Pastor's monthly letter to the congregation:
Grace to you...and Peace
“Why do we do it this way?” Every denomination and congregation has their own particular way of doing things. Even if it’s not formal or intentional, every church has their own rhythms, their own rituals, their own liturgy (i.e. public service). Visit another congregation, especially within a different Christian tradition, and you may be struck by the differences in “how they do it,” and realize that there are particular rhythms of worship that you’re used to. John Burgess observes that our own “ritual is so well established that no one even notices it—until it is broken. Only then do people sit up and sense that something is not quite right” (Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches Can Reform Themselves Again, WJK Press, 2013, p. 48). So…how is our worship service ordered; why do we do it this way?
Our liturgy has four basic movements: 1) Gathering, 2) Hearing and Proclaiming the Word, 3) Responding, 4) Being Sent Out.
Gathering to the Word is the first movement. The Church is the people of God in Christ. So we don’t “go to church” or “have church,” rather, the Church gathers together. The Church—the people of God—gathers to worship the Lord. We are gathered to the Word—that is, Jesus Christ. Before even saying “good morning” or announcing ministry opportunities, a brief Scripture is heard. In our Call to Worship we recognize that God calls us to worship. We pray to the Lord, sing our praises, confess how we “miss the mark” of living faithfully, we are declared forgiven, sing Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and share the Peace of Christ with each other. All of this prepares us and gathers us in for the next movement of worship…
Hearing and Proclaiming the Word. Jesus commands us to “change and become like little children” so that we may “enter” and “receive the kingdom of God” (see Matt 18:3; Luke 18:17). So, in this movement, adults get to “listen in” as the youngest disciples of the church lead us all in listening for, recognizing, and following Jesus Christ—the Living Word. Then we pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate—light up, brighten—our hearts and minds as we listen intently for the Word of the Lord read and proclaimed from the Holy Bible and in a sermon. This part of the service includes proclaiming and hearing. This double-emphasis goes back to the Reformation and John Calvin who says that a church of God exists and is recognizable, in part, wherever the Word of God is sincerely preached and sincerely heard by those gathered (see Institutes, 4.1.9, and Book of Order, F-1.0303). So preparing to hear the Word of God rightly is just as important as preparing to proclaim the Word of God rightly. The first movement of our liturgy is meant to help us prepare to preach and hear the Word, but we would all do well throughout the week to prepare ourselves to encounter the Living Word of God in worship.
Responding to the Word comes next. Sometimes we respond in song or by affirming our faith. But as an act of worship, we always respond to the Word of God proclaimed and heard by praying together and offering our gifts—and ultimately our very selves—to the Lord. This is how we respond rightly: with lives lived in praise to God—in Doxology! Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are each a “sign and seal” of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, at least monthly, we respond to the Word by Sealing the Word in a Sacrament. Each of these responses to the Word is an act of worship and a (re-)commitment of discipleship.
Bearing and Following the Word into the World ‘concludes’ our liturgy. We are now sent back out into the world by the Word and with the Word—Jesus Christ—renewed within us, with a song on our lips and in our hearts. With a Charge and Blessing to bear and follow Christ, we re-enter the world so that others might see the Word of the Lord reflected in our lives. So, while our church’s weekly gathering ends at this point, our liturgy actually continues as we both bear Christ within us—offering him to the world—and we follow Christ into the world—going wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, by the grace of the Son, and to the glory of the Father. Amen!
Grace & Peace