Ashley Goff on Liturgy as Improv [Part of the 2013 NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte, NC.]
Jessica Tate (preacher) and Casey Fitzgerald (biblical storyteller) in the opening worship on Monday. [Part of the 2013 NEXT Church National Gathering in Charlotte, NC.]
I have always been impressed by the liturgy written by my friend and colleague, Jenny McDevitt. Those who attended the NEXT National Conference in Dalls (2012) will remember the beautiful and inspiring words offered in corporate worship. Liturgy literally means “the work of the people” yet I asked Jenny if she would be willing to write a blog about her process of crafting such communal experiences. I am grateful for her response and pray you receive the following as an offering. (Andrew Taylor-Troutman)
by Jenny McDevitt
I am weeks late in submitting this blog entry, in part because I have been unsure of how to respond. “Tell us how you write liturgy,” the request came. And so I have tried to put words to my process. Words that are slightly more helpful than what feels like the actual truth: I stare a blank computer screen and wait for a miracle to happen.
Whatever your scripture(s) for the day may be, read those words out loud. Seriously, out loud. I almost always catch something differently when I hear myself say it. Listen to the cadence. Catch unusually lovely (or just unusual) phrases. Ask questions of what is happening or being said, and let those questions shape the prayers and responses.
Tell a story with your liturgy. Talking about grace? Remind us of moments of grace that began with creation and have happened ever since. Preaching about forgiveness? Craft a prayer with seven instances of shortcoming and then invoke Jesus’ beautiful, challenging, devastating, breathtaking words of seventy times seven. Wind the stories of the Bible with the stories of our culture and the stories of our lives. All of them speak to our experience. Not sure where to start? “In the beginning…”
Liturgy is meant to be spoken, so say it as you write it. I rarely write more than a sentence or two before reading it out loud. If a sentence is too long, if you stumble over some structure — cut it and begin again. While a complex sentence may read beautifully on paper, in liturgy it must also be easy on the ears. And take advantage of things that are pleasing — alliteration, repetition, patterns, effective uses of pauses and silence.
Say it (part two)
Has it been a hard week? Has something happened in your congregation that has broken your collective heart? Are your people angry? Does the scripture passage make no sense whatsoever? Does it seem to ask too much of us? Don’t be afraid to speak the honest truth in the liturgy. There’s nothing particularly holy about having all the answers or having the best theological vocabulary. Giving voice to the thoughts and emotions and questions running through your head may invite others to engage in the same way. It can be a gift. Careful warning: don’t forget the Good News. When lament is called for, lament away. But even the psalmist, who is a champion lament-er, always ends with a word of hope, however fragile it may be. And if it is one of those days when death is everywhere, speak resurrection. Give voice to the promise over and over. Put that hope into the air, let it hoover around you, and let it hold you (and your people) tight.
Some friends disagree with this practice, but I often rephrase God’s words or Jesus’ words. Not because they need an editor, but because we need to hear them in as many ways as possible. I have often summarized the overall point (as best I understand it, anyway), and put it in my own language, even going so far as to say, for instance, “And in response, Jesus simply says, ‘Knock it off.’” Never once has someone come to me, confused about whether or not the bible actually reports it that exact way.
Related note: it’s also very effective to occasionally lift up what Jesus doesn’t say. That can be just as helpful. Case in point:
God doesn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are of perfect pedigree and rosy cheeks, you who have done no wrong and you whose hearts are entirely intact.” God doesn’t say, “Come to me, all you who have it all together, you who have never said a hateful word and you who wake up every day with all the answers.” God does not say that. What God does say is, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What God does say, over and over again, is, “Come to me, all you who are broken and battered, faulty and frail, disappointed and disappointing. Come to me. You will be my people, and I will be your God.”
I’ve inferred this all along, but it’s still worth saying: write your liturgy carefully, prayerfully, and honestly . . . and then unpolish it. This means two things. First, be sure your liturgy doesn’t sound too smooth. Too certain. Too easy. Too much like “everyone here has it all together.” Because let’s be honest: that’s incredibly unattractive. Not to mention totally untrue. And second (remembering that these are my guidelines and not necessarily yours), occasionally depart from tried and true words of tradition, perhaps the fancy-pants, five-syllable, theological-dictionary language. Or, if you’re going to use those five-syllable words, use much easier words to explain those concepts. In other words, don’t get hung up on sounding professionally, profoundly pious. Just focus on sounding real. Remember, things that are too polished can be slippery and hard to hang on to.
