Worship -- taking a closer look: A four-week teaching series with resources for worship planning, sermon discussion, and home devotions, page 2 of 2
Sample HomeLink Devotion
Monday, Week 3
Read Psalm 19.
A mother tried to quiet her child’s fear during a thunderstorm bytelling him that the sound of thunder was really God speaking. Thelittle boy was somewhat reassured, but after the next earsplittingthunderclap he wondered, “Why does God have to yell so loud?” Hismother had to explain that it wasn’t really God yelling in the stormafter all. Sometime or other, we’ve all probably wondered, How andwhere do we hear the voice of God?
Usually the voice of God comes to us most directly in the Bible.When we read the Bible for our personal devotions or for careful study,when we hear it in family worship or during the Sunday service, God isspeaking to us. That’s why we need to spend time in God’s Word—studyingit, memorizing it, meditating on it, and listening to sermons. The Jewshad (and some still have) a custom based on Deuteronomy 6:8 of tyinglittle boxes with Bible texts (phylacteries or tefellin) on theirforehead and arms. Although Christians do not observe this customliterally, God’s Word is in our heads, our hearts, our lives.
How else do we hear God’s voice? The little boy who thought God wasyelling in the storm may not have caught his mother’s intent exactly,but he was on to something. As Psalm 19 articulates clearly, all ofcreation rings with the music of God’s voice. We should be attuned toGod’s wisdom, creativity, and grandeur in nature. Visiting the zoo,hiking in the Rocky Mountains, snorkeling in a coral reef, watching ababy study his fingers, peering through a telescope—all are occasionsto hear God’s voice. The hymn writer Maltbie Babcock had it right:
This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
We hear (and see) God’s voice even more clearly in Jesus himself.Even though we have heard the first chapter of John’s gospel so often,we will never fully grasp its wonderful mystery—”The Word became fleshand made his dwelling among us.” But we can understand the basic goodnews here: God came to live with us in Jesus so that we can have anaudio-visual presentation of what God is really like and what he wantsto tell us.
God is love, and in Jesus Christ he lavishes that love on us (1 John 3:1).
Something to Think About
Sin in the world has distorted both the picture of God in nature and our seeing God. What are some examples of such distortion?
Have you ever looked at the stars through a telescope? How can thathelp you understand more about god? What other parts of creation helpyou discover more about God?
Sealing the Covenant Relationship
From the earliest days of the Old Testament until now, God’s peoplehave sealed their relationship with God with a tangible, physical,material sign. Most deep relationships are marked by a sign. Marriagesare marked by a ring. So too our covenant relationship with God isbegun with a sign (baptism), and renewed time and time again with atangible sign (Lord’s Supper). These actions teach us something aboutboth the relationship itself and the signs.
These signs teach us that our relationship with God is tangible,down-to-earth, material, embodied. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea orspiritual concept. Just as wearing a marriage ring changes how peoplerelate to us, so too participating in the sacraments is a tangiblewitness to the world of our love for God.
- Exodus 24. Consider reading this dramatically, using one readerfor the voice of Moses, one for the voice of the Lord, and the thirdfor the part of the narrator.
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-33
Notes on the Scripture Texts
- The meal described in Exodus 24:9-11 has been interpreted as aforeshadowing of the Lord’s Supper by many Christian scholarsthroughout the history of the church. It is similar to meals eatenafter other covenant agreements between people (Gen. 26:30; 31:54).This meal is a sign of divine-human table fellowship.
- In 1 Corinthians 11, notice that the cup is specifically called“the new covenant in my blood,” referring to the new and unconditionalcovenant described in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and in Hebrews 8-9.
- In 1 Corinthians 11, notice all of the ethical warnings givenalong with instructions about the Lord’s Supper. Just as faithlessliving can betray the promises made in a wedding, so too faithlessliving essentially denies the seal of the covenant relationship betweenGod and us.
- In 1 Corinthians 11, notice how many dimensions of the Lord’sSupper are packed into a few verses. The Lord’s Supper is aremembrance, a proclamation, an anticipation, a thanksgiving. It is asingle, physical, material action that conveys several overlappingmeanings, or several angles or dimensions of the single gospel ofChrist.
Our relationship with God is confirmed or sealed through specific,physical, material actions called sacraments. Sacraments gainsignificance only as an embodiment of this deeper relationship.
Key Related Themes
Sacraments are a big deal. They are nothing less than anembodiment of this covenantal relationship. When we dismiss thesacraments as unimportant, we may be communicating our inability to seethe significance of expressing our love for God and for hearing God’spromises to us—like a stereotypical uncouth groom who thinks that thewedding service itself is no big deal and barely shows up in time, whois oblivious to the profundity of the vows he is about to make.
