I'd like to encourage people to read their Bibles more often. I'd like to promote Bible reading, so that people become really immersed in the Word, and in the stories of the Bible, and in the poetry of the Bible. But when I try to get something like that in a sermon, telling people to read their Bibles comes off like telling them to go to the Dentist twice a year, or eat their vegetables, instead of like telling them to go out and have a steak dinner and a glass of wine and a big fat piece of cheesecake.
So, I back off from telling people to read their Bibles more often in sermons. It just doesn't seem to work. But I still would like to promote a way, or ways of talking about Bible reading, promoting Bible reading, loving the Word, following the Word. I'm going to be working on that, I think, for awhile.
One thing is to acknowledge that reading the Bible has its pitfalls. It's not a piece of cake. It's a big book, with small print and a lot of possible entry points, some of them fraught with difficulty. There are some parts that are hard to understand, and a few parts that nobody understands, and any numbers of parts that are crystal clear, but might possibly make us angry. One can understand why certain segments of the church thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie.
But still, it's our book, it's our story, and not just the theologian's and the pastor's. The Word let loose in our lives can cause all kinds of trouble, but I suspect that it's the kind of trouble we might need. Take, for example, just one small but well known example: "Love your enemies." Try living with those three words for a week, or a month or a year.
Programs that help you read through the Bible in a year have their place, I suppose, but I wonder if they don't give the false impression that what's most important about the Bible is that we know what's in it. We read the Bible as if we were reading the dictionary, looking for facts and definitions, rather than looking for clues to the mystery of the One who loves us.
I know there are some books that deal with this; I have Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, and I'm reading it now. I also know that I don't know much about a really important tradition called Lectio Divina. I'm considering doing a retreat this fall.
In the meantime, I'm pondering.... what can make the Bible a book not just lovely to look at and soft to the touch, but one that we actually open, despite the risks?