Splendor in the Grass: A service based on Psalm 103

This service was planned for a joint service of several congregations in Denver, Colorado; it was patterned after an earlier service held at the Calvin Symposium of Worship and the Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The title comes from the sermon preached at both services by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., president-elect of Calvin Theological Seminary, who was also part of the planning team along with John D. Witvliet and Emily R. Brink. The complete sermon is available here) and in the Calvin Theological Journal (April 2001; Vol. 38, No. 1).

The readings from Psalm 103 come from the New Revised Standard Version.

Along with the preacher, four worship leaders were involved in this service: a liturgist and three prayer leaders (identified as Leaders 1, 2, and 3). These worship leaders spoke from a podium at floor level (see shaded areas for their speaking parts). The minister preached the sermon from the pulpit. You may choose to ask one person to read the psalm from the pulpit as well; in this service, the congregation reads it aloud together. For each psalm reading, the liturgist cues the congregation by saying, “Together we proclaim…”
—ERB

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Organ Prelude

Settings on “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above,” Norris, Bender, Hopson, Leavitt

Arioso and Adagio on Psalm 103, Jaap Dragt, Genevan Psalter

Statement of Purpose

Liturgist: Fellow believers in Jesus Christ, we have gathered this evening to bring our praise and prayers to God. Our guide for worship is Psalm 103, a psalm that leads us through an exuberant recital of God’s goodness. Psalm 103 proclaims significant truth about us and about our relationship with God. Each section of this service is based on a section of the psalm. Hymns, prayers, and readings have all been chosen to help us “live into” the faith of the psalmist. May this portion of God’s Word be written on our hearts, and may God’s Spirit inspire in us right and fitting worship.
[Optional: Since many of the songs may be new, let us take a moment now to rehearse so that we may worship more freely during the service.] 1

Call to Worship

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget his benefits.

Opening Prayer

Leader 1: Everlasting God, you have made us your people and have allowed us to come together in Christ’s name. By the power of your Spirit, may we offer worship that is right and fitting to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Sung Call to Worship (stand to sing)
“Bless the Lord, O My Soul” (Black gospel) PsH 627, PH 597, TWC 36

or “Bless the Lord, My Soul” (Taizé)SNC

Liturgist: Our almighty God has indeed done great things. God created the world, is redeeming it through Jesus Christ, and rules over us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We declare that our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Receive the greeting of our God.

Greeting

Liturgist: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Amen!

[After the greeting, the liturgist may invite the congregation to greet each other: Please take a moment to greet those around you, and then we will sing together our first hymn.]

Hymn of Praise

“Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above”2 PsH 465, PH 483, RL 146, TWC 50

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Liturgist: The psalm begins inwardly, summoning the self to worship; it continues with the expanding vision of God’s goodness. The psalmist recites some of the many actions and attributes of God—from healing the psalmist to showing justice and mercy toward all of Israel—that are worthy of our worship. We join now in celebrating the goodness of God.

The Psalm

The Lord—who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Songs of Praise

“The Lord Will Raise You up on Eagle’s Wings” SFL 205, SNC
“The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases” SNC or “For the Glories of God’s Grace” PsH 223

The Psalm

The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

Call to Confession

“Be Still and Know” SFL 225, SNC, TWC 516
Choir or soloist: Be still and know that I am God.3
People (singing): I am the Lord who heals your life.

Prayer of Confession

Leader 2: Lord God, we profess our faith in you. Your love, your patience, and your forgiveness overwhelm us. We cling to your promises and celebrate your goodness. But we are sinful—we waste your gifts to us and neglect our responsibility as your servants. Remind us again of your saving grace through Jesus Christ.

Assurance of Pardon

People (singing): Our God is good, forgiving our sin.

Liturgist: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Fellow
believers, hear the good news: in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

Canticle of Praise

“Tell Out, My Soul” PsH 478, RL 182, TH 26

The Psalm

For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.