If you lead worship with the same intonation you use when you ask someone to pass the green beans, I’m not going to be convinced you have any idea what’s so good about the Good News. Does this mean crazy-cheesy-fake-happy all the time? No, thank you. Let your voice match the truth of your words, whether it’s sad, elated, lost, or grateful. You’re proclaiming the Gospel even through your liturgy. For heaven’s sake (and all of ours), say it like you mean it.
Here’s an example from Easter, since, as it turns out, I’m better at writing liturgy than writing about writing liturgy.
In the beginning of all days
In the very beginning
It was dark
And chaos hovered over the earth
And you, O God, spoke a word
And light crept in from the corners
And creation began to dance
In the beginning of this day
In the earliest morning hours
It was dark
And chaos hovered over the earth and in our hearts
And you, O God, spoke a word
And light crept in from an empty tomb
And creation began to dance
The word, in both cases, was life
Your word, in all cases, is life
He is risen
Christ is risen
And yet, God,
even as we rejoice and sing and celebrate
we realize for many, the shadows of life have not faded in the morning sun
So we pray your peace for those who laugh and sing
and for those who sit and weep
We pray your peace for those who chase Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies
and for those who chase broken dreams or unrealistic expectations
We pray your peace for those who place flowers on a cross this morning
and for those who stare at flowers from a hospital bed this afternoon
We pray your peace for those who believe in the power of the resurrection
and yet face another day without a loved one
Peace be with you, Jesus says
Peace be with you, Jesus promises
Look at me, he says
I know what it is to hurt
He entered our story so well, God
He entered our story and changed the world
So help us enter his story
And change the world yet again
That would be Easter, too, wouldn’t it?
Help us to be a people whose very lives speak this truth:
death is not the last word
violence is not the last word
hate is not the last word
condemnation is not the last word
betrayal is not the last word
failure is not the last word
No: each of them are like rags left behind in a tomb,
and from that tomb,
Speaking, showing, sharing life
Help us do the same, won’t you?
Help us be your tangible proof to the world
That would be no less an Easter miracle
Creation began in a dance, O God,
and you have made us to sparkle in the sun
So help us get there
Trusting you will, and placing our lives in the hands of Life Eternal,
we pray as he taught us, saying:
Our Father . . .
* Words in italics are borrowed, with gratitude, from Brian McLaren’s Prayer for Pastors. (When you stumble across good words, use them (with attribution at least in printed form). Good words are always worth repeating.
Jenny has been serving alongside the people of Village Church since September of 2012. She loves the way the church cares for one another and for the community, giving great attention to any and all issues of the heart. She loves stories (listening and telling) and believes that questions are an essential part of faith. Originally from Michigan, Jenny is a graduate of Kenyon College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. She has served churches in Ann Arbor and Virginia Beach. She lives with her dog, Reilly, who is dedicated to chasing the squirrels of Prairie Village.
By Theresa Cho
NEXT Worship Overall Thematic Flow & Ritual:
Colors of fabric and ribbon were purple, red, blue, white, and yellow. The colors of a Korean fabric called Saekdong. Saekdong is usually used for children’s clothing and “protects the evoking of dreams of children.”
Sheets of fabric were torn into strips during the confession. Each participant was given a 5 ft. ribbon before worship. As a way to prepare for new birth, conferees were invited to place the ribbon in the manger, letting go of what prevents them from being open to whatever will birth in them during the conference.
The ripped fabric was woven together, connecting the baptismal font and the manger together. The ribbon in the manger was returned to the conferees as a way of remembering our baptismal identity as a child of God. In preparation for the next worship, participants were asked to follow instructions on the bulletin insert and bring the ribbon to the next worship.
The ripped fabric was displayed on the chancel and communion table in the pattern of Saekdong. After reflection on Luke 4.14-21, conferees were asked to pair up and share their call saying “My call is to (verb) (verb) (verb) (noun)” Share a quick reaction to their call. Then, their partner will say “Your call is to . . . “ and then “stole” their partner. Afterwards, each conferee placed their ribbon in the offering basket as their offering of their call.
