How Your Whole Worship Service Can Proclaim the Gospel

Where is the Proclamation?

Sometimes older church leaders will look at younger innovative churches and wonder if the proclamation of the gospel is being lost. They wonder if there is still a place for preaching in these new church models.

It is true that churches like mine—which often rails against preaching that is individualized, overly rationalistic, disembodied information dumps—could be perceived as drastically debasing the role of proclamation.

But we haven’t. In fact, we have elevated the role of proclamation in our church, just not the way people would have thought.

Not If, but Where

In our worship gathering the question is not if proclamation happens, but where it happens.

Someone new to our gathering, steeped in a traditions form of expository preaching, commented that while exposition didn’t happen in the sermon (as classically understood), it instead happens throughout the entire worship service. This is absolutely correct.

Let me explain by walking us through that week’s worship gathering.

The preaching text was Romans 8.1-8, 12-13, celebrating that for those in Christ there is therefore now no condemnation.  The rest of the lectionary was Isaiah 43.16-21, Psalm 126, and John 7.53 – 8.11 [the woman caught in adultery].

A Service of Proclamation

    • Silence, Invocation, Call to Worship: After the Time of Silence and the Invocation we sang the call to worship, “Wake Up,” (which we had recently written based in the text of Roman 13), calling us to attend to the work of Christ.
    • Scripture Reading: Then comes the Scripture readings, read from the four walls of the sanctuary symbolizing that we are being surrounded by the words of God, ending with a reading from the Gospel of John and how Christ did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
    • Video Icon and Litany: Between the readings and the sermon is what we call the Liturgicon (a litany and video icon), which in this case was a guided meditation on the painting, “Christ and the Adulterous” by Jan Brueghel, focused on Christ’s non-condemning The congregation interacted around several questions: Why is Jesus the lowest in the painting?  Who is at the center of the painting?  What is the significance of that?  Why is the crowd fading into darkness?  Notice that man who dropped the stone…notice that he is the second lowest.  What does his posture resemble?  Notice the shape of the woman’s hands.  What does all this tell us about Jesus?
    • Sermon: Only after all this comes the sermon (which for us is only one aspect of the dual apex of the service), which we conceive as a focused time of displayingthe gospel of Christ and drawing everyone into the Kingdom of God.  In the sermon there of course will be information conveyed and reference made to grammar and genre.  But the true reference of exposition is always Christ himself and his saving work towards which all our preaching must speak.  This week’s sermon focused on living in the hope that while we are guilty, in Christ we are not condemned.
    • Prayer and Musical Response: After the sermon is a time of response through congregational prayer and two worship songs (“Grace Flows Down,” “Wondrous Cross”).
    • Eucharist: Then comes the second apex of our service, the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Lord’s Table, which is itself a fully participatory exposition of the non-condemning hospitality of Christ, and a fully participatory congregational response in faith and hope.
    • Musical Response: During this time of coming to the Table we celebrated the non-condemning love of Christ in three songs: “You are My King,” “Kyrie Eleison,” and “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder.”
    • Benediction: Finally, in the Benediction, we are sent out as the non-condemned people of God, the Body of Christ, offered for the life of the world.

 

Fully-bodied, Multisensory Proclamation

Of course, reading this pales in comparison to experiencing it.  But at Life on the Vine biblical proclamation happens throughout the entire service, not just in the sermon.  And it is done is a fully biblical, artistic, and immersive situation.  Instead of a 30 minute exposition of the grammar, structure, and meaning of Romans 8, we have a 75 minute exposition engaging the heart, soul, mind, and spirit—rather than just the mind.

The question for all of us shouldn’t be if we still practice proclamation, but where and how we practice it? Are we connecting the heart, mind, and spirit? Or just one of those?

(First published by Gravity Leadership)

Being the Temple for the World, #4

Hand_of_God_1135341759150ab8377d56f3

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

So we have talked about how Heaven and Earth are best thought as God’s Temple, and that God rests in his temple residence as the ruler of the cosmos.

This naturally leads us to ask, “Ok, so what does humanity have to do with all this?”

Good question. Glad you asked.  Answering this questions leads to an understanding of the nature/purpose of humanity, and then how this was lost and what salvation means (hint: salvation is re-gaining the presence of God).

Image and Likeness of God?

