In our church worship services we have for many, many years observed the practice of standing for the reading of the sermon text on Sunday mornings. The stated reason has normally been, “We want to honor the Lord for giving us His Word.”
A while back we added another time of Scripture reading to most Sunday mornings and we have not asked the people either to stand or to turn to the passage, but simply to sit and listen meditatively to the reading of the Word. We also added a time of silence after this reading to allow for reflection on what has just been heard.
Recently, some have asked why we stand at one time and not the other. Honestly, I had never given it much thought since we are not commanded one way or the other in the Scripture itself. Also, we read many passages as a part of our teaching where we do not ask folks to continually stand and sit again. Now I know the Puritans did stand for the whole sermon, often hours, and I thought of suggesting this but chose discretion over valor. Actually, I chose for that not to be my last Sunday here. (smile!)
But, since the question has been asked, I have spent some time thinking about it and looking again at the Scripture. This is my response.
First, let me say that the content of the Word is the important thing, not the position of the reader. On that I’m sure we all agree. So whichever we choose, to sit or to stand, is perfectly acceptable. Of primary importance is the position of the heart, not the position of the body.
Having said that, here are a few thoughts on either practice. The idea of standing for the reading of the Scripture comes primarily from Nehemiah 8:5 where Ezra “opened the book in the sight of all the people…and…all the people stood.” Obviously, that passage gives us a great example to follow. However, we should note that this was not merely the reading of the Scripture but also explaining “the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This would correspond to our sermon text and sermon today.
As we examine the Scripture for times of “sitting before the Lord” we find the beautiful story of David sitting before the Lord, contemplating God’s amazing blessings for him and offering a sincere prayer of gratitude in 2 Samuel 7:18ff; 1 Chronicles 17:16ff.
So, what will we do. I think we’ll just keep doing what we have been doing with a better understanding of what we are doing. At the sermon time, at least most of the time but not always, we’ll stand and all open our Bibles to read the passage. For the other extended reading of God’s Word, we’ll let that be a time of hearing (not opening our own Bibles), reflecting and meditating while seated before the Lord.
Our prayer is that both times, as well as any time we read and hear God’s Word, our hearts will respond in faith and obedience to what we hear.