airport into a foreign city, it can take a while to get oriented. To launch instantly into a reading can result in a coherent message being read, but only random Bible words being heard. Better to orient people to what they are going to hear before reading it.
3. I may not want to give away the tension. In some cases, especially narrative, but not exclusively narrative, I may not want them to hear the whole thing yet. Perhaps the text raises a question and answers it. It may well work better for me to develop and clarify the question before reading the answer. There’s a danger of sounding like that person you know who refers to the punchline and then tells the joke. Better to expose people to the text at the right time in the development of the message.
4. It can be a great way to lose people. Just reiterating the first couple of points again. An opening reading can confirm the subconscious fear of listeners that this will be half an hour of irrelevance. Convince them that you, your message and this text is relevant to them. Better to have listeners really hear the text when you read it.