The ribbons were woven on the communion table, representing how our calls are woven together. As conferees came up for communion, they were asked to take a stole of someone else, take it home and pray for them.
Many thanks to Theresa Cho, Adam Fischer, and Corey Nelson for their vision and leadership.
Monday, March 4
Confession: God of birth and renewal, too often we are like Nicodemus. We doubt that anything new can come out of your church. We dwell in houses of worship, echoing songs of ancestors trumpeted by organs loud enough to drown the sound of your voice. Through our arrogance, we have built elaborate houses of worship, glorious and beautiful, but sometimes lacking in Spirit. Now we seek your renewal as we turn to listen, to discover what is next. Open our minds to your vision. Inspire our slumber with dreams of the future. In our return let us see you afresh and work to make your kingdom a reality on Earth. Come, dwell with us once more as we confess and let go of all that keeps us apart from you.
Assurance: Let this fabric remind you, you are part of a larger whole. Our confessions can feel like we are being torn apart, separated from one another and banished to an apocalyptic wasteland, yet even though we are torn, we shall be restored in Christ. All: God has blessed us with all we need. Truly God is at work in our lives to bring wholeness and restoration, even when it feels like we are being torn apart. Hear and know the good news, In Christ we are born again: made whole, restored and forgiven.
Monday, March 4
Blessing of the Waters:
one: On that first day, when time began:
all: you gave birth to creation; light danced through the darkness; the waters of hope flowed free and clear.
one: On that first day at the Jordan, when redemption began:
all: you spoke of life for all your children, as your Child stepped into the waters of forgiveness, dancing in hope with his cousin, John.
one: On this first day, gathered together, when we begin anew:
all: you call us to faithfulness, as we open our hearts to you, your voice claiming us as your own.
one: You and I are now the ones who step forth out of the cleansing waters of baptism, to bring hope, to share a word of grace, to carry healing into the brokenness of our lives. Let us confess how we still struggle to follow in faith wherever Jesus leads us. Join me as we pray; Timeless God,you cast light into sin’s dark placesand call us your Beloved.
all: Forgive us: when we still linger in the shadows; when we treat others in hurtful ways; when we speak ill of your friends.
one: As he knelt in the waters of Jordan, you proclaimed Jesus as your Child, pointing to him as the way to you.
all: Forgive us: when we put ourselves ahead of him; when we think he is no longer needed; when we fail to see him in the broken of our world.
one: Baptized and blessed in your living waters, you would have us be your servants in our time.
all: Forgive us: when we fail to welcome the stranger; when we refuse to forgive as we should; when we believe we are too good to kneel down and tie the shoes of the lost, the least, or the last.
one: Touched by the waters of life, fed at the feast of grace and hope, embraced in the warmth of God’s love and hopes – this is good news for all of us!
all: Blessed by baptism’s tears, called to servanthood by the Beloved, filled with the peace of the Spirit, we are indeed God’s people – redeemed, restored, refreshed to serve. Thanks be to God!
one: The peace of Christ be with you.
all: And also with you
Tuesday, March 5
Confession: (Theresa Cho and adapted from http://www.seekerschurch.org/ 2005)
Facing the unknown, Mary and Joseph journeyed to birth hope.
Facing the unknown, we too often squash that hope.
Facing acceptance, God claimed Jesus as God’s own Son.
Facing acceptance, we too often forget God’s claim on us.
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to turn stones into bread.
Facing temptation, we too often turn bread into stones.
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to use power for its own sake.
Facing temptation, we too often take power that belongs to someone else.
Facing temptation, Jesus refused to test the promises of God.
Facing temptation, we too often want God to do what we should do ourselves.
Assurance: You are forgiven! God loves you. God blesses you with new beginnings and new life. Put aside your old ways and become new! God gives a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning. Sing, dance, rejoice! Never forget the gift of God’s redeeming grace. Amen.
Tuesday, March 5
Call to Worship: (www.ministrymatters.com)
With tongues of flame, the Holy Spirit descends to burn in our hearts anew.
Unite us, Holy Spirit!
Like the rush of wind, we sense God’s presence blowing afresh throughout the world.
Unite us, Holy Spirit!
Across the barriers of language and culture, Christ’s message of love and grace is heard.
Unite us, Holy Spirit!
