If you go to a synagogue, for thousands of years they have systematically read through the scriptures. Some part of the readings may form the basis of a sermon, but the readings do not have a narrow “theme” – those listening can allow God, through the scriptures, to address them individually in their own particular context and situation – which may be very different from that of their neighbour.
A significant Reformation principle was that each person had the right and obligation to listen to God through the scriptures without the need of an intermediary. That same insight has been picked up in the Roman Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council.
How much scripture was read in your church community last Sunday? Recently I reminded readers here of the early church practice to “read from the scriptures and from the writings of the apostles for as long as possible.”
Nowadays, many Christian communities, who claim to stand in the Reformation tradition of a personal relationship with God through individuals being encouraged to have an “unfiltered” access to the scriptures actually in their services only use the scriptures as chosen by the preacher. The preacher chooses what is read. And only what is preached about is read. This encourages a culture, not of individual access to the scriptures, but the scriptures are to be mediated by another, by a preacher, or authorised teacher. The scriptures are reduced to illustration points for the sermon – and often they are verses chosen jumping around the Bible, rather than reading through the scriptures as written – in context, as part of a larger work.
Those who follow the lectionary, last Sunday read 2 Kings 5:1-14 or Isaiah 66:10-14; then Psalm 30 or Psalm 66; Galatians 6:1-16; and Luke 10:1-20. About 70 verses of scripture – give or take a few possible variants. Done well, that could be a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes of listening to the scriptures as individuals in community. Yes – with some effort you could make the Isaiah text connect to the Gospel text, but generally these are different texts read for their own sake. If God does not connect with you in your particular situation in one of these, there is the hope that God will make that connection in another. If God does not connect with your community in your particular situation in one of these, there is the hope that God will make that connection in another.
How does this compare to your experience last Sunday?
From the Documents of the Second Vatican Council:
“All Scripture (both Old and New Testament) is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instruction in justice that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work.”
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Section 11 (2 Tim. 3: 16 & 17)
“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. …For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13). Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Section 21
“This sacred Synod earnestly and specifically urges all the Christian faithful… to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ. For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ…And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together.”
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Section 25