Thursday, March 10, 2011

Speaking the Word in truth

Good morning God,
I am a great believer in the ability of good creative liturgy to assist us in discovering the meaning of some of the things we otherwise 'unthinkingly' do or say as part of our life of faith in the Church. One of the joys for me in Methodism is the freedom to use either our 'approved' liturgies - or our own. it speaks of a confidence in both the formal and informal means of grace. It also invites and encourages theological reflection on what we say and do, bearing in mind 'Lex Orandi - Lex credendi' (We believe what we pray).

But along with the invitation - comes the responsibility of ensuring that whatever we create conforms to the Gospel truth and to the doctrine of the Church - that we do not make a liar of Christ, for the sake of our sentimentality, or misuse the liturgy to control and manipulate the emotions of others.

The power of good liturgy to move people to laughter or tears, to bring them closer to you God, should be a testimony not to our inventiveness, but to the truth it conveys and to people's desire and willingness to be moved by you - and we forget this at our peril.

As a minister I have learned that it is frighteningly easy to craft a service that does manipulate the emotions of those attending through the careful choice of the spoken and responsive word, background music and songs, light, candles, visuals etc..  But is that what constitutes good worship?  It may well bring more people to Church - but does it bring them any closer to YOU God? Meaningful worship needs to engage all the senses, yes - but it also needs to be truthful and coherent. It needs to be open to your intervention - during the worship - as well as during the preparation! It needs to speak your Word.
So - for me - it also has to be theologically sound.. it has to proclaim the good news in a manner and in a language that can be understood and truly heard.

Which means, yes - I am trying to teach the congregation to only use the more modern form of the Lord's prayer - and many dislike it. I try and refrain from dropping back into old English when I talk to you God, or share your Word in public - I want it heard and understood!
Above all - I avoid referring to you in the masculine.

Paying close attention to what the Church is saying in its liturgies however does cause problems (to whit my last post concerning Ash Wednesday) Asking yourself not only 'what do I mean by this statement' but 'what will be understood by this statement' is hard work. It is so much easier to simply accept - these are the ancient words of the Church - they must be sound.

And they probably were - for their time and their context.

But such attitudes are why we are still in the dark ages with regard to inclusivity - how long did it take to change the creed so that we stopped saying ' for us men and our salvation'..?
When the Reformation happened - much changed - but much of our liturgy stayed the same - or has reverted back to what it was, in spite of the fact that our liturgical context is so vastly different today.

There are those of course, who will say - and that's the way it should be. It certainly makes life easier, all I would have to do is follow the script.. say the words, perform the rituals, follow the rubrics.. 'Dont worry what you have to say...'

But I can't do that. You gave me a love of your Word and a love of your people and asked that I speak the one to the other so that they can hear it. You talk to me of prevenient grace, of the need for the door to be opened, the invitation made - and you ask me to state it, clearly and unambiguously, truthfully and faithfully. You insist that in worship as in all other things, my first obedience must be to you, not to the disciplines of the Church. I accepted that responsibility - with joy.

So I am compelled to continue to reflect on the words that I am asked to speak for others, and especially on the words I am asked to speak that purport to be on your behalf. 
I repeatedly wrestle with the weight of tradition, and seek to find the balance - the pivot point where truth and integrity meet with wonder and majesty to proclaim the good news. You did not die 2000 years ago and stay dead! And your life, death, resurrection and ascension actually achieved something for us.

So I will strive to ensure the liturgy I speak  is also a 'living' word - that it reflects your ongoing revelation to us of your love and grace,  of sin and repentance, life in all its fullness, joy and perfect peace - now and always.  Its not a comfortable - or popular thing to do - but its worth it.


  1. Hi Angie,

    Thank you for another wonderful post!

    Ron Martoia wrote a great book with the title "Static" - it considers the theological, linguistic, philosophical and psychological aspects of meaning in Christian liturgy, preaching, and scholarship. It is well worth reading.

    Grace and peace,