I wrote last time about why I generally prefer not to launch the message with the reading. This is my response to what may be the response of others to that post (ie. I am writing this one at the same time!)
Someone may respond: “But the reason I read the text first is to honour the text and put it in the place of authority, rather than making it my servant for my message.”
Honouring the text and letting the text be the authority. Absolutely great goals that I affirm wholeheartedly. There are a couple of issues with this logic though.
First, this doesn’t overcome or negate the issues raised last time. That is, people may not be focussed, or aware of the relevance of the reading, etc. Just because you put it first, doesn’t mean your reasons for doing so will be achieved. If I have something really important to say to someone, I don’t launch by saying it. I get their attention first. I highlight the importance and relevance of what I’m about to tell them. I don’t want them to miss it. I’m honouring the message I have and underlining its authority by not placing it dead first.
Second, there are multiple means by which we honour the text and its authority, or fail to do so. Placing it first is just one element of the entire mix. I’ve heard many sermons where the text is read first and then dishonoured by being left behind as the preacher goes on to preach his own ideas, or dishonoured by being handled superficially, or dishonoured by being mishandled. I’ve blogged before about people preaching “my message on this text” rather than “the message of this text.” How you handle the text for the entirety of the message is the measure of whether you honour the text, preach the text and appropriately respect the authority of God’s revealed Word. Where you place the reading is no guarantee that your goal of honouring the text will be successful.
Many of us feel constrained by all sorts of “unwritten rules” that guide us in our preaching. Many of these unwritten rules could also be unlearned for the sake of better biblical preaching.