I have a confession. I’m a Reformed Protestant worship director who attends Mass at a Catholic parish on a regular basis. Others in my position will understand that Sunday is a “working day,” and not always conducive to the kind of Sabbath rest and worship necessary for healthy discipleship. Saturday night Mass is something I look forward to for perspective, prayer, and nourishment. In fact, it is the only Saturday night service in our town that I am drawn to attend on a regular basis. Why? Because all the others tend to leave me frazzled or anxious.
One of the themes I loved to stress back in the days when I taught a university course on “Foundations of Worship,” is that worship provides a reality check. I can still hear myself saying to a class, “All week long our understandings of who God is and who we are gets hammered, and gradually becomes more and more out of focus. On Sundays we gather with God’s people to have our communal vision corrected again.”
But what if our worship actually contributes to the loss of focus?
This is the Golden Rule of radio. People like listening to songs that they know because of the feelings and emotions that came with hearing the song the first time all come rushing back. Most every couple can point to ‘their song’, maybe the first one they ever danced to or the one playing when she walked down the aisle. We have songs that are special to our churches too; the one sung when the last pastor retired, when you celebrated the Jubilee Anniversary of the building you meet in and sang ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’.
I occasionally consult with churches who are looking for renewal and revitalization in their worship. Often these churches tell me that they are hoping that I can help them negotiate a transition from offering "traditional" to offering "contemporary" worship. (Though I have consulted with churches moving in the other direction!)
Worship is Work
Worship is a verb. It requires work. Work in preparing all sorts of elements with moving parts including many people. Can it ever be perfect?
In the harmony of a musical triad, the first-third-fifth of the chord, we may have the closest human experience to perfection that we can encounter on this side of heaven. There seems to be an achievable perfection in music. You can even measure it if you have something reading sound waves and frequencies to confirm ‘perfection’.
Right now, people are talking about the intersection of worship and work. Is corporate worship simply a place to leave our troubles at the door and refuel in the presence of Christ? Or is it a place wrestle—in the presence of God and fellow believers—with the challenges that face us in our weekday vocations?
On January 6 (at least in the Western Church), we celebrate Epiphany, marking the revelation of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The central biblical story is Matthew’s account of the magi (astrologers) coming from the East to worship Jesus.
I am struck that Matthew includes this story of the broader world being led to Jesus. Perhaps, I should not be surprised. After all, Matthew opens his gospel by naming Jesus’ family history, including several of his grandmothers who came from other nations.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. -Acts 9:15
Paul was chosen and commissioned by God to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was the perfect instrument for this task due to his Jewish heritage, Roman citizenship and a classical Greek education under Gamaliel. The question is: for what purpose are we created?
This Advent season, on the eve of the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theology of Martin Luther. Particularly, I’ve been pondering his doctrine of simul iustus et peccator. This doctrine often gets articulated anthropologically—you and I live our lives “simultaneously justified and sinful.” Our experience of life under the simul is described well in Romans 7:15 (ESV): “I do not understand what I do.
Several years ago, I wrote a prayer for Thornapple Covenant Church to use during Advent. It is based on the meditation exercise called “palms down, palms up” in Richard Foster’s classic book Celebration of Discipline.
In this meditation exercise, Foster encourages the Christian to pray with palms down in a prayer of relinquishment and surrender. (It helps me to hold my hands in the air, rather than on my lap, imagining that God’s hands rest under my own.) Then, turn palms up to demonstrate your desire to receive.