Weekly Worship Thought – Silence

mv5bmjy3otk0nja2nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntg3mjc2mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_I saw the film “Silence” last week. The new Martin Scorsese movie is getting a lot of buzz in the religious world. It raises many spiritual elements in a thought-provoking way: faith, doubt, iconography, apostasy, evangelism, and suffering to name a few.

I read the novel by Shusaku Endo (on which the movie is based) about five years ago. One of the most intriguing characters in the novel/movie is Kichijiro. He is the guide that the priests take back to Japan to show them the way. He ends up being the Judas-type character of the story. But the more I think about it, Kichijiro is like the church. As much as we whole-heartedly repent and turn to seek God, we just as earnestly jump back into our old ways. I’m reminded of the line from Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”

This film has stuck with me. Most movies I see don’t leave much of an impact, but I find myself still reflecting on this one. I recommend it if you get the chance. This is not a popcorn and soda type of movie though. It is sobering and very artistically done.

Weekly Worship Thought – #LectioCast

lectiocastI stumbled across a new podcast this last week. LectioCast is part of the Homebrewed Christianity family and features commentary on the lectionary texts for each Sunday. The podcast is billed as a great tool for preachers that like to procrastinate!

The latest episodes that I caught included Danielle Shroyer, who I believe I heard speak at an emerging church event in Austin (probably a decade ago) in conjunction with the release of Robert Webber’s book “Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches.

During a discussion of Jesus and the incarnational aspects of his life, one quote in particular stood out and I wanted to share: “Sin is the shallow answer. Solidarity is the deeper wisdom of what is happening on the cross.”

Weekly Worship Thought – Worship Leader Banter

4b2husoh_m0-zachrie-friesenJared C. Wilson has a post about 10 phrases that worship leaders need to avoid. I do my best to not say these things because they get under my skin when I hear others say them. For the most part they are theologically weak and hype-inducing babble-speak. Especially cringe-worthy is “God showed up.” As if the God of heaven and earth could be controlled or summoned by an incantation.

What is the alternative to babbling like a hype jockey? I am a fan of beginning worship and connecting moments in worship using short, scriptural phrases that center our heart and mind. Here are a few examples of what you could say instead:

  • Sing to the LORD a new song! (Psalm 96:1)
  • I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. (Exodus 15:1)
  • Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. (1 Chronicles 16:9)
  • Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. (1 Chronicles 16:23)
  • Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. (Psalm 30:4)
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Psalm 34:8)
  • But as for me, it is good to be near God. (Psalm 73:28)
  • I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Psalm 146:2)
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

Weekly Worship Thought – Punishment

I have written about the song “Immanuel” by Stuart Townend before. I love using it during Advent because I think it provides a great narrative arc that compliments the story of the season.

Previously I’ve talked about altering the fourth stanza of text to deal with the “fear of hell.” In Jesus, there is no fear. The idea that God is looking to eternally punish anyone is suspect. “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18)

As we sang the song recently, a new lyric jumped out to me. In the third stanza it says, “he was punished for a world’s transgressions.” As I have personally drifted away from a punitive, substitutionary atonement theory, lyrics like these stick out all the more. Violence begets violence. The idea that God violently punished the Son to make things even might be the source of many of our world’s problems.

I found this quote from Rene Girard helpful, I hope you do as well.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Sing a New Church

We sang a text for the first time in worship on Sunday. “Sing a New Church” is written by Delores Dufner, OSB and sung to the tune NETTLETON (Come Thou Fount). I found the comments section on the previously linked page interesting, as well as this post, “Bad Poetry, Bad Theology.” It seems that some Roman Catholics have a problem with the lyrics in this song.

From what I can gather, the problematic text is the refrain,

“Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.”

I can appreciate the theological hesitation. And I think it is always beneficial and good to discern the texts we sing in worship. It is not a trivial thing to pastorally care for the sung theology of a local church. It seems that the primary hang up is the idea that the church can sing itself into being.

From a Lutheran perspective, I can understand the objection. The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith” (Small Catechism). There is no church, and no church can be sung into existence, unless it is the Holy Spirit singing.

l66co3n4gxu-andy-leePerhaps “new” is the most problematic word. I understand the argument that there is only one church. Perhaps “sing a renewed church into being,” better captures the idea in a less heretical way. A new church is a renewed church, which is another way of saying reformation. And certainly the work of continual reformation in the church is performed by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that we, God’s people, don’t have a part in the reformation of the church.

It is the prayerful labors of God’s people, centered in word, meal, and baptism, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that make God’s church renewed. I don’t think the church can enter renewal and reformation through passively willing it. I definitely think that singing has something to do with how the church becomes renewed and reformed.

What do you think? Are the lyrics orthodox or heresy?