Divine Advocate, we seek your guidance as we search for the Spirit of Truth.
Unite us, Holy Spirit! Amen.
Confession: (Nolan Palsma and Phyllis Palsma)
Our God, we come in humility, confessing who and what we are. We are often unresponsive for we are afraid. When your Spirit speaks, we turn deaf ears, for we fear what you might call us to do. When your Spirit touches our lips, we close our mouths, embarrassed to speak your Word. When the wind of your Spirit blows, we close the windows of our hearts, afraid the breeze will disrupt our ordered lives. When the fire of your Spirit touches us, we quench the flame, afraid of the new life it might bring. Forgive us, O Lord.
This is the good news we have declare: God leads us out of the shadows to walk in the light of Christ.
This is the word we have heard: our faithful God forgives our sins and raises us to new life. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Corey Nelson, part of the worship team for the 2013 National Gathering, sends along this list of music featured in worship in Charlotte. He also offered to be a resource for people who have questions about the music. Contact him at: Corey Nelson First Presbyterian Church Lake Forest, Illinois email@example.com ~
NEXT 2013 Worship Songs
Songs marked with an * are in the new hymnal!
MONDAY AM – ADVENT
Ashe, Ashe – Traditional West African Chant One tradition says that this song was used by traveling tribes upon entering new villages. When a visiting tribe was approaching a village they would sing Fanga-Alafiya to indicate that they come in peace. If the villagers welcome them, they reply: Ashe-Ashe. Then, the travelers and villagers reverse the lines. The fanga song was often the common denominator between tribes that otherwise spoke different languages. The lyrics we used for verses at NEXT were written by Adam Fischer specifically for the conference and are easily adaptable to a variety of settings and themes:
God is here and welcomes you – ashe, ashe Prepare the way and worship too – ashe, ashe Dance & sing, come join the crowd – ashe, ashe God is with us, shout out loud – ashe, ashe Ashe, ashe, ashe, ashe Ashe, ashe, ashe, ashe (repeat) Celebrate with joy today – ashe, ashe With love & grace prepare the way – ashe, ashe Come from places far and near – ashe, ashe Our new journey starts from here – ashe, ashe — chorus On this journey we will go – ashe, ashe God travels with us on the road – ashe, ashe Guide us through our darkest night – ashe, ashe Grant us vision, shine your light – ashe, ashe
*Canticle Of The Turning – USA/Northern Ireland (tune) Words by Rory Cooney © GIA Publications, Inc.
My soul cries out with a joyful shout; That the God of my heart is great, And my spirit sings of the wondrous things; That you bring to the ones who wait. You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight And my weakness you did not spurn So from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn? My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, And the world is about to turn! Though I am small, my God my all, You work great things in me, And your mercy will last from the depths of the past To the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame, And to those who would for you yearn, You will show your might, put the strong to flight, For the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, Not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears Ev’ry tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, For the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed, For the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age, We remember who holds us fast: God’s mercy must deliver us From the conqueror’s crushing grasp. This saving word that our forbears heard Is the promise which holds us bound, ‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, Who is turning the world around.
*He Came Down – Cameroon/Iona Trad. Cameroon; trans. and arr. by John Bell (published in several Iona resources)
He came down that we may have hope
He came down that we may have hope
He came down that we may have hope
Hallelujah, forever more.
He came down that we may have peace…joy…love…hope
Light of the Stable (lyrics adapted) Elizabeth & Steve Rhymer, © 1975. Renewed 2003 Tessa Publishing Company (Admin. by Conexion Media Group, Inc.)
Hail, Hail to the coming king Let our voices sing out our praises Hail, Hail to the guiding light That brings us tonight to our savior Halle—Hallelujah (4X)
Come now let’s prepare the way For the happy day of his coming Bow down to messiah near Cast aside your fear and be thankful Halle—Hallelujah (4X)
MONDAY PM – BAPTISM
Come Thou Fount
Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.
All Who Are Thirsty Words and music: Brenton Brown and Glenn Robertson © 1998 Vineyard Songs
All who are thirsty, all who are weak, come to the fountain, dip your heart in the steams of life. Let your pain and your sorrows be washed away in the waves of God’s mercy, as deep cries out to deep, we sing: Come, Lord Jesus, come. (repeat) Holy Spirit, come. (repeat)
Wade in the Water Words and music: African-American spiritual
Refrain: Wade in the water, wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water. Well, who are these children all dressed in red? God’s a-gonna trouble the water Must be the children that Moses led God’s a-gonna trouble the water.
