By Marty Troyer
In the infamous words of a recent film hero, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” Would it be fair and accurate to say the same about our Sunday worship? In other words, is our worship, its themes, rituals, texts and sermons random, or is there an order to it all. Someone must be choosing these texts and themes, right? But who is it, and why choose what is being chosen? These next several weeks I’d like to open the curtain and show you how scripture functions in our congregation. Along the way you’ll see how it is decided what texts and themes we worship with each Sunday, how the living scripture calls us to enter the story of Jesus, and a glimpse at how to read/study the text.
Of primary importance for us is the central place that Jesus Christ has in our life. For it is through the written word of God that we come to know the living word of God in our lives and world. Scripture functions to form us into the image of Christ. How does this happen?
First, we are formed by celebrating the Christian year, or what many know as the Liturgical year. The liturgical year invites us year after year to enter the story of Jesus from birth to death, following him and listening in to each message, glimpsing every relationship. At any given point in the normal civil calendar, there is a corresponding point in the liturgical calendar. It begins by anticipating the birth of Christ, and climaxes in the celebration of his resurrection. But the entire year is a feasting on the story of Jesus. The liturgical year, according to Joan Chittister, “sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God. The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening.”
Second, we center ourselves on Christ by connecting to an ancient Christian reading plan known as the Lectionary. Over the course of three years, congregations who use lectionary will encounter the vast majority of Biblical texts together, a healthy balanced diet. I liken the lectionary to eating at a great restaurant, only you don’t get to choose what you order- they simply bring you the food. There are 4 texts for each Sunday of the year: one each from the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and New Testament. The lectionary texts for this coming Sunday are: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, and Luke 13:1-9. Using the lectionary highlights our relationship with the broader Christian community, and is intrinsically Christ-like by being in very nature relational. By having 4 texts, the lectionary is itself a dialogue, and invites us to be, like Christ, people who dialogue. Though we typically do utilize the lectionary, at times we stray, but always with intent and discernment from our leaders. Why stray?. Straying allows us to marinate more deeply in texts (our recent series on the Love of God) or to highlight God’s specific call on our community (last year’s series on HMC’s core values).
Third, we profess our Christ-centered reality by literally and symbolically placing a large Bible at the very center of our worshipping community. From this we read our Biblical texts, and I use it as the Bible I preach from each Sunday.
Fourth, Scripture forms us as we listen each Sunday to the ancient texts being read. We typically read three texts each Sunday, a Psalm as call to worship, the gospel, and either the OT or NT text. And, while there are many great and interesting things for us to talk about, perhaps you’ve noticed that sermons at HMC are distinctly centered on scripture. It is overwhelmingly important for us to hear these ancient words, over and over again, if ever we dare hope to be transformed. And so this Lenten season, we have encouraged everyone to read or listen to the entire New Testament. No small task! But a necessary one if indeed we genuinely mean what we say, that we are being transformed. How is your own reading plan going?
Fifth, our children’s and adults education classes that happen every Sunday morning focus on study of scripture and personal formation. Our primary curriculum is called Gather Round. “Through Bible-based sessions for ages three through adult, Gather ’Round offers learners the opportunity to know and love God. Learners respond to Bible stories with drama, music, arts and crafts, games, reflection, and worship.” All are invited.
To answer the question above, let me say “No!” It’s not accurate to say our worship is a box of chocolates. We do know what we’re getting, and more importantly, why. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” says Paul. Only with a Christ-centered focus on scripture is this possible. So let us be filled with courage to know we are part of a powerful ancient tradition centered on the life and teachings of Jesus. We are not alone! So pick up your written or Mp3 New Testament, and enter the story.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week.