The sacraments are not ends in themselves. They gain significanceas part of our covenantal relationship with God. When we celebrate thesacraments without placing them in their larger relational context, werisk a kind of hypocrisy; we risk failing to “discern the body.” Thinkof a bride and groom who spend enormous energy on their clothing, theflowers, the reception food, and all the other wedding details, whilebarely thinking about the profundity of the vows they will make.
Sacraments are an unapologetically material activity. We usetangible water, wine, and bread. Sacraments speak not despite thesematerial things but because of them. The Holy Spirit uses thesematerial actions to seal the covenantal relationship we have with Godin Christ. When we minimize the materiality of these signs, we may besignaling that our relationship with God is merely a spiritual realitythat doesn’t enter into tangible, everyday affairs. The verymateriality of these actions is a crucial part of their message.
The Meaning of Worship and the Logic of the Liturgy
In the classic shape of Christian worship, the Lord’s Supper followsacts of praise, confession, and proclamation. It comes near the end ofthe service, just as an exchange of rings follows the marriage vows ina wedding. This is not an arbitrary placement. It is meant to ensurethat we see the sacrament not as an end in itself but as a seal ofsomething deeper, something prior. It confirms and seals the gospelthat has been proclaimed, the relationship that has been enacted.
Also, in the classic shape of Christian worship, the Lord’s Supperincludes an extensive and exuberant prayer of thanksgiving that tracesthe whole history of salvation (such as the example included on p. **).This way of praying (which essentially tells God what he alreadyknows!) may seem strange to us. Yet it is an ancient, covenantal formof prayer (see Ps. 105 or 1 Chron.16). Most thanksgiving psalms inScripture are like recitals of salvation history; they are prayers thatcontain a story. They give thanks for God’s steadfast, covenantal loveat every step of the way. This covenantal mode of praying is not unlikewhat happens on a wedding anniversary when a couple recites thehighlights of their life together.
Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs
“Taste and See” PsH 301
A communion song relating our approach to the table with God’s covenant pledges.
“What Feast of Love” With One Voice 701
A communion song celebrating the free gift of God’s salvation sealed in the Supper.
“According to Thy Gracious Word” PsH 298, TH 423
A reflective communion hymn that evokes a covenantal theme in its “two-way remembering.”
“Eat This Bread” Music from Taizé, Vol. II, 30
Using the stanzas (not found in most hymnals) enables God’s promises about and from Jesus to be heard. For use during communion.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Is the Lord of Hosts” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 152; RW 49, p. 28
A meditation song that leads well into the traditional “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to be sung during the Lord’s Supper.
“Now the Solemn Feast Is Done” PsH 306
A celebrative post-communion hymn that links our feasting at the table with our service in the world.
“Take, O Take Me as I Am” Come All You People: Shorter Songs for Worship, Chicago: G.I.A., 1994, 88
The salvation sealed to us in the sacraments goes into shaping ourlives and service. A fitting response to a commissioning at the closeof worship.
“Go, My Children, with My Blessing” With One Voice 721
Even as we leave worship, this closing benediction reminds us that we are God’s own.
“Hallelujah, We Sing Your Praises” With One Voice 722
A Joyful South African “sending out” song at the end of the Lord’s Supper service.
- Praise is one (essential) form of covenant communication. Butpraise isn’t the main point of worship. The point is the relationship.Nor is praise the only form of covenant communication. In a full-orbedcovenant relationship, praise is joined by confession, lament,intercession, and listening. In a marriage relationship, conversationsmarked by exclusive praise would feel like false flattery. They mightstart out fine, but soon they ring hollow.
- Notice how this (covenant) approach does not suggest that we, byourselves, can make worship happen. This relationship with God is agift! It is Christ’s work through the Spirit in our hearts and in thelife of the congregation. No liturgical technique will make thisrelationship happen. The ultimate success of a worship service dependson something that worship leaders can’t engineer or produce, our(collective) personal relationship with God in Christ.
- Notice that this basic image provides a way of understanding manyacts of worship, even if they aren’t covered directly in one of thesesermons. For example, an offering is like a gift given in return for aprior gift. The benediction is like a divine covenantal smile on thegathered congregation. A testimony is a like a recital of God’s pastcovenant faithfulness. Each act of worship finds its place as part ofthe script of covenant renewal.
- Notice how not a word in this series focused on the style ofworship. The goal here is to get beyond style issues. But thinkingalong these lines may, in fact, help some congregations with styleissues. A congregation should not choose a worship style on the basisof what style most people like. Rather, a congregation should choose astyle on the basis of what will help them, as the gathered people ofGod, to renew their covenant in the most honest, relational,Christ-centered way. It is precisely when discussions about stylebecome divorced from this deeper thinking about worship’s meaning andpurpose that they become so divisive and problematic.
