In many of the more liturgical churches, responsive readings are a key element in the Sunday worship flow.
Often found in the back of the hymnal book, responsive readings typically take sections of Scripture, divide them into parts for the “Leader” to read followed by a a response that the congregation shares.
Here is a typical format, this one drawn from Psalm 46:1-7:
Leader: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
People: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Leader: though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
People: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
Leader: God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
People: Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
All: The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
While responsive readings are not a standard part of Good Shepherd’s worship design, we use them on occasion.
Having said that, there are some Scripture passages I can’t quite see using in that form of corporate worship.
For example, consider Genesis 19:30-38, the story of Lot and his daughters — one of the most disturbing sections in all of Scripture.
Can you imagine how that might work in a responsive reading?
Leader: That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
People: The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.”
Leader: So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.
People: So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father.
All: The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi]; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
In the words of Bartleby the Scrivener, “I’d prefer not to.”
Why does that story get included in that book at that time? I believe it has to do with the punchline that comes at the expense of the Moabites and the Ammonites — bitter enemies of the children of Israel.
In addition, it serves to remind us that people often respond to the gift of deliverance — Lot and family had been spared the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — with acts of debauchery. It’s the sadly human way of saying “thank you, Lord.”
Either way, we won’t be using Genesis 19 as a responsive reading anytime soon.