Liturgy Lesson: September 30, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 111
Hymn of Invocation: O Breath of God (Getty)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: Crown Him with Many Crowns (#295)
Confession: From Book of Common Prayer
Hymn of Confession: Not What My Hands Have Done (#461, vs. 1-3)
Assurance of Pardon: Ephesians 2:1-10
Hymns of Assurance: Not What My Hands Have Done (vs. 4,5); Jesus Master, Whose I Am (Morton)
Reading of the Word: Luke 8:1-15
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: Lift Up Your Hearts Unto the Lord; Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands
Closing Hymn: Mighty Lord, Extend Your Kingdom
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke?
Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?
The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets,
mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.
Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense,
or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
– Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
“Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
– Hebrews 12:29
The very first element in our liturgy is the “call to worship.” God himself invites us to meet with him through his Son, Jesus Christ. God calls us to worship, and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we respond with great joy and expectancy. The dialogue has begun. God has called us from our home and our busy schedules to come and dine with him at this weekly banquet. Brothers and Sisters, when that call comes in, we had better answer with a hearty “Yes,” for the “hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him,” (Jn. 4:23) Our loving Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer desires fellowship with us. He acts first and then we respond. We love because he first loved us. This pattern of revelation and response is all throughout scripture. Consider these familiar encounters in the old testament.
“The Lord called to Adam and said ‘where are you?’” (Gen. 3:9)
“And God said to Noah, ‘Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark…’” (Gen.6:13)
“God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’” (Ex. 3:4)
“And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day.” (Gen. 32:24)
A humble, joyful, and responsive heart is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit, and so when God calls us to worship him, our first reply is to seek his Spirit in prayer and plead with him to make that worship possible. The Psalmist says it this way, “open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
In a book on worship and liturgy, Constance Cherry says this: “It makes a great difference who initiates worship, for God’s call transforms church from a meeting of the minds to a meeting with the living God. Worship is not a meeting about God; it is a meeting with God. Worship would greatly change if an entire congregation truly sensed that they were coming to worship in answer to God’s personal invitation. The spirit of the service would change dramatically. Can you imagine the expectancy? The electricity? The reverence? The awesome joy that would quickly be manifest? The spirit of the service would begin to reflect what is actually taking place—a meeting between the Creator and the created—and, remarkably, one that God has desired and initiated.”
O Breath of God
Words and Music: Keith Getty and Phil Madeira (2010)
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
– Gen. 1:1
John Calvin used to open his liturgies with what was called the votum (“vow” or “prayer”). It was a simple quotation of Psalm 124:8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Calvin knew that God-honoring worship was impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit who was ‘hovering’ in the sanctuary, waiting to craft God’s workmanship in the hearts of the people. The script of the liturgy, the singing, the sermon, the sacraments, these were all the equivalent of paint, brush, easel, and empty canvas, mere materials through which the great Artist would begin to create. This is why we have a prayer of invocation immediately following the call to worship. We invoke (‘appeal to’ or ‘call upon for inspiration’) the Spirit of God to come and form our hearts to be receptive and responsive to the redemptive work of God the Father through Jesus Christ. This hymn could rightly be called a hymn of invocation. It is a simple prayer of invocation set to music. Here is the first verse:
“O Breath of God, come fill this place,
Revive our hearts to know your grace,
And from our slumber make us rise,
That we may know the Risen Christ!”
Do you hear the expectancy and enthusiasm in the lyrics? It is the pleading of a soul that is hungry to encounter the “Risen Christ.” It is the cry of a heart that is both slumbering and restless, desirous of the one thing that will satisfy: union with Christ. The creators of this hymn assume that God is present and active in our worship (not just a mere audience), and that at any moment he may ‘draw us out to where we can never return.’ Annie Dillard had it right when she said we should issue life preservers in worship. Perhaps store them under our seats like they do in airplanes. It makes me think of a famous dialogue in the New Testament:
“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”
– Matt. 14:25-29
This passage is rich with metaphor and meaning for both our lives and our worship gatherings. Jesus invites us to come to him in faith and to be uplifted by his creative power. At that moment, the transformative work of the Holy Spirit does its miraculous thing. We leave the boat and start to float. We trade in our lamentations for levitations. We may even forget the swirling storm around us and begin to sing hymns like “Jesus, hover o’ my soul” and “Glide me, O Thou Great Jehovah.”
I have said before that every Sunday is a little Easter. Well, perhaps we could also say that every Sunday is a little Pentecost. At any moment, the Holy Spirit may descend with power and give us the gift of unspeakable and ecstatic praise by making our hearts the altar and His love the flame. As we sing this hymn at the opening of our worship this Sunday, let us pray that such a kindling will take place for each of us, so that with fervent hearts we may sing with deep devotion:
“May God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit make us one.
In Holiness let us unite,
That we may know the Risen Christ!”
Mighty Lord, Extend Your Kingdom
Text: Joseph Cottle (1828)
Music: Gregory Wilbur (2008)
This is Pastor Casey Bedell’s last Sunday with us. He and Jen are answering God’s call to begin a church in Seattle. As a parting gift for him, I have decided to close our service this week with a new hymn about missions. It is a stirring anthem that celebrates God’s sovereignty, Christ’s truth, and the light of the Gospel throughout world. It is a battle cry that hearkens back to Jericho. The lyrics ask for the Lord to rouse us by the power of his Spirit, to demolish all barriers and strongholds, “scattering shades of night” that the lands in darkness may hear the “glorious Gospel sound”.
On the writing of the music, Gregory Wilbur says, “One of my favorite missions hymns is ‘How Sweet and Awesome’ mostly because it marries good theology and evangelistic fervor so beautifully. This text by Joseph Cottle does the same thing. God’s sovereignty and Lordship is strongly proclaimed while entreating the spread of the Gospel for His glory’s sake. It seemed most appropriate to set these lyrics to a strong and majestic melody. Having this song sung by men’s chorus is a great reminder of the necessity of vigorous music in the life of the Church.”
We will take Greg’s cue and have the men lead us on this hymn. In doing so, we affirm the sending of Casey as a witness to the Gospel in the effort to extend God’s kingdom. We bless him in his endeavors to continue the ongoing redemptive work of God through his people. Granted, he is just going to Seattle. It’s not Siberia. But whether the call takes him ‘across the lands’ or just across the lake, the firm and true message in this hymn is worth declaring.
“By Your arm, eternal Father, Scatter far the shades of night;
Let the great Immanuel’s kingdom Open like the morning light;
Let all barriers yield before Your heavenly might.
Come in all Your Spirit’s power; Come, Your reign on earth restore;
In Your strength ride forth and conquer, Still advancing more and more,
Till all people shall Your holy Name adore.”