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A Service of Lessons and Psalms

This psalms service is based on a lessons and carols format that grows out of a thoroughly Reformed theology of Scripture. Third Church has developed an appetite for services where long portions of Scripture are woven with song, prayer, and silence. The development of Advent and Good Friday services that use this form has led to the planning of other types of services that use this pattern as well.

On one occasion we developed a communion service that told God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and glorification using the lessons and carols format. On another occasion we juxtaposed Eve’s deathly “Take and eat” with Christ’s life-giving “Take and eat.” In most of these services the sermon was abbreviated or dispensed with entirely. In each case we honored Paul’s charge to Timothy: “Give much attention to the public reading of Scripture.”

This format counters our tendency to listen poorly to God’s Word while at the same time expecting the sermon to tell us “what God is really trying to say.” Scripture is God speaking to us. God’s word is active in supplying “seed for the sower and bread for the eater.” Our goal is to make ample room for God’s Spirit to use his Word as he promises he will.

This psalms service launched our church into a time of intensively studying the psalms. In the two months following the service we arranged a psalms series for Sunday evenings. We also held mid-week meetings that offered formal instruction on the psalms, including a session on Hebrew poetry by Dr. Carl Bosma from Calvin Theological Seminary. The timing of this series allowed us to borrow richly from Calvin College’s year-long focus on the psalms and from ideas gleaned from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s symposium on worship.

This psalms service features the story of David and Goliath as told in 1 Samuel. We chose this story because it features the man famous for his psalm-writing prowess, but also because it was a chance to breathe new life into a great old story. In addition, it allowed us to feature every psalm genre, since the narrative tracks through the landscape of the psalms: from lament and fear of the people; to trust, assurance, and a desperate prayer on the run; and finally to a song of victory and thanksgiving. We used creative license and great discernment when inserting portions of psalms into the narrative.

One of the most powerful tools the lesson and carol format offers is its ability to slow down the storytelling. This helps us reclaim the pathos of Scripture and allows us to more fully enter the scene. Music underscored some Scripture portions. A drumbeat grew to match the beating of David’s heart when he was on the run.

For the readings, the pastor carried the narrative portions of 1 Samuel, and two adults and two students served as readers for the prayers. The congregation played the part of the Hebrew army as it quaked in fear before the giant enemy (Psalm 3) before cheering Yahweh’s victory with Psalm 18.

Lessons and Psalms Service: “God and Goliath”

Prelude

Welcome and Introduction

[The pastor introduced the format of “Lessons and Psalms.” He encouraged people to listen intently to the Scripture readings in order to notice the interplay between “the scene and the unseen,” the insertion of the various psalms, and whose “voice” the psalms were intended to convey. The people were encouraged to be hearers of the Word and, at least on this occasion, to enjoy the use of our God-given imaginations by not turning to the written text. It was also helpful at this time to point out the role of the congregation in several spots.]

Call to Worship: Psalm 147

Song: “Great and Mighty” (Marlene Bigley)

God’s Greeting

Passing the Peace

Song: “O Lord, You Are My Light” (st. 1, 3, 4) PAS 166, PsH 164

Prayer of Illumination

Song: “Ancient Words” LUYH (Michael W. Smith)

The Setting of the Scene: 1 Samuel 17:1-11

A Lament on Behalf of the People: Psalm 10:1-6

The Setting of the Unseen—God Speaks: Psalm 2:1-6

God’s Laughable Plans Unfold: 1 Samuel 17:12-27

Sung Prayer: “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” LUYH, HFW 241, PAS 64/638, SNC 203, WR 484

A Psalm of Fear: Psalm 3:1-2, 7-8 (in unison)
LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
Arise, LORD!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.

Sung Prayer: “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” LUYH, HFW 241, PAS 64/638, SNC 203, WR 484

David’s Call to Trust: Psalm 115:2-10

The People Fear: 1 Samuel 17:28-37

David’s Prayer of Assurance: Psalm 27:1-2 (vs. 1 spoken with questioning hesitation; vs. 2 with more confidence)

Instrumental: “The Lord Is My Light” (flute and piano)

The Battle is the LORD’S: 1 Samuel 17:38-47

David’s Prayer on the Run: Psalm 35 (emphasize each of the concluding words “I am your salvation”)

God Vindicates His Name: 1 Samuel 17:48-51

A Psalm of Thanksgiving: Psalm 18:46-50 (in unison)
The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing love to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.

Song of Praise and Triumph: “I Will Call Upon the Lord” CH 530, SWM 33, WR 653

Meditation: “The Scene and the Unseen” (based on Psalm 2)

This story is about God. Not David. Not Goliath. It is about God. David shouts the central premise of the entire story: “This day the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!” How easily we forget. We forget even when the line is shouted by the main actor: “The whole world will know that God is God. The LORD saves!” Somehow we become so fixated on the stuff in front of our faces that we lose sight of the God who made it all.

This story it isn’t about the big guy and the little guy. In fact, it purposely pits the little guy against the big guy so we’ll fix our eyes on the much bigger God. Scripture is not about giant enemies or David. Nor about fighting or making sure you have all five stones in your sack. It is about God—the God who is present, guarding, guiding, managing history in the direction he wants it to go for the benefit of his people.

All Scripture, but the psalms in particular, gives us a lens through which to see reality: “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles’” (Ps. 2:2). That is the stuff in front of our faces; that is “the scene.” Your eyes take it in. It is raw and real. Scripture never asks us to pretend we don’t live here. But Scripture offers us a lens to understand another reality: “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain’” (v. 4). Do you see both the scene and the unseen? Our God reigns through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Morning Prayers

Offertory

Sung Charge: “Lift High the Cross” (st. 1, 7) LUYH, CH 450, HFW 162, PH 371, PsH 373, SWM 243, TH 263, WR 287

Parting Blessing

Postlude