A Stone in Zion: Bringing a scriptural image to life in worship

1/7 Pre-planning

Brian just called with his text and theme for this Sunday’s LOFT. Matt. 6:33—“First Things First.”

Remembered Neal told a story years ago in a sermon on the same text about rocks in bucket: Teacher fills a bucket with large rocks. Asks class, “Is the bucket full?” “Yep,” they say. He pours in some bags of gravel. “Now it’s full, right?” Pours in bags of sand. “Surely now it’s full.” Finally pours in a pitcher of water. The lesson? A student says, “You can always cram more in the cracks.” “You’d think so,” says the teacher. But the lesson is, “You have to put the big stones in first.” I don’t remember anything else about the sermon, but I remember that story.

A powerful metaphor. Very visual. Could we use this in the service? Tell the tale near the beginning of worship, where we first articulate our theme, to help sharpen the focus for our praise and our prayers of confession? Or maybe near the end, to cement the theme in our minds, to strengthen our dedication daily to put the biggest and “living” stone first into our life’s full bucket?

To do: Float this idea with Peter and Molly before planning meeting.

Hmmm. Wondering if God doesn’t have something up the sleeve. Went up to the chapel where they’re hanging a grand banner for the Symposium on Worship and the Arts this weekend. Chris Overvoorde is the artist. What is it? Three beautiful swaths of colored fabric draped from the ceiling; in front of them a large painting of a cross made from twelve large stones.

1/8 Post-planning

Pete and Molly thought the bucket story idea wasn’t bad, but Molly in particular was not completely sold. Then Jill suggested that we not just tell the story, but act it out! Do the demonstration. Get a big ol’ bucket and some sizable stones and bags of gravel and sand and pitchers of water! Put it all out front and place and pour and pose the question. Make it more visual, experiential. Of course!

We talked then about making the most of this image—looking up other references in Scripture to Christ as the Rock or the Living Stone (Ps. 18; 1 Peter)—and letting them populate our prayers and transitions. Not too many different uses of the metaphor—the service still needs to be thematically unified—but how rich the service might be if we explore that one image! Like looking at a precious stone from many angles.

1/9 Rehearsal

Rehearsal was fabulous tonight—in no small measure, I’m sure, because devotions beforehand were so fine. Molly’s plan was to read the Matthew passage, tell the bucket story, connect the two, and then pray for a while. Just before praying, we passed around a small bucket filled with marble-sized rocks and encouraged each team member to take one and carry it with them through the week. Like a dress rehearsal for Sunday, where we’ll do this in the service itself right after the sermon. While the music plays (“Seek Ye First” [PsH 209, PH 333, SFL 155, TWC 447], “Take My Life That It May Be” [PsH 289], and “Take, O Take Me As I Am” [SNC 215]—all in the key of D), half the team (the half not playing) will bring buckets to the congregation for a kind of reverse offering. We each take a stone from the bucket to remind ourselves in the week to come of the offering we make each day—a decision to put first things first.

1/13 Sunday evening
To do: Send notes to Dean, Todd, Sarah—Exceptional leadership, especially during prayers.

Miriam (my eight-year-old daughter) came to LOFT tonight. Talking on the way home, I asked what she remembered most from the service. “The dancing, the big banner, and the rocks,” she said. Hmmm. Our LOFT services are so dominated by music and by the proclaimed Word. And she’s a very aural little girl. But what had she noticed most? The visual elements of the service. Hoping there was some content to her recollection, I asked, with trepidation, “You remembered the rocks—what about the rocks?” “God is the biggest rock. And God has to go in first.”

If a month from now, that’s what she thinks when she sees that stone on her dresser (all right, the whole bucket of stones!)—if that’s what students remember—if thirty years from now, that’s all any of them remember from their years of worshiping at LOFT, that will be fine with me.

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).