Chorus If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed, God’s gonna trouble the water. Follow me down to Jordan’s stream. God’s a-gonna trouble the water.
Chorus Jordan’s water is chilly and cold. God’s gonna trouble the water. It chills the body, but not the soul. God’s a-gonna trouble the water.
Chorus Look over yonder, what do I see? God’s gonna trouble the water. Holy Ghost a fallin’ on me. God’s a-gonna trouble the water. Chorus
TUESDAY AM – LENT
Come, Let Us Worship God Text & tune: Tay Makeever © 1983 Ray Makeever, admin. Augsburg Fortress
Come, let us worship God…Come, Let us worship God Come, let us worship God…Come, Let us worship God Welcome, everyone…Welcome, everyone To the love of God…To the love of God … Rest for the weary … Food for the hungry… Peace for the nations… Come, let us worship God…
Kyrie Music ©2002 Chip Andrus
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison God, have mercy, Christ have mercy, grant us peace.
God Be the Love to Search and Keep Me (we sang three of the five original verses) Richard Bruxvoort Colligan © 2004 worldmaking.net & This Here Music
God be the love to search and keep me God, be the prayer to move my voice God, be the strength to now uphold me O Christ, surround me O Christ, surround me Walking behind to hem my journey Going ahead to light my way And from beneath, above and always O Christ, surround me O Christ, surround me Christ in the eyes of all who see me Christ in the ears that hear my voice Christ in the hearts of all who know me O Christ, surround me O Christ, surround me
*The Servant Song Richard Gillard © 1977 Scripture in Song
Will you let me be your servant Let me be as Christ to you Pray that I might have the grace To let you be my servant too We are pilgrims on a journey We are travelers on the road We are here to help each other Walk the mile and bear the load I will hold the Christ-light for you In the night time of your fear I will hold my hand out to you Speak the peace you long to hear I will weep when you are weeping When you laugh I’ll laugh with you I will share your joy and sorrow Till we’ve seen this journey through Brother sister let me serve you Let me be as Christ to you Pray that I may have the grace To let you be my servant too
*Take, O Take Me as I Am (Iona – John Bell)
Take, o take me as I am Summon out what I shall be Set your seal upon my heart And live in me.
TUESDAY PM – PENTECOST
Kuna Kucheza (Kenya/Swahili) Traditional © Church of All Nations
Kuna kucheza, kucheza … Halleluia (There is dancing, dancing) Kuna kucheza, kwa ajabu … Halleluia Kucheza, Kucheza … Halleluia Kuna Kucheza, kwa ajabu … Halleluia (There is dancing, for it’s amazing) Kuna kuimba, kuimba … Halleluia… (There is singing, singing) Kuna kuomba, kuomba … Halleluia… (There is praying, praying) Kuna kusifu, kusifu … Halleluia…(There is praising, praising)
*Somos El Cuerpo de Cristo words & music by Jaime Cortez & Bob Hurd Somos el cuerpo de Cristo.
We are the body of Christ. Hemos oído el llamado; we’ve answered “yes” to the call of the Lord. Somos el cuerpo de Cristo. We are the body of Christ. Traemos su santo mensaje. We come to bring the good news to the world. (1) Dios viene al mundo a través de nosotros. Somos el cuerpo de Cristo. God is revealed when we love one another. We are the body of Christ. Al mundo a cumplir la misión de la Iglesia, somos el cuerpo de Cristo. Bringing the light of God’s mercy to others, we are the body of Christ. (2) Cada persona es parte del reino; somos el cuerpo de Cristo. Putting a stop to all discrimination, we are the body of Christ. Todas las razas que habitan la tierra, somos el cuerpo de Cristo. All are invited to feast in the banquet. We are the body of Christ. (3) Que nuestras acciones reflejen justicia; somos el cuerpo de Cristo. Stopping abuse and relieving the hungry, we are the body of Christ. Vamos al mundo a cuidar su rebaño. somos el cuerpo de Cristo. Serving each other we build up the kingdom; we are the body of Christ.
