Holy and Unholy Scripture
Having been raised in Unitarian Universalism, and never having belonged to a Scripturally-based tradition, I found myself thinking a lot about this. I know why the Bible (both Old and New Testament readings, and psalms) are included in Christian worship services. I certainly know why the Bible readings are the focus of Jewish worship. I am greatly disappointed by UUism's throwing out of the Bible in worship somewhere along the post-Transcendentalist era, and I do wish I could bring more Bible to my own congregation's worship today.
However, it has never occurred to me that by choosing, say, a poem by Wendell Berry or part of an article by Jim Wallis as readings that I am putting them in the place of Scripture, or elevating them to the status of the Bible. To me, the readings illuminate the theme of the service, and more particularly, help the congregation enter into the longer reflection and teaching moment of the sermon with a bit of context.
I am aware that in choosing those readings I am influencing the way the congregation thinks about the sermon topic, and that's perfectly acceptable to me. I have often felt grateful that I didn't have to contort my sermon around the lectionary readings for that week, although I respect the discipline the lectionary creates.
But Scott makes a great point, which is that preachers are not there to create, ex nihilo, the teachings of the religious tradition (which the choice of non-Scriptural sources might imply to some), but are there to have the religious tradition (represented in this conversation by Holy Scripture) create us.
I think of the readings in the worship service as an opportunity to illustrate for the worshipers that we can read anything in a religously meaningful way. I choose readings not only that provide a color to the sermon I may not be able to provide, but as a way of showing the congregation that we can approach all texts from a spiritual place. It is a way of modeling a religious reading of the world.