Over the years of my life as an Anglican, readers of the Scriptures in public worship have been instructed to conclude their reading in one of three ways.

1. Throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood the lessons were always concluded by the reader saying,

Here ends (or endeth) the lesson.

2. In my early twenties this changed to:

This is the word of the Lord.

3. Now, in public worship in Anglican circles it is common to hear the lesson concluded with the words,

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

The first of these statements strikes me as the least helpful. Surely, we do not want to convey to our congregations that the end of the public reading of Scripture concludes the lessons the sacred text has for us. Probably we should say at the end of the public reading of Scripture, “Here begins the lesson.” It is as we go out into the world and live in the light of the sacred texts we have heard in worship that the real learning takes place.

The third option affirms an important truth. We gather for worship in order that we might hear what the “Spirit is saying to the church.” But surely we also want to hear what the Spirit is saying to each of us in our individual lives, to our families, our communities, indeed to the world as a whole. Why stop with hearing “what the Spirit is saying to the church”?

I wonder what lies behind the move to give up ending our Scripture readings with the confident announcement that “This is the word of the Lord.” Are we squeamish that somehow bits of the reading might not be the word of the Lord? Are we hedging our bets to make sure that, if we find parts of the text being read uncomfortable or difficult, we need not view those particular offensive or difficult parts as the “word of the Lord”?

Certainly, no one should suggest that the words of sacred text we read in our worship are the only words “of the Lord.” Hopefully, the preaching will be the “word of the Lord.” The sacrament of the Eucharist is certainly the “word of the Lord”, as are the prayers, the music, and the passing of the peace. The conversation at coffee time can be the “word of the Lord,” as can the mountains, the trees, the flowers in the garden, and every interaction we have throughout the week.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote that,

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways. (Hebrews 1:1)

This has not changed. God continues to speak “in many and various ways.”

When we conclude the public reading of Scripture saying, “This is the word of the Lord”, we affirm something important. God speaks. Sometimes God uses words to speak, sometimes gestures, feelings, ideas, music, art, creation, circumstances.

We need to hear God’s word in whatever form that word may be uttered. God’s word may may at times come to us in hushed tones that are obscure and confusing. God’s word may not always come tidily packaged in a form that is easily accessible to our culturally conditioned ears. But, regardless of our ability to hear, we are well-served by confidently affirming: “This is the word of the Lord.”

When we find it hard to hear, this is not a license to dismiss the word, but a challenge to listen more deeply.

Part of the special power of the words of Scripture is that they do not conform to every vagary of current culture. The very difference and, at times,  difficulty of the words of the Bible challenge us to step aside for a moment from the prevailing mindset of our culture and allow our commitments and prejudices to be examined by the searching truth of “the word of the Lord”.