The concept of spiritual disciplines is that they are practices which help us align ourselves with Jesus. Spiritual disciplines also assist us in aligning our hearts with God such that our daily decisions become more and more Christ-like.
The idea of spiritual practices is an ancient one and bridges the gap between Judaism and the church. Many of these disciplines are also part of other religions and their practices. Over the next several months we will be examining these practices from both the Biblical historical and modern practices points of view. We begin with the most important spiritual discipline…worship.
The most basic definition of worship (from Wikipedia) is that it is an act of religious devotion toward a deity. Devotion would be the act of an individual or a community physically, mentally, and emotionally orienting themselves toward a deity and performing actions which imply that the deity is worthy of their commitment of time, energy and resources. It would also imply that the deity will bless and protect the people who worship them. The religions present at the time of the emergence of the people of Israel followed this pattern of worship. Individuals, tribes or nations would have a god or gods whom they worshipped and to whom they looked for support and protection
The first mention of worship in the Old Testament comes in the Abraham story in Genesis. God appears to Abraham and asks him to pack up the family and go on a journey. Chances are that Abraham came from an area which was replete with gods and goddess (the Fertile Crescent). By choosing to follow this one God Abraham was orienting himself toward God and performing actions which implied that this deity was worth following. The first act of worship which might seem familiar to us occurs in Genesis 12:7 when Abraham builds an altar for the worship of the God who had called him to this journey and had made him a promise that the land would be his.
The understanding of worship takes a great leap in Genesis 14:17-20 in which we meet the mysterious Melchizedek, King of Salem (modern Jerusalem). Abraham has just been victorious in battle and upon returning to the area around Salem encounters Melchizedek who is not only a king but a priest of the God Most High (el Elyon). This phrase for God Most High is used more than 20 times in the Psalms to refer to the God of Israel. Whether that is the exact intent of this Genesis passage is unclear, but the New Testament Book of Hebrews takes up this idea and expands on it by declaring that Melchizedek was indeed a priest of the one and only God. In this episode Melchizedek brings forth bread and wine and blesses Abraham in the name of the Most High God who is the maker of heaven and earth. Abraham then gives to the king a tenth (a tithe) of all that Abraham had taken in battle. This tithe is intended as an act of worshipful appreciation to the Most High God. This is followed by Abraham declaring that he has sworn to this Most High God that he would not take anything that God had not given him (spoils of battle) because God alone has made Abraham rich.
What we also discover however in the Genesis narratives is that Abraham’s family was not monotheistic; that they worshipped other gods. We can see this clearly in Genesis 31:25-35 when Rachael steals the household gods of her father Laban and takes them with her when she and Jacob flee Laban’s house. We can assume that Rachael believed these gods were worthy of her devotion because she was willing to risk life and limb to steal them.
In these early narratives while we see worship emerging, the acts of worship have only a basic ritual: create an altar, give gifts and allegiance to God (or still at this time gods). Worship has not yet been formalized.
worship in ancient israel
Early Israelite worship rather basic: create an altar and then give gifts and allegiance to God. This type of worship and the rituals that accompanied it connected the Israelites with most of the people around them. The story of the golden calf makes this clear. In Exodus 32 the people have been waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai and his meeting with the god who had led them out of Egypt. When Moses does not return as expected the people decide that they need a new god. The people melt down their gold, make a calf-god and create and altar before which to worship it. This was the process; adopt/create a god, build an altar then worship.
What happens next however would change (or at least try to change) Israelite worship forever. As the story goes, God saw what was happening in the Israelite camp and sent Moses back with the Law, meaning the Ten Commandments plus lots of other rules and regulations. After a rather unpleasant confrontation Moses gets down to the business of organizing the religious life of the people of Israel. This reorganization begins with a renewal of the covenant between God and the people of Israel; a covenant in which each side makes vows of singular allegiance. The God of the Exodus would be the only God for the Israelite people to worship and the Israelite people would be God’s chosen community. This covenant is unique among all ancient people; that a people would worship one god and one god only.
The worship of the people of Israel then unfolds in two main ways. The first is the institution of a series of festivals which focus on the work and gifts of God. First and foremost is the Sabbath. The Sabbath (the seventh day) is to be a day consecrated to rest in order to remember God as creator (Genesis 2:3) and as redeemer (Deut. 5:12-15). While there were no specific rituals associated with the Sabbath (such as singing or praying) the intent was to acknowledge the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. Resting then was worship. Three other annual feasts were also part of the worship cycle.
