On Ascension Day, the church celebrates Christ’s going up and returning to his Father in glory as a resurrected human being, the firstfruits of the new creation. Ten days later, we celebrate God coming down again, this time not in human form in a particular time and place—as we celebrate at Christmas—but now as Spirit, a gift to each believer in every time and place. The Christian church has also traditionally followed Pentecost Sunday with Trinity Sunday, our praise and adoration ascending to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, “in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.”
—A.W. Tozer, Worship: the Missing Jewel
What is the goal of preaching? According to John Calvin, the highest purpose of preaching is to give glory to God. But the act of praise is never a preacher’s solo performance—he or she seeks to edify the body of Christ as well. In preaching and in leading, the pastor seeks to call people to faith in Jesus Christ, grow the congregation’s collective commitment to holiness and righteousness, and increase their awareness and understanding of their role in the kingdom of God.
The days are getting longer; the sun is stronger; and we are beginning to make summer plans. For many of us those plans will include one or more Sundays away from our place of worship. We may be able to join another community in worship, which is a great opportunity to get outside our comfort zone and learn from our brothers and sisters from other denominations.
Each spring I meet with a group of clergy colleagues for a week of Scripture study, rest, renewal, laughter, and support. Each member of The Well brings two exegetical papers corresponding to pre-assigned Sundays in the liturgical year. We share these papers with one another, and the discussion provides us with a great jumping-off point for the next year’s preaching. Our time together has become a not-to-be-missed event.
Obedience to God is always a struggle among God’s people. This dramatic reading challenges the congregation to examine their excuses for not following Christ in obedience.
The reading is designed for four readers, male or female, and one unseen voice (narrator). The dramatic reading takes approximately four minutes.
[All four voices are on the stage spaced five feet apart with their backs to the congregation.]
Voice 1: [turns to face congregation] Lord, you know I want to follow you. But first let me go and bury my father.
“Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details of ministry that we forget what is central. And help us to find that which is central, even in the details.”
—Maryann McKibben Dana (p. 40)
Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details that we forget what is central. . . .
Q. Our small church is losing members to bigger churches that are more modern and use more technology than we do. Should we think about putting a screen up to project songs in worship like so many churches do these days?
This is a service of celebration for Ascension Day. Parts of the service might also be used on Ascension Sunday. It requires at least one leader and a Scripture reader. The congregation speaks the lines in bold.
The Lord’s Supper is the pivotal feast that celebrates the victory of God, which he shares with each person in his kingdom. Here we gratefully acknowledge our inclusion in the community that God has designed. Here we confess our reluctance to demonstrate the full power of the gospel on our lives together, particularly as it pertains to the lack of hospitality and grace extended to others. Here we all recommit ourselves to following the example of Jesus—the Host at the table—who calls us, in view of his sacrifice, to serve others with humility and love.
Alive to the Spirit at Neland Church was a season of focusing our lives and worship on the Holy Spirit. Using six biblical pictures—wind, breath, down payment, seal, dove, and fire—we explored and experienced the Spirit’s presence and work through sermon, song, dance, visual arts, writing, and prayer.
Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning
by Barbara Day Miller.
Alban Institute, 2010. 142 pages.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Reformed Worship to Celebrate 100th Issue
The staff of RW has been working hard in anticipation of our 100th issue, which marks twenty-five years of sharing worship resources and articles. That issue will be dedicated to the theme of celebration and joy, with resources from the book of Philippians.
When you receive your next issue of RW you will notice many exciting changes to both the print and the web copy as we continue the tradition of providing excellent resources for the next generation. Here is an overview of what to expect:
This litany was used for the 2010 Pentecost worship service at our church. That service was held the same weekend as the local high school’s graduation ceremony, making the theme especially meaningful as graduates seek God’s guidance for the future.
Song: “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit” PsH 427
Of this poem, author Peter Menkin writes: “I chose the imagery of the Exodus from the Old Testament to say that we are liberated by our God, Christ, and that he brings us to freedom.”
Pentecost Sunday Prayer
For I am empty and forlorn,
so I hope and pray.
Tongues of flames. Language.
I search; let me
welcome the Holy Spirit.
The God who brought
us out of Egypt to freedom;
let God do this emancipation:
accept and welcome,
and let us receive the Spirit.
In this prayer, Julia Esquivel teaches us the meaning of each intercession of the Lord’s Prayer as we pray, opening our minds and hearts to a greater understanding of our great God and to the experience of brothers and sisters in Christ in another part of the world. Though our congregations may not experience many of the situations mentioned, we can pray on behalf of those for whom these things are realities.
Note: You may choose to read the boldface portions either in English or in Spanish.
The next issue of Reformed Worship will celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary—number 100.
Anniversaries of any sort are a great time to take a look at what you’ve been doing for months or years or decades and to ask if what you’re doing still works. Has your audience or environment or approach to worship changed, but you’re still thinking the old ways are doing what you want them to?
This prayer litany for leader and congregation was originally written for World AIDS Day, which takes place each December 1. However, this is not an issue that should be relegated to one particular day each year, but one that the Church prays about regularly, interceding for all those affected by this epidemic. We need to confess our own complacency and unwillingness to get involved, reach out, care for, and advocate on behalf of the 33.4 million people who live with HIV/AIDS.
Note: This article is slightly adapted from its first printing in The Banner(June 2010). Used by permission.
If you’ve ever recited the Athanasian Creed in a worship service, please send me an email to tell me about it!
In truth, I’ve never heard this creed used in church, and it’s not difficult to see why. Even a quick glance shows you that in addition to being much longer than either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, this creed is also sufficiently repetitive as to get tedious.
Note: Scripture quotations in this article are from the NRSV.
Planning the Series
Ephesians illustrates both the density and exuberance of Paul’s theological vision. For these and other reasons, creating a six-week series on the letter can feel a bit daunting. Therefore, a month and a half before the series began we brainstormed one evening with anyone in the congregation interested in joining us. They arrived having read through the letter or at least the one-page summary we made available that outlined its movements and major themes.
Post-game handshakes are a time-honored tradition. Little League baseball players, traveling soccer teams, and NCAA athletes never miss this ritual of sportsmanship. During the game they “fight,” engage in “battle,” “conquer,” or suffer “defeat.” But at the end of the day athletes are not at war. By a simple hand gesture, athletes declare that they are at peace.