- The idea of worship as covenant renewal is not the only biblicalway of getting at worship’s meaning and purpose. I present it herebecause I believe that it is one faithful and fruitful way that hasbeen recognized more or less explicitly by theologians and preachersfor two thousand years. But because there is so much more we could say,I hope that we will not let ourselves think of this as the only way ofapproaching it!
- We need a way to think about worship that is direct and simpleenough to wrap our minds around, rich enough so that we will neverexhaust it, tangible enough so that we can sense what difference itmight make as we prepare for Sunday worship, and true enough that wewould stake our lives on it. We need a biblical approach to worshipthat can be preached and lived today. The idea of worship as “newcovenant renewal” is not the only valid approach. But its deepscriptural resonance and its power to evoke deep liturgicalparticipation make it a beautiful place to begin. May this series be aninstrument of God’s Spirit to deepen and nourish your congregation’sexperience of worship.
Small Group Discussion Starters: Week 4
1. “From the earliest days of the Old Testament until now, God’speople have sealed their relationship with God with a tangible,physical, material sign.” Name some of these Old Testament signs.
2. Today, the covenant relationship is sealed with the signs ofbaptism and Lord’s Supper, and “these actions teach us something aboutboth the relationship itself and the signs.” What do the sacraments sayabout God’s entrance into tangible, everyday life? What does this thensay about the worship event?
3. “Sacraments are an unapologetically material activity. We usetangible water, wine, and bread. Sacraments speak not despite thesematerial things, but because of them.” Does your church emphasize orminimize this materiality?
4. “In the classic shape of Christian worship, the Lord’s Supperfollows acts of praise, confession, and proclamation.” Consider theSupper’s purpose in order to explain this sequence.
5. How much do you look forward to the concluding blessing orbenediction? Read together Hebrews 13:20-21, not only as a prayer butas God’s promise and gift of blessing to you as individuals and as acongregation. Encourage your group to memorize this blessing.
6. Conclude this series by reflecting on these comments fromWitvliet’s final observations: “Notice how this (covenant) approachdoes not suggest that we, by ourselves, can make worship happen. Thisrelationship with God is a gift! It is Christ’s work through the Spiritin our hearts and in the life of the congregation. No liturgicaltechnique will make this relationship happen. The ultimate success of aworship service depends on something that worship leaders can’tengineer or produce, our (collective) personal relation with God inChrist.”
Calls to Worship Based on Psalm 89:1-4
Following is an example of how a call to worship based on these psalmverses might be adapted to suit your particular context and purposes.Using several of these approaches during the series is an excellent wayto introduce some variety and yet remain closely linked with theoverall theme of covenant renewal.
Worship leader reads Psalm 89:1-4.
- Congregation reads Psalm 89:1-4 responsively, perhaps led by a child:
Child: Sing of the Lord’s great love forever!
Congregation: With our mouths we will make known his faithfulness to all.
Child: His love is firm forever!
Congregation: He established his faithfulness in heaven itself.
Child: God made a promise to David.
Congregation: A covenant which lasts till today.
All: Praise the Lord!
- Two parts of the congregation read Psalm 89:1-4 responsively (as divided above).
- Psalm 89:1-4 is used as the basis for an opening prayer:
O Lord, we will sing of your great love forever!
With our mouths we will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
We will declare that your love stands firm forever.
In fact, you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
Then already you made a covenant with your chosen one, David.
You promised to continue it forever, for all generations, including our own.
With heaven, we praise your wonders, O God!
O Lord, we will sing of your great love forever!
Follow by singing “I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord Forever” PsH 169, TWC 30
Prayer of Confession
Note: Use for all four weeks.
Lord, you have called us to worship you. We gladly gather! As we praiseyou, though, our own inadequacy reminds us of how we have broken ourrelationship with you. Because we have sinned against you, even ourworship fails to be what it could. We often treat it as a show. Wesimply go through the motions, failing to recognize that you want toengage us on a very deep level. Renew us, we pray, according to yoursteadfast love. Remind us of your covenant faithfulness and have mercyon us in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Confession and Assurance
Child: Lord, you are a God who keeps promises. In our prayers and songswe say that we want to be Christians, but then we forget our promises.Our actions do not match up with our words. We say mean things to otherpeople, we hurt their feelings, we think of ourselves first, and, worstof all, we ignore you. Lord, forgive us and hear our prayer.
Children’s Choir: “Lord, Have Mercy upon Us” PsH 258, PH 572, SFL 43, TWC 821
Child: As a deer pants for water, so our souls long for you, Lord God.We know that we need you. Our lives are like dry streams without you.Please fill our lives with your love, like rain on dry land. Lord, hearour prayer.