These were Passover (remembering God’s liberating actions which freed the people from bondage), the Feast of Weeks (to celebrate God’s gift of a good harvest) and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (which celebrated the end of the agricultural year as well as offered a reminder of God’s provision in the wilderness). Each of these celebrations had particular rituals associated with them.
The second way in which the worship of the people of God unfolds is in the sacrificial system which is laid out in the Law. The Israelite sacrificial system included daily and monthly offerings. The sacrifices were divided between blood sacrifices (the sacrifices of animals) and bloodless offerings (which consist of grain or oil). The blood sacrifices can be further divided between burnt offerings (the animal is completely burned up), guilt offerings (in which the animal was cooked with some left for the priests) and peace offerings (in which some of the animal is burned up and the rest shared under ritually clean conditions).[i] The grain offerings were partially burned on the altar as well, with the remainder going to the priests. Any animal brought to be slaughtered and burned was supposed to be perfect. The grain and the oil brought were to be from the First Fruits of production. This perfection was intended to insure that the Israelite people were giving to God the best of what they had because God had given God’s best (freedom and food) to them.
What I want to clarify at this point is that the Israelite sacrificial system, unlike virtually all other ancient sacrificial systems, was neither intended to be magical (trying to make God bring the rain, etc.) nor intended to appease God’s anger. Israelite worship was a grateful response to what God had already done and would continue to do because of God’s covenant promises. The system was, along with the festivals, a way of orienting God’s people to God’s life-giving covenant.
worship in transition
The story of God’s people, Israel, is one of transition. They begin as a nomadic people wandering from place to place trying to graze their sheep and live in peace (circa 1500 BCE). This nomadic life gives way to a more settled existence after their liberation and migration from Egypt (circa 1200 BCE). The next transition in their lives, which took place under King David (circa 1000 BCE) begins to center around a few cities and larger settlements. When David conquers Jerusalem and proclaims it as his city and the capital of the nation the still rather agrarian populace begin to gain a greater sense of nationality rather than tribal identity; though as the story of Israel unfolds, the tribal identity will still win out after the death of David’s son Solomon.
What might you ask does this short history have to do with worship? The answer is that even as the nation was becoming more settled and centralized, there was a push to centralize worship as well. The sacrificial system which we discussed last week, consisting of Sabbath, weekly sacrifices and annual festivals was led by the priests in local villages and at cultic sites around the countryside. There was no centralized religious structure that regulated all aspects of this worship. The result of this was two-fold.
First there was a great deal of religious independence which allowed for a mixing of religious customs and traditions. Thus the Israelites would often worship the gods of their neighbors along with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This religious syncretism meant that some of the worship in which the people engaged (cult prostitution and child sacrifice) was the exact opposite of the worship and manner of life desired by YHWH.
Second, because there was no centralized worship it meant that the central government in Jerusalem could exert less control over the people in the outlying areas. As with any government, David and his offspring desired to control the people in such a way as to enhance their own claim to kingship. Under David we witness the first efforts to consolidate worship in Jerusalem. David does this by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.
The Ark was a cultic symbol which had been the focus of worship by the Israelite people during their nomadic journeys. It was the symbol of God’s presence with the people as they left Egypt. By bringing this religious relic into the city, David began to focus religious power and thus worship within the sphere of his own power.
This consolidation of worship and religious authority continued under David’s son Solomon as Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem. The purpose of the Temple was twofold. First, as we have been discussing, it was to consolidate religious observances (mainly sacrifices) in one place in order that the nation had to look toward Jerusalem for its religious center. This meant that there began to be a drive to destroy all of the outlying shrines at which sacrifices had been given. These included places such as Bethel which was an ancient Israelite shrine. Second it was intended to regulate the sacrificial system so that there was consistency in religious practice. One thing that we need to remember is that during this time there were no local gatherings for worship as we think of worship (synagogue or church).
It was during this period that the Psalms began to be used in Temple worship. Levites would recite particular Psalms during offerings, festivals and at the beginning of each new month. In addition there were ritual prayers which were offered. The best known was the Shema, which began, “Hear O Israel the Lord, the Lord is our God; the Lord is One.” This prayer is still in use today. Finally there were blessings which the priests would bestow upon the people as they arrived and as they left the Temple. In essence the Temple allowed for the creation of a semi-official liturgy which was to be used by God’s people.