*Si Tuvieras Fe (If You Only Had Faith) Spanish Caribbean Pentecostal Chorus/trans. Jorge Lockward
“If you only had faith just like a little grain of mustard,” this is what Jesus declares. (repeat) “You would be able to tell the mountain, ‘Move away. Move away.’”(repeat) And then the mountain would move away, would move away, would move away. (repeat four times) Spanish Caribbean chorus, public domain. The arrangement we used was published in For Everyone Born: Global Songs for an Emerging Church © 2008 GBGMusik, The United Methodist Church
Today we all are called to be disciples of the Lord Arr & Harm Ralph Vaughn Williams ©1906 Oxford University Press , textH. Kenn Carmichael©1989; rearr: Troy Bronsink
Chorus Lead us Onward Shape Us Inwardly Help us follow you Outward lead us on Lead us on
Verse 1 Today we all are called to be disciples of the Lord To help to set the captives free, Make plowshare out of sword, To feed the hungry, quench their thirst, Make love and peace our fast To serve the poor and homeless first, Our ease and comfort last
Verse 2 God made the world and at its birth ordained our human race To live as stewards of the earth, responding to God’s grace. But we are vain and sadly proud. We sow not peace but strife Our discord spreads a deadly cloud that threatens all of life…chorus
Verse 3 Pray justice may come rolling down as in a mighty stream With righteousness in field and town to cleanse us and redeem For God is longing to restore an earth where conflicts cease A world that was created for a harmony of peace…chorus
Verse 4 May we in service to our God act out the living word And walk the road the saints have trod till all have seen and heard As stewards of the earth may we give thanks in one accord To God who calls us all to be Disciples of the Lord…chorus
by Tom Are Pastor, Village Presbyterian Church and Co-Chair of NEXT Church
Jesus and Galileo (explores the relationship between Christian faith and science)
Labor Daze: Church on Sunday, Work on Monday (theological conversation about vocation, call, stewardship and Sabbath rest)
Bible Stories from Childhood (sermons responded to submissions from congregation of biblical stories they remember from childhood… Noah and the ark, the Good Samaritan, Daniel and the Lion’s den, David and Goliath, the prodigal)
Joy Even on Your Last Day (a series on the Philippian Letter)
9-11: Things Remembered, Things Forgotten, Lessons Learned (preached the four weeks leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9-11)
Just Can’t Say Enough about That Baby (An Advent Series exploring the unique portraits of Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
Where is God when it Hurts? (a series on theodicy)
Sacred Sound Bites (Words we hear every week in our worship liturgy)
Questions thinking Christians are asking (invited the congregation to submit questions on which they would like a sermon… preached on the most popular requests)
By Jessica Tate
Tear open the heavens and come down, O God.
As the light dims in the cooling days
our vision turns inward.
We see the wilderness of our lives, the desert of our spirits–
the crooked priorities
the low valleys of selfishness
the mountains of consumption
the uneven ground of malnourished spirits
the places made rough with wounds we carry.
Reveal again your glory, God of the Most High,
reveal your goodness, your love, your power—
reveal your judgment tinged with grace
so that all people see it together.
Now consider, O Holy One of Israel, we are your people.
You are the potter and we are the clay,
tough but willing to be molded according to your likeness.
Consider, O Lord of Lords, we are your people.
You are the fire that baptizes us in your Holy Spirit
captive by fear but willing to be your servants.
Turn us around to go in your way–
Teach us again not to be afraid.
According to the promise made to our ancestors,
O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
Comfort, O comfort your people and speak tenderly to Jerusalem
for there is great pain.
Bring good news to our brokenness,
hold close those jagged places in our hearts,
speak freedom to the tension we carry,
release us from patterns that hold us captive,
proclaim the time of your good favor
and the day of light of our God!
Tear open the heavens and come down, O God!
Jar us into wakefulness.
Though the hour is uncertain
be it evening or midnight or cockcrow or dawn
We await your glory; we are awake!
We watch, we long, we stand on tip-toes
expectantly, urgently, eager.
Tear open the heavens and come down.
Break into our lives–
we are awake!
(Advent meditations on Isaiah’s prophecy, Mary’s Song and the gospel of Mark)
Jessica Tate is Director of NEXT Church.
With scripture, responsive prayer and song, the congregation lights the Advent candles.