Theologians have debated forever what the image and likeness of God means: what makes us in the image/likeness of God? Is it our spirituality, our immortal soul, our rationality, our creativity? Well yes, but no.  Well, yes and no.

Yes, I believe all of these things are part of humanity in some sense and they inform what being in the image/likeness of God is.  But, as with our understanding of “creation” as focusing more on the function than the material, so too must we consider the function of humanity rather than its material (spirit, soul, body, mind).

Royal Image:

Our first understanding of “image” comes from the practices of rulers to place statues of themselves around their land to remind the inhabitants who is in charge.  The “image” of the ruler is an extension of his rule, marking out the boundaries of his kingdom.  In a sense, humanity serves as representatives of God.  And as God’s representatives God blesses humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  As we will see, this “blessing” to be “fruitful” and “multiply” is key in understanding God’s call to Abraham and then Israel.

Cultic Image:

But in addition to this “royal image” we also need to think of the temple context of creation and the garden (something we have been arguing for throughout).

When people build temples for their gods they usually included an “idol” of the god, an “image” that was a representation of the god.  These would be placed in the holy places of the temple.  Of course people understood that they were not the gods themselves, but was a representation of the god.

So, if we are to think of Eden (and the cosmos as a whole) as a temple of God, made by God, then it is reasonable to think that God placed his own “image” in this temple.  Indeed, this is exactly what he has done in humanity, the original “image” or “idol” of God, serving in the temple of God.

Our Function?

Ok, so these are two essential aspects of what it means for humanity to be in the “image and likeness of God”, but still, what does that tell about our function.

In this sense, that humanity is made in the image of God means humanity is to express and extend God’s rule and reign as God’s representatives (royal image), and more intimately, humans are to be representations (cultic image) of God in the world.  Wherever we go God is meant to be seen and known.  This is why God blesses humanity and tells us to be fruitful and multiply.  In a sense, as humanity spreads out and cultivates the earth the living and walking image of God will expand and fill the earth so that God’s presence will likewise fill the earth.

The function of humanity means we are to be representative of God’s kingdom in the world, and more than that, we are actually representation of God

This sets the bar pretty high for what we were created to do.

Unfortunately Adam and Eve almost immediately fell from being a representative and representation of God in the world, and instead wanted to set up their own rule and kingdom (one separated from the word and work of God) (this is what Romans 5:17 tells us, that in Adam sin and death gained a kingdom).

But that is for the next post.

God’s Presence

To sum up, creation is best thought as a place for God’s presence in that it is structured like a cosmic temple, a place for God to rest and rule as his residence.  And humanity was meant to represent this presence of God in the world.

But all is broken now, with God’s presence known as partial and fleeting.  What is God going to do about it?  First he begins to creates a small scale place for his presence, which then turns into a person of his presence, and finally a people of his presence (overview is here).


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

The Practice of Living: All Saints Day

cloud-of-witnesses

Why do we run from death if death has been defeated? Why do we forget those who have gone before us and pretend that we have to go it alone?

All Saints Day is good for us here in America, in the West, where we are prone to ignore death and live alone.

All Saints Day breaks through our willed ignorance of death and our own myopic isolation.

All Saints Day is the day we remember the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us by remember that the Church of Christ is much bigger than just those we see day to day, and it has lasted much longer than our own local extension of Christ’s Body.

Death has been Defeated

We must come to remember death instead of ignoring it, and for getting about those who has passed before us. But we must also remember that death has been defeated.

Much like Ash Wednesday, All Saints Day helps us remember that from dust we have been taken and to dust we will return. And yet the accent on All Saints Day is on the Church Triumphant, raised in Christ, the one who has overcome the grave and stolen death’s sting.

It is a day to remember and rejoice the lives of our friends and family who have died before us and sleep in Christ.

Here at Life on the Vine we spend the hour before our service bringing pictures and sharing stories of our loved ones who have gone on before us. And these pictures then stayed around our altar as we worshipped and shared the Communion of Christ together in the main service.

The Great Community

All Saints Day helps us remember the community of faith who have gone before us. It helps us remember that we are not alone, in this time and place, but that Christ’s church, the community of faith, is much bigger and longer than we often think.

all saintsFor we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), a great cloud of the faithful from all ages, whose lives speak of God’s great love, whose lives tell of God’s great work, whose lives continue to spur us on to love and good work.