As we shall see this centralization of worship was resisted and ultimately defeated by the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians.
worship as focused on the temple
Israelite worship was a continually evolving practice that moved from being a locally based faith (worship in various places with a wide variety of leaders) to a more centrally based worship in Jerusalem. This occurred around 1000 BCE as King David was consolidating both political and religious power. This centralization of worship became even more pronounced when Solomon, David’s son and heir, constructed the First Temple. Depending on whether one is reading the books of Kings or Chronicles, this building project was a vision given directly to Solomon (I Kings 5) or to David who passed it on to his son (I Chronicles 17). Regardless of who first got the orders the Temple was built and the sacrificial regulations of the Torah were fully instituted. Unfortunately for Israel, Solomon, as he grew older, began to incorporate the idols of other cultures into the Temple. He did this in order to ameliorate his many foreign wives (married for political purposes) and their desires to worship their gods.
The focus of worship at the Temple for all Israelites lasted only a single generation. Following Solomon’s death (931 BCE) the nation was divided between north (Israel) and south (Judah). While the southern kingdom continued to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom knew that in order to maintain its independence it needed worship locations of its own. Thus the new northern king, Jeroboam, had two golden calves made (sound familiar) and placed one at Bethel and one at Dan (I Kings 12). In addition he constructed Temples for worship, appointed priests and set a new calendar for offering sacrifices. Over time worship in both Judah and Israel vacillated between faithful and unfaithful practices. Some kings (Josiah and Hezekiah) made efforts to purify worship while others (too many to name) worshipped the gods and goddesses of their neighbors. In addition both worshipping communities came to see the offering of sacrifices not as a way to be in relationship with God, but as magic. In other words if the people gave their sacrifices it meant
that God would automatically give them everything they wanted.
During this period there arose prophets who were tasked with maintaining right worship of YHWY, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God who had self-revealed to Moses. The Bible contains their stories and for many, their proclamations. The prophets came from a variety of occupations; some were priests and while at least one was a shepherd. For many of them, all we know about them is their names. Most prophets worked in only one of the two kingdoms. Their task was to remind the leaders about what faithfulness in worship meant; meaning not merely giving the correct sacrifices but living according to the Law of Moses. This is a point that needs to be made clear. Worship for Israel was never simply about sacrifices and singing Psalms. Worship was a complete life orientation. Worship was what one did on a day by day basis. Appropriate worship meant that one loved God and neighbor. Appropriate worship meant that one tried one’s best to obey all of the Law.
Centralized worship began to vanish in the northern kingdom when it was conquered by Assyria in 720 BCE. Most of the Israelite population was carried off and vanished from history. The area was settled by peoples brought in by the Assyrian government. What is interesting however is that remnants of worship of YHWH survived and would ultimately influence religious development in that area. Centralized worship in the southern kingdom initially came to an end when Judah was conquered by Babylon in 582 BCE. This conquest brought about the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the leaders of the nation. The destruction of the Temple forced the people of God to begin to ask how they could still be a worshipping community with a sacrificial system. The results of this struggle would ultimately serve the nation well when the second Temple is destroyed by the Romans.
worship in and after the exile
We left our story of the worship life of Israel with the people of the southern kingdom Judah going into exile around 582 BCE. As was mentioned, the Temple which had been the heart of their worshiping life had been utterly destroyed. We can hear the echoes of the despair this destruction caused when we read Psalm 137:1, 5-6.
By the rivers of Babylon--
there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
The questions for the exiles were numerous; why would God have allowed this to happen? If we performed the ritual sacrifices appropriately why would God allow the Babylonians to conquer us? How then can we worship without the sacrifices? How can we be forgiven without the appropriate services and ceremonies which had been part of our religious life for almost 500 years?
Answers to the why questions were given by the prophets; the people had failed to live according the Law of Moses (meaning to love God and neighbor). They had gone after other gods and had abused the poor and the stranger. This realization offered the people in exile a way in which to answer the how questions and worship without the Temple and its sacrificial system; worship was to be as much about right living as it was about sacrifices. The Israelites in Babylon began to move their focus away from sacrifices and toward the practices of piety contained within the Law of Moses (Torah). While the exile only lasted about 30 or so years (the first return came in 549 BCE), many Jews settled in Babylon and developed a set of practices which would insure that they were living their faith in a way that pleased God. Though the book of Daniel was written more than 300 years later, the stories it contains give us a glimpse of this changing religious landscape in which prayer and pietistic living became the hallmarks of worship.
