Call to Worship: Psalm 147:1-6
This is a celebratory passage that still introduces the enigma of evil.
Opening Hymn: "God Loves All the Righteous," verses 1, 6, and 7
As we sing this song, we admit that this service will be difficult.
Psalm of Meditation: Psalm 88
This is the most raw and unresolved expression of grief in the Psalms; outdone, probably, only by Job 3.
Responsive Reading: Heidelberg Catechism 27
A confession of God's care.
Congregational Prayer, followed by singing "The Lords Prayer"<
[PsH 207,PH 571,TH 725]
For famine, flood, earthquake, or some other kind of disaster relief.
Hymn: "He Leadeth Me"
stanza 1, all
stanza 2, women, all on refrain
stanza 3, men, all on refrain
stanza 4, all
[PsH 452,RL 161,TH 600]
Scripture: Psalm 55
Song: Psalm 55 "I Need Your Help, O Lord My God"
Prayer for Illumination: Patterned after Job 23:3-10
Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, at the end of our worship service this morning we are going to sing a very difficult song. Normally a doxology should be easy to sing, but not today. Our doxology today is perhaps one of the most difficult songs in the whole hymnal.
Mind you, it's not the tune that is difficult. The tune is quite manageable. It's the words that are hard. We will have a difficult time not choking on the words of our doxology today. While we are singing, we will wonder if we are actually allowed to say the things that are said in the song.
Each one of the four stanzas begins with this line: "What God ordains is always right." Would you dare to sing such a line today if you were standing at the entrance to a town where "ethnic cleansing" had taken place, where people had their throats slit after the soldiers practiced their throat-cutting technique on a herd of pigs?
An old Jewish proverb says that faith and blasphemy are closely related. Faith is sometimes hard to distinguish from blasphemy. It's as if there is a very fine line separating the cry of faith from the shriek of blasphemy. When we sing our doxology later this morning, the issue for us will be precisely that—whether our song will in fact be a cry of faith or a shriek of blasphemy.
It would perhaps be blasphemy, for example, to sing "What God Ordains Is Always Right" at the funeral of still another famine-ravished child in Somalia. "There is a time for speaking, and a time to refrain from speaking" says the book of Ecclesi-astes, and standing at the graveside of a child is no time to sing such words.
Today we are considering the fifth objection to the Christian faith, that the presence of evil and suffering in the world proves there is no God. You and I need to understand and accept that this is a very real and sincere objection.
There are many people who don't go to church because a vicious experience of suffering turned them off... (etc.).
The only way for us to respond to this fifth objection is to be honest about our own struggles with the very same objection ...
How do you relate your suffering to the idea that there is a good God? Christians have suffered, too, of course, and still clung to their faith.... How could they? (Tell some stories from your experience. Then tell the story of Christ's suffering and his vindication in the resurrection....)
(Last paragraph:) We have said that it would be blasphemy to sing songs at the entrance to a brutally oppressed village. But who knows? Perhaps the worst blasphemy of all is to refrain from singing. Perhaps if we keep quiet, the very stones will break forth into singing.
Prayer of Application:
—For people who hold this objection seriously
—For people who hold this objection only as an excuse
—For help in being honest about our own struggles
—In gratitude for Christ, who suffered for us
—When shall we sing the songs of Zion in the New Jerusalem?
—Help us to sing, even in Babylon.
Hymn of Response: "Children of the Heavenly Father" acapella, slowly
[PsH 440,RL 585,TH 313]
God's Will for Our Lives: Luke 10:30-37
Responsive Reading: Heidelberg Catechism #26b (do not use the Ecclesiastes passage today)
Do not type the title of the song in the liturgy, since that takes away the whole point of the service as it leads up to the doxology.
[PsH 451,RL 153,TH 108]