Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

Feasting on the Word is a lectionary commentary that offers questions and considerations on the four lectionary texts for a given Sunday. The Worship Companion offers liturgical resources, mainly prayers, based on those weekly readings.

All the resources are very well written and composed. I appreciated the depth of the writing and that the prayers move through a service from beginning to end. I especially liked the call to confession and invitation to offering. Typically when I introduce those parts of the service I simply name them. But I think linking those moments in the service with the Scripture would make them even more meaningful.

There are two additions that show an attention to seeing worship as more than what happens for one hour on Sunday: Questions for Reflection and Household Prayers for the morning and evening. These two additions offer simple ways to involve worshipers who are not a part of a worship planning. I also think these additions would be helpful for intentional communities or house churches who want to involve the lectionary into their worship.

There are a couple things to watch if you’re planning to use this resource. Because different denominations follow slightly different lectionaries, especially when it comes to picking Old Testament readings, you may find that some of the prayers don’t fit what you’re reading. Also, each element is tied to only one passage. This helps keeps the prayers focused but also means if you do not read all four passages that certain prayers may not fit your service.

Feasting on the Word Worship Companions are an excellent resource for any church looking to expand the use of Scripture during their worship service.


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When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. What happens when our tools blind us to the problems they have or worse, the ones they create?

One of the classic preacher debates of my time has been over the use of the lectionary. A lectionary is a cycle of readings for worship services, a tool to help preachers and worship leaders.  Some preachers swear by it; others swear against it. Those who appreciate it say the lectionary makes them preach texts they otherwise wouldn’t and offers a way for congregations to read through the Bible more extensively. Those who aren’t as enamored with it argue that the lectionary often doesn’t provide the Scriptural language a congregation needs when it needs it and point to the various holes in the lectionary to say that non-lectionary preaching offers more room for choosing difficult texts that the lectionary ignores.

It’s an old debate and not one I want to rehash  here (previous paragraph to the contrary). But there’s a question that’s been itching me for a while now.

Does the lectionary lead to or even encourage prooftexting (taking passages out of context)?

The lectionary passages often open with “After a few days” or “When he had said this.” Sometimes it’s clear what has happened from the previous week’s reading and sometimes it isn’t. Earlier this summer the Old Testament lectionary went bizarrely out of order for a couple weeks, jumping forwards and backwards in chapter and chronological order. The lectionary also has a tendency to sanitize difficult passages, leaving out awkward verses by ending early or skipping over them.

Sometimes lectionary passages are chosen thematically, so that all the readings (or at least a couple) are meant to relate to one another. When this works, it’s pretty cool. Advent is one such example when the Old Testament readings are often the references being made in the Gospel passages. However, sometimes the connections feel a little thin. When you can see an intended theme in the readings, it feels easier to focus just on those passages and ignore their larger connection within the narrative. The theme isn’t wrong, but it’s not all there is either.

I hear a lot about how prooftexting or finding a theme at the expense of the greater narrative are “dangers” of thematic or series preaching. But it seems to me that the lectionary is not immune to them.

If you’re involved in worship, what do you think? Do you agree this is a danger of the lectionary? Am I missing something? What’s your take?

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It’s pretty popular among my seminary friends to poke fun at a lot of recent praise and worship music. Someone noted that for many songs, the lyrics could just as easily be sung to a romantic significant other as they could to God. As a result, these songs get referred to as “Jesus is my boyfriend” theology.

I admit, I’ve made some of the same jokes. And some of the songs are really just pretty bad (or at least, outdated, appealing to an older demographic than many “contemporary” worship leaders want to admit.) But are we selling the songs, and ourselves, short to dismiss them all out of hand?

Take these lyrics from a recent contemporary service at my current appointment.


I wanna sit at your feet

Drink from the cup in your hand

Lay back against you and breath,

feel your heartbeat.

This love is so deep,

it’s more than I can stand.

I melt in your peace; it’s overwhelming.


Some are pretty clearly about Jesus (sit at feet, cup in hand). But “lean back against you and breathe, feel your heartbeat” sounds a lot like talking to a boyfriend. So what do we do with this?

One of the many things we studied at Duke was the tradition of Christian mysticism. I don’t know a lot but there has been a tradition within the church since its earliest days that understands connection with God differently than most, a tradition that uses more familiar, relational language. Julian of Norwhich for example talked of Jesus Christ as a mother and there is a long tradition of nuns and other spiritual figures referring to Jesus as a husband.