In a long but good prayer our liturgist led us in remembering the Saint from the early church, from all continents, and all tribes, and all peoples who bear witness to the risen Christ.

Not the End

Let us remember that “This is not the End”, for the story goes on, “further up and further in.”

How have you celebrated All Saints Day in churches and traditions?

 

Telling the Story: The Eucharistic Prayer

eucharist1
Last month, at the Ecclesia National Gathering, I had the privilege and honor to preside over communion for the whole group. I led through the time as we usually do here at Life on the Vine, but many people not from a more liturgical background asked about the prayer leading into the Table.  Many commented on how they really “liked how I re-told the story of salvation” leading into communion.

So I want to explain a little bit of the Eucharistic Prayer (of “Great Thanksgiving”) that I used.

The History

The idea of the Eucharistic prayer (and remember, “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” which indicate that Communion or the Lord’s Table is meant to be a celebration of God’s great gift in Christ, not merely a somber remembrance), the idea is that as Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” that the this didn’t just mean the taking of the cup and bread, but the whole process of giving thanks to God during the mealtime prayer.

Following Deut. 8: 10 (“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”), at every meal a devout Jew would thank God the creator for the gift of land which was a promise of the covenant.  They would affirm God as the creator of all things who has covenanted especially with Israel by giving the land, and the fruits of this land now eaten come from the promises of God and therefore call for thanksgiving.  But now for Christians, in Christ, the Creator God has covenanted with all people and the entire world becomes the land of blessing.

Do “to this in remembrance of me” is to pray a prayer similar to Jesus’ when he prayed over the cup and the bread during the Last Supper, a prayer assumed by all those familiar with Jewish practice and not mentioned in the Gospel texts for that reason (although the very early Didache indicates such a prayer).

This prayer of thanksgiving to God becomes the first part of the “Eucharistic Prayer”, with the second part being the words of institution (action of the Son) and the third part being the epiclesis (action of the Spirit), making this prayer Trinitarian in structure.

The Structure

So basically there are three parts corresponding to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

743px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_001
“God the Father” by Julius Schnorr (Woodcut,1860)

Part One: Thanks to the Father

The prayer begins with thanking/praising the Father for all of creation.  But creation is corrupted, but because God hasn’t abandoned creation, we thank the Father for the promise of salvation.  This can take many forms from the promise in the garden, to the calling of Abraham, the people of Israel, etc.  But whatever is said this first section ends with thanking God for sending the Son (Gal. 4:4 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”).

This is where “telling the story of salvation” comes in, and depending on the liturgical calendar and the sermon you can emphasize different elements.  See the Book of Common Worship, beginning on page 126 for several different types of prayer to inspire you.

As a way of tying together the cosmic and eternal significance of such a salvation in Christ, this section is often concluded with the Sanctus from Is. 6:3 (Rev. 4:8): “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Example (I usually do this extemporaneously):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right, our duty and highest joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks to you, O holy Lord,

Father almighty, everlasting God.
You created the heavens and the earth
and all that is in them.
You made us in your own image;
and in countless ways you show us your mercy.

We praise you for Jesus Christ,
who was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin,
and who, having overcome temptation,
is able to help us in our times of trial,
and to give us strength to take up the cross and follow him

Therefore with angels and archangels
and the whole company of heaven,
we worship and adore your glorious name,
praising you forevermore:

 Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

"Last Supper" by Jacopo Robusti
“Last Supper” by Jacopo Robusti

Part Two: Thanks to the Son

The second part focuses on the words of Jesus in commanding us to repeat his Last Supper, and is often called the words of institution.  The purpose is to remind us that this is what Jesus commanded us to do.  For many traditions it is these words that make Communion be Communion, the Eucharist a Eucharist.

It must be remember that these words are still part of the prayer (we are not just teach the congregation about what we are doing).  We are still thanking the Father for the gift of the Son and for the Son’s sacrifice.

Example (I usually do this word for word, as best I can):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

We give you thanks that the Lord Jesus,
on the night before he died,
took bread,
and after giving thanks to you,
he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take, eat.
This is my body, given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.
In the same way he took the cup, saying:
This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this in remembrance of me.

