I've only preached twice in my life. Actually, only once, since the second sermon I prepared ended up being delivered by my husband, the pastor, while I stayed home with our two-year-old, who unexpectedly got sick that Sunday morning.
Sermon #3 is coming up this Father's Day, and I'm facing an interesting dilemma that I'm sure more seasoned preachers deal with frequently.
When the scripture passage on which you are preaching includes something attention-grabbing that is tangential to your sermon's focus, do you leave it out of the reading?
I don't know about you, but if I read in the bulletin that today's scripture is Ephesians 7:1-5, 11-15, you can bet I'll actually open up that pew Bible and check out verses 6-10. There's probably some crazy stuff in those verses! But if the sermon is focused on the specific points in verses 12 and 13, the pastor may not want the crazy stuff in verses 6-10 read aloud because then that's all the people will be thinking about, distracting them from the actual point of the sermon. (Yes, I know there's no Ephesians 7—I just didn't want to distract you from the actual point of this blog post :)
Do you consider it dishonest in a way, or disrespectful of the scripture, to leave something out? Or is it just good sense to avoid distracting your listeners to the point they will not hear your message?
To give an actual example, in this Father's Day sermon I am preparing, my New Testament text is the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30. My point pertains to investing in our children rather than hiding that treasure in the ground (metaphorically speaking, of course). But after the master's admonition, "you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest," the passage closes with this:
28Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. 29Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. 30Now take the worthless servant and throw him outside into the darkness.’
These concluding verses are frightening and confusing in light of Jesus' introduction that "the kingdom of God is like" this. They surely have some value and purpose in the parable, but I am not prepared to speak to that, nor would it be beneficial in applying the parable to parenting as I am, unless I am willing to preach that those who do not invest in their children will lose them to parents who do. (That is possibly true, if the Department of Children's Services is involved, but I don't believe that would be an edifying point to make in a Father's Day sermon.) So I doubt I will touch on those verses in the sermon.
But if those last three verses are included in the scripture reading that precedes the sermon and I don't mention it, people may spend the sermon awaiting clarification on such a disturbing passage.
What would you do?
Cut the passage short so listeners without an open Bible won't be the wiser? Include it and hope a fly or ringing cell phone distracts them from the potentially-distracting verses? Include it and threaten that DCS will take their children away? Or stick to the lectionary in its entirity and avoid the whole issue?