Children’s Choir: “Lord, Have Mercy upon Us”
Assurance of Pardon
Child: Alleluia! Christ has died.
Alleluia! Christ has risen.
Alleluia! Christ will come again.
Hymn of Joy: “Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord” PsH 401, SFL 177
Choristers Guild, 1999, p. 85.
Other similar resources with language appropriate to young children are available in this sourcebook.
TWO Prayers For Illumination
1. God of mercy, you promised never to break your covenant with us.Amid all the changing words of our generation, speak your eternal Wordthat does not change. Then may we respond to your gracious promiseswith faithful and obedient lives; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
—Book of Common Worship, p. 91
2. “Lord, to Whom Shall We Go”
Text: John 6:68
Music: © 1990, WGRG, The Iona Community. Used by permission of G.I.A. Publications, Chicago, IL 60638. 1-800-442-1358.
Note: Use for all four weeks.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenantbrought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of thesheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may hework in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom beglory for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer of Lament and Fear
O God, your people have always had their fears.
And so we come to you in humility and with honesty, naming our own.
Lord, we fear the future. What is coming next?
“Will there be a place for me when I’m done with high school or college?” we young people ask.
“Will there be safe places for our children?” we parents ask.
“Will I die in peace and with dignity?” we seniors ask.
Refrain: (sung by small group)
Text and music: The Iona Community (Scotland).
Text and music: © 1995, WGRG, The Iona Community. Used by permission of G.I.A. Publications, Chicago, IL 60638. 1-800-1358.
Lord, we fear the pain that comes with illness and broken bones and aging.
Some of us wonder how we’re going to make it through more treatment and medication.
Some of us wonder how we can possibly face chronic illness.
Some of us wonder if prayers for healing even reach your throne.
Physical pain frightens us.
Lord, as a church, we wonder about our ministries and programs.
What if they don’t “work”?
What if outreach and faith nurture don’t happen?
We fear the dependence we have to have on your Spirit
to be One to breathe life into Christians and non-Christians.
Lord, we are afraid of people who are different than ourselves.
Those more powerful than us, those poorer than us, those of a different color or creed,
those smarter than us, those with different personalities.
How do we talk to these people, O God? How do we make peace with them?
Lord, we have acquaintances,
friends, family members whom we deeply love,
but who do not know you.
We are afraid for their salvation.
We admit, O God, that we’re fearful of stillness and quiet.
It seems as if the last thing we want to do
is slow down and be attentive to you.
Help us not to shy away from quiet times,
from the simplicity of prayer, Scripture, and your presence.
It seems, O God, that, in the busyness of countless invitations to parties and activities we are afraid to say no.
And for all those fears for which we cannot name,
we come to you, O God.
Those we cannot name because they’re either unknown or unspeakable,
receive them in our silence.
We are fearful so often, O Lord,
because, in encounters with sin and evil,
we find ourselves weak and poor.
We thank you so much then, Jesus,
for your actions and for your words—
for love and the promise of nearness,
which are our strength and our riches. Amen.
Follow with: “Give Thanks” (Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3, 7).
Note: If the Lord’s Supper is not celebrated weekly in yourcongregation, this fourth Sunday would be a wonderful occasion tocelebrate it! For this celebration, consider using the following Lord’sSupper prayer:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right and fitting, our joy and salvation,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks to you, almighty, everlasting God,
through Christ our Lord.
You laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They shall perish, but you shall endure.
You are always the same and your years will never end.
You made us in your image
and called us to be your covenant people,
but we turned from you,
leaving sin and death to reign.
Still you loved us and sought us.
In Christ your grace defeated death
and opened the way to eternal life.
Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with the heavenly choirs
and with all the faithful of every time and place,
who forever sing to the glory of your name:
Sing “Santo, Santo, Santo” PsH 626, SFL 66
All holy God,
how wonderful is the work of your hands!
When sin had scarred the world,
you entered into covenant to renew the whole creation.
As a mother tenderly gathers her children,
as a father joyfully welcomes his own,
you embraced a people as your own
and filled them with longing
for a peace that would last
and for a justice that would never fail.
Countless generations have hungered for the bread of freedom.
From them you raised up Jesus, your Son, the living bread.
We give you thanks that our Lord Jesus,
on the night before he died, took bread,
and after giving thanks to you,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
“Take, eat. This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup, saying:
“This cup is the New Covenant sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this in remembrance of me.”
Your death, O Christ, we proclaim.
Your resurrection we declare.
Your coming we await.
Glory be to you, O Lord.
God of all power, send your Holy Spirit upon us,
that in sharing the bread we may share in the body of Christ,
and that in sharing the cup we may participate in the New Covenant.
Grant that being joined together in Christ Jesus,
we may become united in faith.
And now, with the confidence of the children of God, we pray:
Our Father in heaven . . .