Hymns

“Amazing Grace” PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, TH 460

stanza 1: cantor; stanza 2: men; stanzas 3-4: all; stanza 5: all, in canon, as directed.
“On Eagle’s Wings” SFL 205, SNC
“I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord” PsH 169, TWC 30

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Liturgist: In the Word, God reveals to us the truth about himself, about our world, and also about ourselves. In Psalm 103, as in many portions of Scripture, proclamation finds its home in the midst of doxology and praise. Thus, in the context of our continuing praise, we hear God’s Word.

The Psalm

As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Sermon: Splendor in the Grass

Hymn

“Come, You Disconsolate” PsH 538, TH 615
stanza 1: solo; stanza 2: congregation; stanza 3: solo, with congregation repeating final line.

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Liturgist: The truth has been told: the healing balm of heaven, the everlasting love of God, heals our diseases, saves us from our sins, and gives us an identity in God’s household—forever. And on what basis are we assured of this joyous truth? Our God reigns!

The Psalm

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Prayers of the People

Liturgist: We pray now for the coming of God’s kingdom.
[The following refrain is to be sung by all after each of the following prayers]

“Your Will on Earth Be Done, O Lord” SNC

For God’s rule in our world

Leader 1: Almighty God, we trust in your unfailing love. Extend your love, we pray, to our hurting world: to children torn apart by abuse and quieted by neglect; to lands ravaged by famine, storm, and the desolation of war. Refrain

For God’s rule in our communities

Leader 2: Extend your love, we pray, to our communities: to families broken by divorce, abuse, and neglect; to neighborhoods unsettled by crime, drugs, and violence; to institutions of education and government plagued by apathy and corruption. Refrain

For God’s rule in our churches

Leader 3: Extend your love, we pray, to our churches—to churches divided by controversy or weakened by loss of vision. Provide for your church, we pray, opportunities for ministry and the leadership and vision to meet those opportunities. Refrain

[The following refrain is to be sung by all after each of the following prayers:]

“In Our Lives, Lord, Be Glorified” SNC

For God’s forgiveness and blessing

Leader 1: Loving God, we cling to your saving grace. Forgive us when we so earnestly seek to do your will that we lift up ourselves instead of you. Forgive us, we pray. Refrain

Leader 2: Forgive us when we neglect your gifts to us, when we waste our time on frivolity and spend our money on vain things. Forgive us, we pray. Refrain

For God’s blessing on those who proclaim the Word

Leader 3: Empower, we pray, those prophets who proclaim your Word. Through spoken words, through musical offerings, and through visual arts, may they be faithful to your Word and sensitive to the needs of your people. Refrain

For God's blessing on those who lead in prayer

Liturgist: Empower, we pray, those priests who lead your people in prayer. Through spoken words, musical offerings, and the visual arts, may they be sensitive to spirits of your people and the leading of your Spirit. Refrain

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Offering

Offertory: "Lord, Be Glorified," Kilpatrick, arr. Hayes

Liturgist: A summons to worship. A celebration of God's salvation. The truth about our lives in God's world. Christian sisters and brothers, with the psalmist let us rejoice in God our Savior, longing for that day when we will join the angels in heaven to sing our Lord's praise.

The Psalm

Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word. Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will. Bless the Lord, all his works in all the places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Hymn
"Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" PsH 475, PH 478, RL 144, TH 76-77

stanza 1: unison; stanza 2: harmony; stanza 3: unison; stanza 4: unison, with descant by David Willcocks.

Benediction

Organ Postlude

Recessional on LAUDA ANIMA, Donald Hustad.

Excerpt

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Notes

1 A musician who may or may not be the liturgist should lead the rehearsal. You may also wish to rehearse the canon on “Amazing Grace,” dividing up the congregation in four sections so that during the service a simple gesture will let everyone know when to come in without the need for further instructions. Invite the congregation to imagine that we are joining our voices with all the saints now in glory who have sung (and may still be singing) this song. Think of singing in canon like hearing echoes of a vast throng of saints singing in praise of God’s amazing grace.

2Descant from Reformed Worship 21.

3In the spirit of many simple songs, new stanzas were created to be sung to the same melody. First time, cantor sings with minimal piano accompaniment. Second time, congregation sings with instrumental doubling. Piano continues during prayer.