My friend Jeff Kallevig, pastor of the local Evangelical Lutheran Church here in town was in my office last week and during our conversation he noticed my copy of “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society” by Eugene Peterson on my shelf. He commented on it as being pertinent to the subject we were discussing. I admitted that I had started the book 3-4 times and had never found it engaging enough to stick with. But he challenged me to try again and I am glad that he did. I think that certain books are made for certain times in our lives. And this time I am finding Peterson extremely helpful.
This morning I was reading his chapter on worship. If you are unfamiliar with the book, he uses the Psalms of Assent to address various subjects in the pilgrimage of the Christian life. And in this chapter he addresses Ps. 122: “Let’s Go to the House of God.”
Towards the end of the chapter he states:
“The Word of God is everywhere in worship. In the call to worship we hear God’s first word to us; in the benediction we hear God’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our faith-parents; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate. Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the judgments of God, we are familiarized with what God says, what he has decided, the ways he is working out our salvation.”
“If we stay at home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss a lot, for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unnoticed prejudices. In worship we are part of ‘the large congregation’ where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us not only in our heads, but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith & blessing with the worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience. We want to hear what God says and what he says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God.”
This is basically Worship 101, but it challenged me again to recognize what is happening in worship. With the politics and complaining and pettiness of church and worship, it is important to recognize the various elements through which God speaks. Why DO people come to worship? He points out that it is not just through cultural convention or obligation.
But his comment on preaching struck me: “where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith & blessing with the worshipers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience.” It is a reminder that it is both the preacher and the congregations experience that must inform the declaration of the Word of God. The good preacher is not above the people declaring the Word of God, but is standing beside the people, reflecting on his/her own experience with the Word as well as his/her knowledge of the people’s lives this week and shining the Word of God on it.
Good read. Thanks, JK.