These ideas don’t sound much different than the so called “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. Now, do I think the writers of those songs intentionally drew upon the Christian mystic tradition? Probably not. But does that make their contributions any less valid? Perhaps not.

I’m not saying these songs should become our only, or even our primary, mode of worship. But perhaps they really do have a place. After all, the church is big enough for all of us. Why can’t it be big enough for our music too?

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This Second Sunday of Advent we prepare for the coming of Christ.  Isaiah tells of a voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5).  There is a lot to be done when the king arrives.  John the baptizer travels and preaches in Judea, preparing hearts for the Messiah with a message of repentance (Mark 1:1-8).  He uses baptism as a sign of the new life that the people are entering.

We prepare for all sorts of things.  As a Boy Scout the motto “Be Prepared” was quickly impressed upon me.  In our daily lives we make lists, carry cell phones, or stock extra supplies in an attempt to be prepared for all eventualities.  It’s good to feel prepared, that we’re ready for what uncertainty may come.

So how do we prepare ourselves as part of Advent?  I remember as a student the season of Advent being so full of tests that I felt I missed most of it until Christmas vacation.  As the busy time of decorating, shopping, and parties fills our time, how do we prepare our own hearts for the Christ child?  How do we slow ourselves down to once again see and hear the wonder of the Advent season?

This week I invite you to spend some time in wonder.  You might find it in silence or in the boisterous laughter of an infant.  Outdoors marveling at the changing of the seasons or inside bundled up next to a crackling fire.  In conversation with a good friend or in a room filled with family.  Or in one of a hundred other ways that is special to you.  As you find wonder this week, think also of this season of Advent.  To prepare your heart for the coming of Emmanuel, God With Us.

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We talk a lot about prayer at Duke.  We talk a lot about prayer in the church.  As well we should.  But what do we really believe about prayer, especially the power of prayer?

One of my struggles with prayer is how to view it in light of a larger call to outward discipleship.  The church today places a high value on missions out in the community and world at large.  Methodists take great pride in being people of “heart and hands.”  But then what do we do with monastic communities, especially those who remove themselves from the world?  Are they neglecting the call of the gospel to be with “the least, the last, and the lost?”

I watched a movie for class last year titled Into Great Silence about a Carthusian monastery in France.  The Carthusians spend most of their day in silence and solitude.  The majority of my class challenged this approach as lacking something inherent to the Christian faith.  Our professor argued that the monks offer prayer on behalf of the whole world.  She questioned what we think really happens when we pray.

Is this prayer service to the world?  Is it active?  Or does this life of spirituality leave out part of what it means to be a Christian?

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Communion Seconds

Today I served communion during a chapel service at Duke Divinity.   My side didn’t have very many people so my station moved over next to the center aisle.  As one man came up to take communion, I noticed him chewing a piece of bread.  Then I realized he had taken communion from the station next to us!  In the back of my mind, I wondered if I should serve him again but he already had a piece of bread.  Plus, I was so taken aback that I didn’t think to do anything but offer him the cup.

After the service it hit me.  Why shouldn’t he have taken communion twice?  What if he decided today that he needed a little more grace?  Who am I to stand in his way?

Aren’t there days, even weeks, when you wish you could take Eucharist more than once?  Aren’t there times you would like to have seconds?

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Children and Communion

The United Methodist church I attend in Durham has communion every week.  So it’s rare that the experience feels unique but yesterday was special to me.  The children usually leave for the bulk for the service but they always return for communion.  Throughout the liturgy I could hear the children but rather than being aggravated, I felt they added something to the service.  All the grown-ups were going through the responses very orderly and reverently (which I appreciated since I take the sacraments very seriously) but from the back of the sanctuary came all these sounds of life.  It reminded me of going over to a friend’s house for a party and discovering there was food.  Such excitement at getting to share a meal with friends.  Yesterday I honestly could not find a better metaphor for the act of communion.  Christ, our close dear friend, invites us to share a meal at his table with other good friends.

Have you had a similar experience with children in worship?  What other metaphors would you suggest for communion?

(I should add that while I affirm the presence of children in worship, I did not grow up around kids so I don’t always know how to respond to them, especially in church.  So this was definitely a grace-filled moment for me to view their presence in a new light.)

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