Is Our Liturgy Working?

All of us have life liturgies which serve to teach and transform our lives.  Example:

Young parent:  (to preschooler)  What do we say when someone gives us a
present?

Preschooler:  Thank you!  I love it!

(Imagine how often this needs to be repeated before Preschooler knows this without thinking.)

Another example:

Worship Leader:  The Lord be with you.

The People:  And also with you.

Some faith traditions have elaborate liturgies and others seem to be non-liturgical, although even the Quakers have a liturgy. (Organized silence.)

Brian McLaren’s morning talk last Monday touched on the issue of liturgy that doesn’t work.  If I am a mean person before worship and I am still a mean person after worship – after being guided by a particular liturgy with my faith community – then the liturgy is not working.

Example (From the PCUSA Liturgical Resource written in 2011 to be used after the passage of Amendment 10-A)

Merciful God, through your Spirit of grace and power, you have called us together as the body of Christ. 

Yet we have fallen short of demonstrating our visible oneness in Christ. We have damaged your church, created factions, and caused harm by stereotyping and demeaning one another.

Forgive us, Lord.
In this time of change within the church,
draw us closer to you and to one another.
Help us to look beyond our differences
to see our common calling in and through you
to proclaim the gospel in word and deed
to a world in desperate need.
We pray in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is a beautiful prayer that requires attention and intentional reflection.  If we pray this prayer and then – during coffee hour – we stereotype someone without blinking or we demean the nursery worker without feeling a twinge of discomfort, the liturgy hasn’t worked for us.

It’s not that the liturgy isn’t lovely; it’s that it didn’t work.  We couldn’t connect with it.  We went through the motions without engaging.  We didn’t get it.

Good liturgy sticks with us throughout our daily routines, by the grace of God.  I might say something catty or mean, but then I feel kind of sick inside, because didn’t I just ask God to help me with that just the other day?  That sick feeling is God helping me stop it.

Is the liturgy by which we live and worship transforming us?  Are we paying attention to the words we speak on Sunday mornings/Tuesday evenings/Thursday afternoon?  We need to be more mindful if we are going to do what Yena advised us to do this afternoon. (Here’s the link.)

Photo of a lovely liturgical dancer at the Opening Worship of the General Assembly of the PCUSA.  Liturgical dancers usually don’t do much for my transformation, but it was an especially apt feature for that worship gathering.

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2 responses to “Is Our Liturgy Working?

  1. Julie A. Johnson

    Hey Jan, Not sure the link worked, could you try again.
    I think you are correct in that liturgy needs somehow to open us up to God’s Spirit and change us. The attitude of the worship leader and worshipper is key as you noted. Sometimes liturgy can be boring and no very impactful and we need to examine why.

    You offer several good points with which I agree. I would add one more. People who gather for worship need to be taught how to worship (like, say thank you to your uncle for the present). By this I mean, not ever part of worship or the liturgy of worship is for “me”. We are worshipping together as a group of people, a household, a family and we all have different preferences, styles and things that impact us. (ie. what you said about liturgical dance.)

    Living in our consumer-driven society, we are very used to evaluating–I like this, I don’t like this, I’m interested in this. This is because marketing can be so successful. Advertisers have learned what a bright, faithful, middle-aged, married woman living in Chicago “likes” and doesn’t like. (think FB button). However, when we come together to worship the very thing you hate or think is boring, might be the very thing that the Holy Spirit reaches into my life to convict me.

    We need to help people to realize that worship is not about them or meeting their own needs…beyond understand that it is for God (which is of course true). Worship is for ALL of God’s people who gather. So, when I’m slipping into..omg this is so ridiculous, I need to check myself, apologize to God and then pray for the person or person for whom this part of the service might just be ministering too. And then when the service touches me, perhaps that person (who might be rolling their eyes) will be praying for me. We share in worship together.

    Some might say, we don’t have any practice at this. I’d disagree. We at least have some practice. Think of the Super Bowl every year. One of the big features is all the advertisements.( http://www.superbowl-commercials.org) Honestly, I love some of the ads, and just don’t get the others. Every year, I wait for the Budweiser dalmatians…and something inside of me says, “ahhh.” Ok..so church is different than advertisements for Doritos or E-Trade. However, why I watch a Go-Daddy commercial and am offended or a Honda CRV commercial and just don’t get it…I think, well that ad was definitely for someone else. Perhaps we could have the same holy courteous expand this to worship.

    Then again…if there is a bubble over everyone’s head…then something definitely needs to change.

  2. Is the liturgy working or is the Holy Spirit? Is that the pastor’s fault or the congregations? Too many folks come to church to be entertained and perhaps inspired. They don’t come to build community. they don’t come to be challenged. They certainly don’t come to be “convicted.” There have been times when I look back on the service I think, “Yikes, well I sure blew that!” and following the service someone will tell me how meaningful that was and how it seemed to speak directly to their individual situation. That’s not liturgy “working.” It is the Holy Spirit. We, as pastors are easily lured into the “entertainment” trap.

    That is not to say that striving towards good liturgy is a waste of time. Far from it. I think that good liturgy works on a subconscious level inviting people into conversation with God – speaking and listening. But, like Jesus saying “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” the participant also has to open themselves to the possibility that God is trying to have a conversation. Even with that, there are times when the Holy Spirit sneaks in the back door and takes someone by surprise.

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