This has been an upside down week! Our air conditioner quit working in our house almost a week ago. In Houston, in July, that is a big problem. Our thermostat has been reporting 96 degree temps inside the house at 10:00 PM. To escape the heat we stayed in a local hotel for a few days. After that we have been graciously hosted by some of our sweet family nearby for another few days.
Despite the inconsistent schedule, frustration with the repair moving slowly, missing our comfortable home, and living out of suit cases, we are finding the silver lining. In all of the challenges and changes, God is faithful. We observe that we are provided for and loved despite not knowing exactly where we will sleep or when we will get back home.
It reminded me of the Psalm from last Sunday, and specifically the first verse. Psalm 89:1 says,
“Baptismal unity will never be that of an “insider” group. Baptism, which constitutes the Church, also calls Christians to identify in solidarity with all people. Its celebration will therefore have certain counter-cultural elements as well. The poor will be baptized with a least as great a dignity as the rich. Women and men, children and adults, and people from all ethnic/class/caste backgrounds will stand here on equal footing, equally in need of God’s mercy, equally gifted with the outpoured Spirit. Baptism, which creates members of the local community, also at the same time creates these people as member of the one universal Body of Christ. Baptism calls us to unity, not to division.” Chicago Statement on Worship and Culture, Lutheran World Federation, 2.3.
Psalm 111:1 says, “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.” At the very center of all true worship is an attitude of thankfulness. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” We call communion “thanksgiving” because the scripture tells us that when Jesus was eating with his disciples “he gave thanks, broke it, and said, this is my body….” Following Jesus’ lead, our worship at God’s table is centered in an attitude of thankfulness. Back to Psalm 111. It says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” I’m interested in the idea of whole-heartedness. What does it look like to give thanks with a whole heart? What are the things that divide our heart and keep us from wholly giving ourselves in thanks to God?
When we gather together for corporate worship, the people assembled are engaging with the music at a variety of levels. I like to simplify this into three layers, or sections of a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, the outermost layer, is the musical content. Some people engage and respond to the music used in worship purely at the musical level: melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and dynamics. The next layer down in the middle is the lyrical content. Some people engage and respond to the music and also recognize that there are lyrics and the lyrics have a quality. They are poetic and have rhyme, meter, and beauty. The bottom layer is the foundation that we want all people to get to. It is the spiritual content. All of the musical and lyrical content being presented is prompting us to recognize the spiritual reality of who God is and what God has done. Our songs in worship are there to move us into participation with God in the work of recreating and renewing the whole world.
This week I will begin to lead our worship band through some discussion using the new resource: Can We Talk? Engaging Worship and Culture. This resource is a type of study guide to help churches practically flesh out how and why worship intersects with culture. It uses the Nairobi Statement as a lens to view worship. Although our worship band mainly provides the music for the service, it is helpful to think about worship as a whole and how our music serves it. We will have some discussion about what worship looks like (how is our space used and what can visual arts do?) sounds like (music and the proclamation of God’s word), and how worship engages mind, body, and spirit through ritual practices like prayer, the sacraments, and blessings. I was thrilled to be a contributing author for this resource and highly recommend checking it out.
Last week I started a reflection on the text from the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” The text was written by William Williams in the 18th century (read more about him here). The second stanza reads, “Open now the crystal fountain where the healing waters flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The biblical imagery is stark. The fire and cloudy pillar refer to the symbolic objects that God used to lead Israel in their exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 13). You might not realize it, but the Paschal candle in our sanctuary (the tall, white candle with the cross on it, near the baptismal font) is designed to recall this biblical image. It is a tall, white pillar, like the cloud that led Israel. Just as the cloudy pillar symbolized God leading Israel into their liberation from Egypt, so does the Paschal candle stand at the baptismal font, reminding us of God’s endless provision for our freedom in Christ.
Today I was reflecting on the text from the hymn “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” The text was written by William Williams in the 18th century (read more about him here). The second stanza reads, “Open now the crystal fountain where the healing waters flow; let the fire and cloudy pillar lead me all my journey through.” The biblical imagery is stark. The crystal fountain refers to Revelation 22:1, “Then the angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear.” The healing waters of this river nourish the trees of life planted there whose “leaves are the cure for the nations” (Revelation 22:2). These healing trees are a recapitulation of an idea from Ezekiel 47:12 where, “this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.” A river of healing, life, and wholeness is opened when we draw near to God in worship.
One of my favorite hymns is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (ELW 807). It is one of my favorite songs to sing in worship. The lyrics made an impact on me once a long time ago, and they have stuck with me ever since. The ELW version of the hymn has some different verses in stanza 1. The version I am familiar with says, “Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.” The flaming tongues provide a throwback to Acts 2 and Pentecost when the crowd was able to understand the preaching in their own languages about the marvels of God. God’s love is truly like a mountain, steadfast and unchanging throughout generations. Check this out if you want to see even more variations on the text.
When we are baptized, all of our life is baptized. Every portion of our mind, body, and soul is washed in the cleansing stream of the river of life. Every corner of who we are is wholly dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized we are claimed as God’s child, brought into the loving embrace of God’s body, the church, and wrapped in the arms of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are then free to find our calling and serve in God’s kingdom, no matter what type of occupation we hold. Everything about us is put into service of making God’s plan of new creation happen where we are.
Baptism is one of the rites that has been handed down to us through the centuries of Christian faith. In baptism we are connected to the countless stories throughout the Bible of people transitioning into newness of life: Noah and his family surviving the flood, the Israelites fleeing captivity through the Red Sea, and later crossing the Jordan River into the promised land. The imagery of baptism points us to death and resurrection. We go under the waters, dark and mysterious like the tomb, and rise from the experience dripping with a new life. Our tradition at Faith is to give people a new, white blanket and wrap them with it after their baptism. This symbolically shows that we are now “clothed in Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)