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What happens on Sunday? Scripture

January 21, 2011

One aspect of the worship gathering in my congregation that we have recently been trying to re-emphasize is the practice of the Scripture reading. As Anabaptists, hearing/studying the scriptures in community is a core value that we’re always looking to embody and connect with in creative ways. Like other churches our worship includes a time for scripture reading(s). But for years I’ve noticed (in congregations I have served and in others visited) that this time is often not afforded the same importance as the sermon or the singing-either in the expectations of the hearers or in the “place” it is given in the worship order. The Bible is vitally important and even revered by the folks in all of these contexts. Yet how we interact with it on Sunday morning could give a different impression. By the way, the purpose of this post is not to advocate some kind of “Bibliolatry” by any means…just so we’re clear 🙂

Today I discovered this post by Linda Parriott through a tweet from Tripp Fuller. I found these sources to be very relevant to my current thinking on the practice of scripture reading/hearing in corporate worship, and I offer a big thanks to Fuller and Parriott for sharing this. Her post links to and discusses material from a podcast Fuller did with Walter Brueggemann in 2008. In the discussion Brueggemann comments on how scripture is often used by the gathered congregation in worship (from Linda Parriott’s post):

What we have to start with is that the biblical text is more interesting and important than anything else we have to say. But that requires a great deal of reeducation of the pastor and the congregation because so many pastors and so many congregations are looking for simplistic answers that are clever and cute. And there aren’t any clever, cute answers that will now help us in the situation we’re in. It just requires harder work than that.

[W]e’ve done this incredible dumbing-down. We need to work at helping congregations engage in hard intellectual work. But that’s very difficult.

In my pastoral role in recent years I have been feeling the need to be reeducated in how I approach the Scripture text and equip the congregation to do so. One goal I desire to see for our worship gatherings is that they might be a formation time where we purposely interact with the scriptures through hearing/reading/teaching/conversation. This would include a greater emphasis on the public act of reading scripture, rather than it being just one of the things we have to do between singing and hearing a sermon (which gets the most attention/significance). In my context sometimes a worship leader will pray for the preacher right before they deliver the sermon. Honestly, more and more this makes me a little uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate the prayer support-and absolutely need it! But I wonder if we should instead be having a special emphasis or time of focus before the scripture reading? What if everything else we did in worship was commentary on the Story?

Thanks to a very generous gift from a member of our congregation, I have begun using as a resource in our worship gatherings (and encouraging our worship leaders to use) one of the supplements to our Mennonite Hymnal titled Sing the Story. Both the hymnal and the supplements (there are two) have, in addition to the songs, a wonderful collection of worship resources like prayers, responsive readings, benedictions, etc. I recently discovered one that I had missed before, that is perfect for introducing the scripture readings in worship. It is #141 in the SJS hymnal:

Leader: Gracious God, we have come in search of Christ, the Author of life.

All: Open the Scriptures to us that we might see Christ truly and meet Christ face to face. AMEN.

I love how the words of this prayer remind us of what is going on in the practice of hearing the scriptures, and believe this a start in helping us develop a new imagination for what is happening in the worship gathering as we interact with God’s Story. Instead of trying to be “clever and cute” with a message, or seeing the scripture reading as something to “get through” before the sermon, what if we assume an open, learning posture where God can open up the Story to us? I also like the reminder that we look for Christ as we come to the scriptures, and we interpret these words through Christ, the Incarnate Word.

What level of interaction with the Scriptures do you see in worship? What might help congregations grow and address the needs that Brueggemann spoke of?

  1. January 21, 2011 4:39 pm

    Thank you for visiting Clayfire Curator and linking to the quote from Walter Brueggemann. I first listened to that podcast from Homebrewed Christianity shortly after it became available. I was taking a long walk and this segment of the podcast made me stop in my tracks. I think I replayed this section 2 or 3 times, and as soon as I got home, I sat down at my computer, transcribed it, and saved it to Evernote. Since then, I’ve returned to the quote time and again. Brueggemann’s message never fails to stir me. I’m grateful to Tripp Fuller for the interview, and for permission to post the transcription.

  2. January 21, 2011 8:11 pm

    Linda-thanks for your comment, and for sharing the quote and podcast link. I feel like I will be revisiting Brueggemann’s message numerous times as well. And I got to check out Clayfire Curator a bit today, and I’ll definitely be recommending the site to friends. Thanks for inspiring creative new imagination for worship & formation-this is a true gift to the Church. Peace.

  3. February 18, 2011 12:16 pm

    Good words, Chris! I love that prayer as well! Our church does put a good, important value on scripture reading, but we can all grow in imaginative ways of opening ourselves up together more in the hearing of God’s word.

  4. February 18, 2011 10:26 pm

    Thanks Ted! The “together” piece is one thing I’d really like to be more creative with. It’s an element of that prayer-litany that I really like-not just one person praying for the scripture reading, but all of us participating/preparing together.

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