Weekly Worship Thought – The Elusive Sabbath

as1w2qxjrie-felix-russell-sawWhy is it so hard to take a break? Even as I type this, it is early in the evening on one of my days off. What is it that made me open the laptop and start typing this article on a Saturday evening? I could postpone it. I have time to finish this article during the week ahead. I could be doing any number of other things right now. I could read a book. I could play a board game with my kids. I could make a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the break. Instead I’m typing this article.

Sabbath is a concept that you already know. It is a spiritual practice. There is something inherently spiritual about our ceasing to work. God could have created the world and the story could have moved on. But the rest is there for a reason. Not so much because God was weary from the heavy lifting of creation, but because we get weary. We are the ones who need to cease working. And God, who always does what is good and best for us, models the best practices for life.

It is the same with music. Music is not just continuous sound. Music is the dialogue of sound and silence. One of the most common mistakes that ensembles make is playing or singing during the rests. The squiggly lines are there for a reason. Music is not music without the rests. Great music draws you into its silence. What musicians don’t play or sing between the notes is just as important as the notes. For music to work, there must be rests.

I know why I am typing on my day off. It is productivity. My self-worth is conjoined to my ability to get stuff done. My identity is wrapped up in what I am able to produce. If I’m not producing something, then I’m not being who I am meant to be. And that is a lie. God did not make me to be a cog on a wheel or a machine in an assembly line. I am God’s child. My self-worth is dependent on who loves me, not what I get done. My identity is claimed in the waters of baptism, not my output.

If you struggle with Sabbath, don’t feel bad. I do too. As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I hope you will not skip over the rests. The notes don’t sustain forever. You have to take a breath to keep the music going.

Weekly Worship Thought – Kingdom Time

tereuy1vsfusu8lztop3_img_2538The ways of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, are upside down when compared to the ways of the world. The last are first. The poor and hungry are blessed. When Jesus appears to be at his weakest, most vulnerable point, he is actually performing his most powerful action. As a reflection of the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, the church marks its time in an upside down way. We count time in a different way than the world. We have reached the end of the church’s calendar. November 20 is Christ the King Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ eternal reign. November 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, similar to New Year’s Day for the church’s calendar. While the world may already be putting up their Christmas trees and decorations, the church is marking time in a different way. We still have some waiting to do.

Prayers of Intercession after the Election

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It is a humbling honor to craft the prayers of intercession for an assembly gathered to worship. I took extra care this week in writing the prayers on the Sunday after such an eventful week. 

A: With the people of God gathered here and throughout the world, we offer our prayers for our nation and those in need of peace during this time.

A brief silence.

A: We pray for the health, well-being, wisdom, and judgment of President-Elect Trump and all who were elected to office this week. Grant our government an orderly and peaceful transition in the months to come, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those who feel like their deepest hopes were dashed and greatest fears were preyed upon in this election. Grant comfort and courage to our Muslim and LGBTQ sisters and brothers during their time of distress, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A:  We pray for peace among the nations. Make our elected leaders quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A: We pray for those who hunger or thirst, for those who doubt or are terrified, for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, for our (specific needs), that all experience the healing and comfort given through Christ, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those gathered in this place to hear the gospel and receive the good gifts of God through Christ Jesus, that guided by the Holy Spirit, we will serve our neighbor and stand against the injustices we might face, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

A:  We give thanks for men and women of every time and place who have died in Christ, and we follow their examples of faithful living, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Weekly Worship Thought – What is the primary symbol of worship?

What would you say is the primary symbol of Christian worship?

Have you ever thought about this question? Let me suggest another way to think about this question. If you walk into a room of people engaged in Christian worship, what is the symbol in the room that gives it away? I believe most people would agree that a cross or crucifix would be the main symbol that is a dead giveaway that a room is used for Christian worship. However, that is not always the case.

Last month I traveled to Rochester, MN for a continuing education event. We gathered at Zumbro Lutheran Church to learn more about our Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) hymnal on the 10th anniversary of its publication. I was struck by the space for worship at Zumbro Lutheran. What stands out to you in their space?

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The first thing that stood out to me was the bold, red letters quoting a passage form 2 Corinthians. This text hovers on the back wall of the chancel, just above the table, and constantly reminds those gathered of God’s mission in Christ.

Next I noticed the object suspended in the air. What does this object represent to you? I can see several things. I could interpret this object as a crown of thorns, a circle of connecting crosses, or the wings of doves. Perhaps you see something different. Then I realized it. There was no cross in this room. At least there was no central, direct, grab-your-attention cross to tell you that this room was used for Christian worship.

Back to my question: what is the symbol in the room that gives Christian worship away? Actually, sorry, that was a trick question. It is a trick question because you may not consider the answer to be a symbol. The answer is people. The assembly gathered is the primary symbol in Christian worship. “Church” first and foremost is a people, not a building. The place in which we gather, the things we do – none of these would occur if not for the gathering of God’s people.