The Israelites began returning home around 549 and came back in at least three major waves. The second and third waves focused on rebuilding the Temple (thus “the second Temple”) and the city of Jerusalem. By their focus on rebuilding the Temple it is apparent that the people of Israel still yearned for its sacrificial system. Even with a shift towards prayer and piety thirty years had not allowed enough time to change their fundamental understanding of how worship was to work. The second temple was completed in 516 BCE. Even though it was a shadow of its former self, it allowed for the sacrificial system to resume. Along with the re-institution of the sacrificial system however, the people in Judea understood that they had to institute a much stricter adherence to the Torah. If indeed the destruction of the nation had come about because of a lack of daily faithfulness then it was incumbent upon God’s people to insure that their day to day lives reflected their faith. Thus, many of the practices developed in exile became part of their worship lives in a restored nation.
The two most significant long-term changes which occurred during this restoration period were the rise of the rabbis, or teachers, and the development of synagogues. If it was truly important for people to live their faith as daily worship then they would need someone to teach that faith and a place to practice it. The rabbis took on the teaching task and synagogues became places in which to learn about and practice piety. While the rise of the rabbis and synagogues was a rather late development in this period (much closer to the time of Jesus than the time of the return from exile) its roots can be found in the returning exiles desire to live worshipfully in daily life. This development of the rabbi/synagogue forms the basis for the worship life of the early church…which we will begin to explore next week.
worship transitioning from judaism to christianity
Our historical examination of Jewish worship has finally led us to the time of Jesus and the early church. The worship milieu in which they found themselves was diverse and contentious. There were those for whom Temple worship with all of its sacrificial offerings was the primary mode of worship. For others who lived far from Jerusalem the local synagogue had become the center of worship. For still others worship was about daily faithfulness to God (meaning keeping all of the minute rules and regulations of the Torah) with only a nod to the Temple or the synagogue. In other words there was no consensus as to what right worship looked like. We can see this in the Jesus’ stories contained within the New Testament where we witness Jesus teaching in the Temple, in synagogues and out in the country side, where he offers visions of right living and right worship (the Sermon on the Mount is one such example).
This struggle over the right way to worship will continue within the early Christian church. In the Book of Acts we read that, following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples worshiped in the Temple, in synagogues (especially Paul on all of his travels) and in homes. This makes sense because at the outset of the church, the followers of Jesus understood themselves as messianic Jews; Jews who had found the messiah. This meant that they ought to continue with the traditions in which they had been brought up; Temple, synagogue and Law. They saw nothing wrong with this. In fact their worship in homes followed very closely the worship patterns of the synagogue.
Though we do not have any worship bulletins left over from a First Century synagogue service we know that there were certain acts of worship which were only allowed to take place within the a Jewish community which had ten males present (which is the requirement for a synagogue). The first was saying the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
which is the declaration that there is only one God. This was to be repeated twice daily; a practice which was part of the Temple ritual. The second was saying the Tefillah prayer which contained 18 separate sections and was to be prayed three times a day. This prayer also had its roots in Temple worship. Next came the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) which was used by priests in the Temple. Next was the reading of the Torah. Some scholars have speculated that it was this part of the service that was the central foundation of the synagogue. We can see this in Luke 4:16 ff where Jesus reads and comments on scripture. Finally there was the saying of the Kaddish which was a prayer asking God to establish God’s kingdom on earth. This prayer formed the basis for the Lord’s Prayer. In addition many synagogues chanted Psalms 145-150 as part of worship. If we were to summarize synagogue worship it would be pray, chant, read and expound on scripture, and pray again.
We can see these same practices in descriptions of early church worship both in the book of Acts and in the writings of the early church fathers. In Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here we have the two main aspects of synagogue worship, prayer and teaching, combined with sharing a meal. The breaking of bread was the one truly Christ-centered addition made to early Christian worship. At first this was called the agape meal/love feast; a meal sacrificially shared by all (I Corinthians 11:17-22). Over time however the agape meal/love feast morphed into the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) which was centered around the actions of Jesus and the disciples in the upper room (I Corinthians 11:23-26). In terms of music in worship Paul reminds his fellow believers that they were to speak, “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:19a)
As you can see, the basic elements of modern Christian worship were in place almost two-thousand years ago. The differences that exist today between various denominations concern the focus and intent of worship rather than its basic components.
worship transition in the church
The basic First Century Jewish service was pray, chant, read and expound on scripture, and pray again. The early church adopted this pattern but added the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) to the mix as the centerpiece of the service. For the first three hundred years of the life of the church there was little oversight given to the liturgy (order of worship used by various congregations). However as the church began to become more and more structured with a clerical hierarchy, the liturgy began to be more and more structured as well.