Part Three: Petition to/for the Holy Spirit

"Pentecost" R. De Cramer
“Pentecost” R. De Cramer

The last part is a petition to the Father that the Holy Spirit would come for otherwise all is in vain.  It is the work of the Spirit to that makes us into the Body of Christ. Without the Spirit we would not have life.  It is prayed that the Holy Spirit would take the bread and the cup and make them into the Body and Blood of Christ so that we (the Church) would be make into the Body of Christ.

Sometimes it is thought that the main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to miraculously change the bread and wine.  But really, the whole point is that WE would be change!

Example (usually word for word):
From Book of Common Worship, Prayer D

Merciful God,
by your Holy Spirit bless and make holy
both us and these your gifts of bread and wine,
that the bread we break
may be a communion in the body of Christ,
and the cup we bless may
be a communion in the blood of Christ.

Now, I have left stuff out (the Acclamation and other parts), but this is roughly what we do at Life on the Vine and why we do it.

Summary

So basically we give thanks for the gift of God three times:

We thank the Father for the Son.
We thank the Son for his sacrifice.
We thank the Father for the gift of the Spirit.

In the first we thank the Father for the historical body of Christ.
In the second we thank the Son for the gift of his sacramental body of Christ.
In the third we thank the Holy Spirit for the gift of the ecclesial body Christ.

Lent and Human Limitations

I often always tell people the best spiritual thing they could do is get a good night’s sleep.   Sleep is a necessary limitation to human striving, to the pride of achievement, or of the folly of wasted time.  Eventually we have to sleep.

And I hate that. 

I find it hard to take my own advice and go to bed.  Just one more email to check. Another post to write.  Another page to read.  Another show to watch.

 

 

Limitations

Right now I’m in a season of learning my limits, and so Lent is lining up great for me.

I’m learning not so much my physical limits, but my spiritual and relational limits.  I’m being pushed and pulled (by God) into situations where I don’t have a wise word, a helpful plan, or creative solution.

All I have is my limit. I just don’t have anything else to say, I don’t have a plan or a solution. It is beyond me to know how to help or move a situation forward.

I’m continually reaching my limit of human wise, power, and creatively and I am just throwing up my hands to God for the rest (which is equal parts peaceful release and helpless terror).

Lent

In many ways I think this is what Lent is for.  We give up good things, or bad things, in our lives, and say “I embrace this limitation.” 

In this we acknowledge what God already knows, that we can’t do everything (even when they are good things).  We have to step back and embrace that we are limited in time and space; limited in a body that demands rest (Sabbath); and limited in our knowledge and power.

But God is not burdened by these limitations (Praise be to God).

This morning I had a cross marked on my forehead with the ashes of palms branched (used last year in our Palm Sunday Celebration) to remind me that “from dust we come and to dust we return” (Eccl. 3:20).

While death is the natural limitation of us all, life in Christ is our spiritual end (goal/purpose), but this comes from God, not from us.

Gal. 2:20-21: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Pentecost: Babel Overcome ≠ Babel Reversed

The cover of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan.I often hear that in Pentecost the curse of Babel is reversed. But this is not true. Babel is overcome, but not reversed.

The idea that Babel is reversed goes something like this. Because humanity, in its pride, sought to raise themselves to God’s level, God confused them with multiple languages and they were scattered.  But in Pentecost, everyone hears the Gospel and therefore the curse of Babel is reversed.

From Forced Unity to Dividing Diversity

But truth is much deeper than this.  Babel, and the tower it attempted to build, was a forced unity that led an oppressive domination.  People don’t usually build towers like that back in the day: they are forced to build it. And what is a principle way of dominating oppressed people? Destroy their native language. The politics of Babel is in direct opposition to God’s bless that humanity should multiply and fill the earth (multiply in culture; not just in number).

What often is understood as the curse of Babel is also a blessing in the God is returning diversity to the world.  But in our fallen state this diversity leads to divisions, and racism, genocide, and enslavement have been the norm ever since.

True Diversity

Pentecost overcomes the forced unity of Babel, but also overcomes the dividing diversity after Bable.  In Pentecost each “hears in their own language”, not some universal language.  Diversity is not reversed, only the divisions caused by our fallen fear and panicked prejudice.

Pentecost overcomes Babel, by doing more than reversing it.

(While most would use some depiction of the Tower of Babel for this post, I instead used the cover from Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”.  Think about it…it leads to my next post).

Also, these thoughts are related to the “Prodigal Diversity” signpost in Prodigal Christianity.