June 26, 2017

Time for Lament

            Many are anxious as a rending of the health care safety net is transpiring.  Decisions are underway that threaten to exclude a growing sector of the population from basic access.  The tension between federal and state responsibilities will only grow, and each will resort to blaming the other. Preserving the wealth of the few by sacrificing the poor is unworthy of a nation who claims moral status.

            A reading for this coming Sunday expresses the frustration and lament so many of us feel about the political landscape.

        How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide      
        yourself from me?
        How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all
        day long?  How long shall my enemies be exalted over me?
        Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!  Give light to my eyes, or I
        will sleep the sleep of death. (Psalm 13:1-3)

            I will refrain from naming "enemies," for elected officials have an insuperable burden in seeking to govern; however, to craft legislation because of personal vendetta against the ideas of others is an expression of corrupt character.  It is very hard to transcend pettiness, but our time calls for heightened rectitude.

            The Psalter offers words to express our deepest emotions.  Raw and unbridled, this psalm of lament gathers up the present moment.  While persons of faith trust that God has not forgotten them, it is hard to believe that their particular plight matters in the larger scheme.

            Psalms of lament are addressed to God, for where else can the downtrodden go?  Who else can renew courage to cry out against injustice and not lose heart? Who else can we trust with our raging fear?

            There are more psalms of lament than of sheer praise in the Psalter, and they invite the most honest kind of prayer.  If there is no room for lament in our private and corporate prayer, we only offer sanitized superficialities.  When the people of God gather, the pews sag with unspoken grief and personal suffering.

            It is time to dust off the Psalter and let its powerful words direct our prayer and heal our wounded hearts.  Especially now.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares leaders to seek God, shape churches, and serve the world.

June 5, 2017

Is Liturgy Only the Work of a Few?


            Yesterday on Pentecost, I attended church with a dear friend, and she inquired about how widespread the practice of following the Christian calendar is among Baptists.  Well, as you know, there are quite a few varieties of Baptist; however, I do think it is fair to say that there is growing interest in planning worship around the rhythms of the great seasons of the church, beginning each year with Advent.
            When I was a rural pastor in Kentucky, I introduced Advent to the congregation.  The congregation enjoyed it so much, especially the children, that they wanted to start it early the next year!  Not so much with Lent; they wanted to shorten it.
            Does paying attention to this cycle actually increase liturgy, i.e., the work of the people?  Actually, I think it does.  Beyond the regular work of the choir, musicians, and pastoral staff, observing the Christian year opens up space for creative artistry that resides in the congregants.  In my home church, liturgical colors and visual representations of the Triune God celebrate the movement from Ascension Sunday through Pentecost to Trinity Sunday.  This is the aesthetic work of laypersons, devoting their theological imagination to enhancing the church’s worship.  It is a significant ministry.

            It is not easy for congregations to live into the truth that worship is the work of the whole people of God, not just the persons who read texts, proclaim, offer prayers of the people, and preside at the table.  Worship is not something we observe, but it is service.  It is participatory, and spectators are missing the point.

            We usually translate koinonia as fellowship or communion; however, I prefer to translate it as participation, which suggests that the Body of Christ cannot function fully without the engagement of each part.  Each brings a gift, and each contributes to the whole.

            This make take the form of quiet intercession for those around you in your favorite pew; it may be the offering you place alongside the resources of others; it may be lifting your voice in congregational song; it may be the greeting or embrace shared before and after the service; or, it may be as simple as the quiet sotto voce “yes, and amen” response to the sermon or pastoral prayer.
            Donald Hustad described worship as “rehearsal for life.”  Indeed, the patterns of giving and receiving we practice in worship forms us for living justly and mercifully, a way of life pleasing to God. Our faithful gathering beckons us to be the presence of Christ, bearing his light in all the dark places.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.