Friday, February 25, 2011

Everyone loves reruns - The Work of Worship

I have been a little behind in just about every aspect of life since I started preaching again. So here is a repost. Yes, it is a rerun from August 2009 but it is appropriately timed as we are talking about worship this week. Give it a read and then join us for "Worship is a Matter of the Heart" this Sunday.

The Work of Worship - August 24, 2009

One of the peculiarities of being a pastor is sitting backwards in worship. This isn’t the case in all churches but at University, in both of our worship spaces, the pastors sit up front looking out at the congregation. This means that, throughout the worship service, anyone who wants to can see my face. If you sit in worship, you can’t see your fellow worshipper’s faces, but you can see mine. My every smile, frown, etc. is right there for you to see.There is a flip side to this. From my perspective, at least in our south sanctuary, I can see your face too – every smile, frown, etc.

Only the worship leaders and choir have this perspective and our choir doesn’t even usually have it for the whole service so they miss the most interesting part: the sermon. In some Christian traditions, the congregation really takes responsibility for the sermon. Perhaps you have experienced this at a church where the congregation is visibly and even audible praying for the pastor, encouraging the pastor, calling upon the spirit, that the word might be heard. One of my esteemed colleagues told the story at my service of ordination of delivering a sermon early on in his career where a woman in the front row rocked back and forth as she prayed, out loud, “help him Jesus” through his whole sermon. (He admittedly needed the help.)

Our church word "liturgy" comes from a Greek word that literally means, “the work of the people.” When the pastor is praying, presiding over the Lord’s Table, giving thanks over the waters of baptism or preaching, she or he is representatively doing the “work of the people.” The pastor’s role is representative. The pastor is leading the people in the worship that we do together. As I have looked out over the last few Sundays during the sermon, while Pastor Charles has been preaching, I have seen a number of faces that appear to get that. They have seemed actively involved in the sermon – listening, reacting, even visibly encouraging the preacher. But there are many other faces that don’t express that. Lots of folks look bored, disconnected, distracted, sometimes even perturbed. Now I can not know what is behind those faces. I cannot judge their thoughts or even how engaged they really are, but if they are engaged, if they are rooting for the preacher, if they are praying that the word may connect, they are not, in their expression and demeanor sharing that with the preacher. Now, it is always possible that there are some folks that are bored, disconnected, distracted, tired, even perturbed. However, my guess it that most people just aren’t thinking about how their expressions, reactions and demeanor can affect the preacher. We are used to being anonymous observers. Television news people, sitcom starts and talk show hosts don’t see us. They just see the camera. (Those that do see people, like late night talk show hosts, have studio audiences that have been selected, warmed up and even coached to react to and support the hosts.) We don’t owe them any support. They don’t need it. But our preachers - they are doing our work; they are leading us in the worship of God. We need their words and they need our support, we are working together to praise our creator and hear a word back as the ancient scriptures are incarnated in our setting. Every smile, nod, frown, laugh, tear, wink and amen make that work a little better. It takes a little work, but our God is worth it.



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Preaching is like riding a bike...

I love the phrase "it's like riding a bike." It is a good analogy in some ways. Once you learn to ride a bike, you don't need to learn again. However, if you have ever gone a couple of years without riding a bike you will remember that there is a certain "break in period" when you start riding again. Most of us, when we get back on, stay on a little too long the first time and need to raid the medicine cabinet the next morning to soothe all those muscles that aren't used to that sort of activity.

So with that, preaching is "like riding a bike." I wrote a post least year called: The Rhythm of Preaching (or lack thereof) where I discussed the difficulty I was having preaching on a non-regular basis. While now I am facing a different challenge. This week I begin preaching on a regular basis. Starting Sunday, I will be preaching just about every Sunday for the foreseeable future in our South Sanctuary. This is great news for me. I love preaching and I love traditional worship. However, preaching every week is more than an additional assignment, it is a life change.

There is something about having that opportunity to share the word every week that becomes part of nearly every other part of your life. As soon as you say "amen" at the last service on Sunday, the clock resets and you are thinking and praying about next week.

In a totally non-spiritual way, the change in this dynamic takes me back to my radio days. When I was on the air five days a week, I was always thinking toward that next show. Every show I watched, article I read, experience I had got filtered through the lens of "can I use this on my show?" When I moved off the air and into the production room, it took my brain a while to stop collecting and sorting that data. When I moved back to the on air booth, it took me a while to get that filter back.

Well this is a very different filter and lens but a filter and lens just the same. One of my preaching professors in seminary taught me the habit of printing out that week's scripture and carrying it around in my pocket. This creates and opportunity to think about it more and be on the lookout for how God is speaking about it in the world and in your life. So, I am back to doing that. I just need to remember it is there.

This morning to took a run at creating a sermon for Sunday. I apparently have one and it seems to make sense. Fortunately I have a few days to keep thinking and praying. And I may be sore in the morning.