I believe it is important as we approach a sermon that we understand that the Word upon which that sermon is based is God’s Word to us. When Jesus spoke, he wasn’t offering commentary like one of the scribes; his message carries the authority of heaven. His words will judge us in the last day (John 12:47).
To stress the origin and significance of a section, Paul would sometimes write, “I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3). The Corinthians failed to recognize a message of authority when they heard it; we do that too, sometimes. While what I say in commentary on a passage is just commentary, the scripture we read is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
I talk to people all the time about scripture and their approach to it. Many in our community and in our church understand the concept of inspiration and believe the Bible is from God; yet a great number of us don’t respond to the Bible as if it is the message to which we are accountable. Lots of people say the Bible is God’s word and then live like it’s not. Plenty of people will walk out of the auditorium, say something about the truth of the message I have preached, and leave without a bit of change. Including me. That’s why I have begun to engage God’s assembly in sermon time with the recitation of “This is God’s Word to Me.”
Recitations are nothing new to God’s people. Worship in the Old and New Testament era has encourage congregational engagement through antiphony (responsive alteration between two groups – often as part of song) and litany (recitations). Psalm 136 has been used for centuries as a leader among God’s people would read the first line of each verse, and the entire congregation would chant “for his love endures forever.” It is an engaging and powerful reminder of how God’s love is evident in creation and his daily care for his people. Do you think that our generation needs some reminders about how the food every creature receives is evidence of God’s enduring love? Seems to me, we take that for granted.
This kind of recitation is not a violation of passages about worship like 1 Corinthians 14:34 or 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Singing is a congregational activity in which everyone, male and female, participates – even when the song is a prayer put to music (i.e. “Father, Hear the Prayer we Offer”). Recitation of a Psalm or a common pledge is in the same category.
Reciting “This Is God’s Word to Me” is certainly not intended to make anyone uncomfortable, unless the discomfort is because of inattention to God’s authoritative word. Certainly, no one is required to participate in the recital. The intent is to raise awareness that the Bible we are studying reveals the authority of Jesus; and our approach to it must involve our love for the hope it makes known and our determination to be transformed! That’s Life at Work!