As some of you know I created a prayer book, Read, Reflect, Pray for the church to use during the season of Lent. Well, a version of that prayer book is now sitting on an editor’s desk at Augsburg Fortress Press. I don’t know if it’ll end up being published or not, but I’m hoping.
That should tell you something—I’m pretty serious about the contents of that book. Its main point is to move the 7 central things of worship out into the rest of the world, stretching Sunday out into the whole week.
Imagine becoming a group of people who focus their lives on being community, fostering forgiveness, reflecting on their vocations in light of God’s love for us declared in our Baptism, rooting themselves in God’s Word, cultivating a thankful heart, sharing Christ’s grace at table, and being people sent into the world to be salt and light for the sake of the world.
That’s why we worship as we do, not because the hymnal tells us to, not because we’ve all got the order of service memorized and it would be a shame to do something new, but because we are practicing being who we are—we are being shaped to be little Christs in the world.
And I truly believe the world needs cross shaped people, it is in need of people who live out our liturgy—our worship—every day and in many ways.
Public Policy expert Robert D. Putnam has spent the last 18 years cataloging the variety of ways community is collapsing in America—check out his famous book Bowling Alone sometime… yet church is a place, and a group of people, that goes out of its way to be community. For that matter, where else in American life can you find a multi-generational and/or multi-ethnic gathering of people? Nowhere, that’s where!
Think of the Reality TV phenomena, some of the shows actually have booths where the contestants/actors “confess” to the audience—and we eat it up as entertainment. Yet, we offer compassionate confession in which sinner speaks to sinner about the forgiveness we find in God.
There is so much talk about self-esteem—and rightly so to a point, the world can be very tough and soul crushing—but so much of it becomes children getting giant trophies for participation and parents brow-beat teachers for B’s because their children will feel bad if grade inflation isn’t endemic. Here however, in this community, we remember we’re Children of God! God has named us and claimed us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If you need a morale boost just go to a sink and make the sign of the cross, remembering your Baptism!
Think of all the stories we hear, see, and allow to shape our lives. The nightly news makes us afraid of our neighbors. Romantic comedies make single people believe there is something wrong with them. Disney movies make little girls think they’re nothing until their prince comes. And stereotypes of all sorts strip untold numbers of people of their dignity. Yet, we have a different story that shapes our lives—one about God’s continued involvement in His creation, which He loves. A story of liberation from slavery, one of wisdom enhancing what is good and prophets tearing down what is evil, one of God-with-us living, dying, and rising for our sake, one of the Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, telling our story to the ends of the earth.
It’s easy to go negative—to think of all that is wrong with life. In fact, much of advertizing and our economic system is based on training us to feel anxious because we don’t have a particular good or service, but that if we did we would be satisfied and whole. Keeping up with the Joneses not only crushes our credit-cards, but also stifles our soul. But imagine if we took time to say thank you, to reflect upon all the good that is in our lives. We do that every week at Christ’s table as we begin the meal.
Speaking of eating together, some sociologists say we’re doing that both less frequently and less well. More often we now eat alone instead of together, and even when we eat together we are often separated from one another by a variety of screens. We eat less nutritious food, we eat while distracted—which means we actually taste the food less fully. In short, we aren’t eating right. Yet… yet The Faith centers around abundant meals—those we read about: manna in the desert, the LORD swallowing up Death, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors—those we experience weekly: the body and blood of Jesus, God’s grace caught in our teeth and poured down our gullet—and those we share together outside of service: coffee hour, picnics, gathering food for those in need, Lenten Soup Suppers, etc.
One of the most interesting things about the millennial generation (’85-present…BTW in this scheme I'm a Generation Xer) is they care more about meaningful action than belonging to an institution—they often take up the mantel “spiritual but not religious.” They don’t always want to join a group, but if the group is doing something that matters they will join in. Well, we’re called out of the church, sent to act as Christ’s body in the world—I can’t imagine that concrete meaningful work for the sake of the Gospel wouldn’t attract these spiritual seekers. We just need to make sure we’re actually being sent out!
And that last bit might be the whole enchilada. The greatest danger of this wonderful gift we possess, the liturgy, is that worshiping each Sunday can immunize us from its importance. Liturgy can become simply what we do on Sunday and forget it until the next week. Liturgy should be the people of God’s work for the week, it should shape who we are and what we do.