The first great push for standardization came around the years 375-380 CE. During that time the Apostolic Constitutions were collected and disseminated. This collection of writings (The Apostolic Constitutions) contained writings on doctrine, discipline, and worship. These Constitutions were to assist clergy in everything from correct teaching to correct worship. Legend had it that they were either the work of the original Apostles or of Clement of Rome. The church rejected their claim to be Apostolic (meaning they could not be inserted in the Bible) and later realized they were not from Clement either. Nonetheless they were pivotal in assisting the church in bringing some liturgical order out of the chaos of every congregation doing whatever they desired. Their fingerprints show up in virtually every western (Roman) and Eastern (Orthodox) rite today.
Even so, over time as the rites spread to a variety of nations they acquired several distinct forms. The main branches of liturgical styles were Alexandrine, Syriac, Byzantine, Armenian and Latin. Each of these rites gave birth to other traditions. The Syriac tradition birthed the Chaldean, Malabar, Syriac, Malankar and Maronite rites. The Byzantine birthed Greek and Slavic variants. Alexandrine birthed Coptic and Ethiopic rites. The Latin tradition gave the world Roman, Ambrosian, Celtic, Gallican and Mozarabic rites. All of this is to say that within the emerging church, while there were certain basic liturgical elements (see below) there was no one way to order worship. Liturgy was still ultimately shaped by the local culture, language and clergy.
The common liturgical elements within these rites will sound familiar to us today: invocation, confession, absolution, hymns, litanies, Kyrie/Gloria, collect, liturgical readings, Alleluia, scripture readings, Creeds, Prayers, Lord’s Prayer, offering, communion (which includes a liturgical conversation between the priest and the peoples, the Eucharistic prayer, the words of institution, prayer and distribution), passing of the peace, Agnus Dei and benediction. Over the centuries other elements were added to the worship practices of the church. These include the church year (a three year cycle of scripture readings which retell the cycle of Christ’s life from birth to ascension), vestments for the clergy (this includes robes, stoles and hats), veneration of the saints (through holy days, statues or icons), prayer books (filled with portions of the liturgy to be read/sung by the congregation) and architecture specific to the various rites (Roman and Orthodox church buildings are very different because of the different needs of the rites).
Two of the great changes in the Roman rite (used by the Roman Catholic Church) were the transition from Latin to the local vernacular as the language of worship and the increased use of laity in the service itself. These were both byproducts of Vatican II, initiated by John XXIII (1881-1963) when he desired that some “fresh air” be brought into the church. As far as I am aware few if any of the other major traditions have moved away from their original languages (Greek, Russian, etc.) in worship or have included laity in the service in the ways now in use in the Roman church.
This history then sets the stage for the transformation of worship not only in the Reformation but in our world today.
worship - a quick summary
Jewish and Christian worship were evolving practices. I use the term evolve intentionally because there were few dramatic changes which took place from the time of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness until the Reformation; a period of almost 2,500 years. Though the entire Jewish sacrificial system ended in 70 CE with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, Christians had already begun to transition away from the Temple for a couple of decades. The destruction merely ended one phase of worship for both Christian and Jews and moved them into house churches for Christians and synagogues for Jews.
Again, as we have noted, the church once freed from both the Temple and synagogue began to create its own liturgies and traditions. Eventually these became rather standard liturgies (parts and orders of worship) for each of the main branches of Christendom. The focus of these liturgies became the Eucharist or the Mass. The Mass was important because it allowed persons to “witness” the sacrificial death of Jesus on a regular basis. In times when few people could read, symbols (icons, statues, the Mass) became more and more important in passing on the faith traditions of the Church. While the Mass remained and remains the center of worship for much of the world-wide church (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopalian) its importance faltered during the Reformation.
The Reformation (beginning in 1517) was a product of several factors; religious (corruption of the Roman church and ill-trained priests), political (a desire for freedom from autocratic rulers loyal to the Roman church) and technological (the advent of the printing press and rise of literacy). The result of this movement was that Christians in Western Europe broke away from the Roman church and formed multiple denominations. These denominations, including those who would ultimately be known as Presbyterians, moved the focus of worship away from the Mass and toward the scriptures. Rather than the mass (or communion) being at the center of worship, the proclamation of the Word (preaching) became the most important element in the service.
