Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Missional Worship, 4

Haven't been here for awhile. Other things got in the way. But one more post in this line of thought.

A missional impulse for worship would make clearer the connections between God, church, and world. As we've seen in worship practices like the Lord's Supper, worship enacts God's care for the world through hospitality. This rehearsal, this anticipatory dinner, is also the way Christians learn their vocation in the world. The same hospitality they receive in worship, they extend to their neighbors.

So, there is not a wide gulf between what happens in worship on Sunday and the kind of life we live on Monday. To the contrary, there is a seamlessness. The way we are in worship is precisely the life to be lived among others.

This includes the way we speak in worship. We praise God not only because praise is due him, but also to learn praiseworthy speech. We bless to learn to bless. You get the idea.

Christianity is a Word religion. God creates through his word. Jesus is a Word incarnate. The Holy Spirit provides for us the words we use with others. God creates, sustains, and transforms his world through speech. What Christians bring the world is a gospel--a speech-act, that brings new worlds into view.

It is striking to me how often speech ethics are the focus of the biblical writers. The psalmist tells us that the throats of those who oppose God are "open graves," while the righteous have the fruit of praise continuously on their lips. Ethical sections in New Testament letters are peppered with admonitions about speech. We are to put away boasting, slander, gossip, unwholesome talk, etc, and instead to speak the truth to one another in love.

I am struck in 2 Corinthians how often Paul's self-identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus is coupled with a statement about his speech. Because he has experienced the power of death and resurrection, he speaks differently. "We have behaved in the world," he writes, "with frankness and godly sincerity." Or, "we are not peddler's of God's word..., but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity." Again, "We have renounced the shameful things one hides; we refure to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God." These statements could be multiplied. The point is, Paul's encounter with the God who raised Jesus from the dead has changed the way he speaks to others.

We learn this way of speaking in worship, or at least should. This is one thing I like about highly liturgical traditions. We speak to one another in worship. The words of Scripture are not simply the set-up for the sermon. They become the church's dialogue. We say them to one another and we respond in certain ways when we hear them spoken to us. We have blessings spoken over us and we respond in kind. We are learning to listen to one another, and speak in ways that offer life.

It is true that the significance of this is often lost on parishioners. I think this is due in part to the fact that we have thought of worship as space and time separated from the world. The world is not present to us in worship in any kind of constructive way. We are often told in worship to leave the world and its cares behind so that we can focus on God, as if God only shows up in the world when we gather to worship, as if God is uninvolved in the cares of this world.

Missional thinking would recover the public horizon of Christian worship, and in turn heighten our awareness of how the various things we do in worship form us for vocation in the world.

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