Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
August 4, 2002
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
The Scripture passages we heard this morning, which are all about people being fed at Godís table, reminded me of something that happened recently. Some of you know Jennifer, the woman who is doing the childrenís summer program in our fellowship hall this summer. Shortly before she began that program, she came by to meet me and talk about what she had in mind. She is from the Lutheran side of the Protestant tradition. She attends an ELCA church, having moved from the Missouri Synod church (definitely a move in the right direction, in my not so humble opinion). We got to talking about forms of worship. The Lutheran tradition is somewhat more highly liturgical than our own Reformed tradition, and Jennifer, who is a very energetic, upbeat, enthusiastic person, appreciates that kind of worship. She told me that her own children often say they want to go to The Rock Church for the rock and roll praise music. She lets them go; but she tells them: Remember, thatís "Holy Spirit dessert." Youíre coming to the Lutheran church for the full meal. Thatís what I hope we offer here--the full meal and not merely Holy Spirit dessert, tasty as that dessert can be.
Traditional Christian worship feeds our souls--all of our souls and not just part of them, not just the part that loves strawberry shortcake. It does that by leading us deeper and deeper into the presence of the Holy. It is a four part movement, like a four course meal. You can see those four parts in the headings printed in your bulletin each week. The first is: God gathers us. Liturgical theologians usually say "we gather," or simply "gathering;" but God gathers us is better. It highlights the fact that it is the Holy Spirit that leads us here. However we put it, however, this first movement focuses on gathering. Gathering is important because worship is the communal act of the church, that is, of the people of God. So the first thing traditional worship does is affirm, reestablish, and strengthen our ties to the community of faith, to the Body of Christ. We include confession in this piece because, like the actual gathering itself, it is preparatory to the next movement of the service--hearing the word.
Our bulletin says: We Hear the Word. We do this in two primary ways. First, we hear the Scriptures read. If we were doing a full, traditional worship service, we would have four Scripture readings each week: a Hebrew Scripture reading from a book other than Psalms, a Psalm, an Epistle reading (which could also be a reading from Acts or Revelation), and a Gospel reading. We usually have only three-- a Psalm, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading, although we do vary that pattern by occasionally using only two readings. Then we hear the Word preached. Preaching is central in our Reformed Protestant tradition. It is the centerpiece of our service, and our tradition intends it to be such. If preaching is done well it will help us make the Scripture we have heard meaningful for our lives today, it will help us understand the faith, it will deepen our faith by leading us deeper into the profound truths to be discovered in Scripture.
Then we come to piece traditionally called "Eucharist," which is Greek for Thanksgiving. We say "Our Thanksgiving and Response." It includes our prayers in response to the promises God makes in Scripture and our offering of money. It includes the Eucharist in the narrower sense, the Communion meal that we are about to celebrate. Thatís why we put Communion in this part of the service. The church originally saw it as a giving, even a sacrifice, in response to Godís love. Today, we do it in thanksgiving for Godís blessings and faithfulness in our lives. It also connects us to Christ as nothing else we do. It is our ultimate mystery--the ultimate mystery of the presence of Christ in the things of creation, in this case bread and wine. Like preaching, it will lead ever deeper into the mysteries and the profound truths of the faith.
Finally there is what is usually called sending, or commission and sending. We say: "God sends us forth." At this point in the service we have come together, heard the word, celebrated in response to the word, and are now ready to go back into the world. Thatís why I always begin this piece (after we have sung a final hymn) by saying: "Now go forth into the world...." We are told what the faith requires of us. And the pastor then adds an expression of Godís grace and blessing to strengthen us and carry us through the coming week.
Friends, I am convinced that this four movement traditional Christian worship, this traditional four course spiritual meal, has mystical power. Our tradition knows that it can and does transform us; and thatís what it is intended to do. I know it has transformed and continues to transform me. I know it can transform you and probably already has. It doesnít do it overnight. Come to such a service once, and not much will happen. But come regularly, over the course of your life, and it will change you. It will feed you. It will feed you the way Jesus fed the 5,000. Itís resources may look scanty. It may look like it canít work. But it does. Thatís the point, I think, of the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It is a very Eucharistic story, and Iím sure itís author intended it to be just that. It even has the Eucharistic formula: He took the bread (the fish, which have fallen out of use in the Eucharist probably because of other passages that use bread and wine instead), "looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples...." Then all ate and were filled. Thatís what happens here. Using the meager resources of the church, the gifts of the people, and the often unsatisfactory contributions of preachers like me, Christ offers us spiritual food. We eat and are filled. We eat and are transformed. Thanks be to God. Amen.