Though many of the churches formed during the Reformation (Lutheran and Episcopalian) retained weekly communion, most of the Reformed churches (Presbyterians among them) refused to continue this tradition. The belief was that there was still too much superstition involved with the practice and that worshippers encountered God more fully in scripture than they did in communion. Opposition to regular communion became so extreme that some churches only practiced it once a year. The church in which I grew up had communion only once a quarter. What is interesting about this is that John Calvin (our theological forbearer) believed that worship was incomplete without communion.
The Reformed churches also moved toward simplicity within the worship service and in the architecture of the worship space. There was no longer a place for incense, bells, large scale musical pieces, elaborate worship clothing or even stained glass windows. Processionals consisted of the Bible and the pastor; music was mainly Psalms sung to simple tunes; ministers wore plain black gowns; and clear windows replaced the stained glass (so one could see God’s creation). Even though the focus of worship changed, the central elements remained the same (prayer, scripture, preaching, offering, and singing).
The most significant change to these Reformed practices has come in the last 40 years with the rise of “contemporary” worship. In some places this style of worship has reduced worship to only two elements; singing and preaching. Elements such as prayer and even a cross in the sanctuary have been removed from worship in order that the unchurched are made to feel welcome. In the end what this says is that worship will continue to evolve over time as cultures and people change.
worship at Everybody's Church
At Everybody's Church our worship service is based on the basic Reformed order of worship. One way to look at this tradition is to see it as a conversation between ourselves and God..
Announcements and Time of Greeting: We begin with reminders that we are a community of faith created by Christ. This time also allows us a chance to greet newcomers to our family in the name of Christ. By so doing we demonstrate our belief that we are Everybody’s Church.
Choral Introit: This musical offering allows us to center our hearts and minds upon the purpose for which we have gathered; entering into an encounter with the living God.
Call to Worship: The call to worship is God inviting us into a conversation. Notice that the “One” plays the part of God calling to us and then we respond in kind.
Opening Hymn: This is our first response to God’s invitation to worship. Most opening hymns are hymns of praise which are offered to God for all that God has done for us and for the world.
Time with the Younger Church: Jesus loved and blessed children. We follow his example and help children hear God speaking to them during this time in our service.
Baptism or Communion - Baptism and Communion are the two sacraments of our church. They are visible signs of promises God has made to us. Baptism represents the promise that all are welcomed into God’s family. Communion reminds us of God’s promise to always be renewing our lives through the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the church.
Call to Confession: God calls us to confess where our lives, both corporately and individually, have not been lived in a Christ-like manner. In this way we open ourselves to loving others more fully.
Prayer of Confession: We respond to God’s call by confessing where we have fallen short of God’s expectations for us. We always do this though, knowing that God has promised to forgive.
Assurance of Pardon: God responds with a declaration of forgiveness, reminding us that we have been forgiven and have become new people, capable of living in new ways.
Sung Response: We sing to God and give thanks for our having been forgiven and reconciled.
Unison Prayer for Illumination: We ask that God will open our minds and hearts so that the ancient story of God’s people will have meaning for us today.
Scripture Readings: God now speaks to us through God’s ancient story; from both the First and Second Testaments.
Sermon: The sermon is a conversation between God’s word, our lives and the work of the Holy Spirit. We strive to bring the ancient story into our modern world in such a way that our lives are transformed through the encounter.
Hymn: God’s gift of the scriptures is always Good News. Our response to that Good News is to praise God in song.
Tithes and Offerings: We continue our response to God’s gracious Word by the giving of gifts to support God’s community.
Offertory: The offertory is a continuation of our songs of thanksgiving.
Prayers of the People: This is the time in our gathering when we speak to and listen for God with one heart and one mind. We pray the Lord’s Prayer as a way of binding us together with both God and with believers of all time and all places.
Closing Hymn: The final hymn is intended to allow us to praise God one more time in such a way that we are reminded of our call to love God and neighbor.
Benediction: The benediction is the moment when the pastor pronounces God’s blessings upon God’s people. This blessing empowers us to go and serve.
Postlude: This is a moment when we are offered the opportunity to reflect on what God has done for us so that we might go and serve as those blessed by God