Messing Up the Words
We worship in the Anglican tradition, a denomination that we call “liturgical.” You may have heard that the word “liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgía which roughly means “work or service of the people.” The term was used for many public works of service, and was a cultural word that was used by Christians and eventually took on a fully Christian meaning. The Christian historian James White writes, “In ancient Greece, a liturgy was a public work performed for the benefit of the city or state… Liturgy, then, is a work performed by the people for the benefit of others” (James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 26).
So we treasure the ways in which, as a gathered congregation, we can all “get involved” and do this “service” together. In corporate worship, this value is expressed when we join our voices and bodies and do certain things together like kneeling, reading, singing and responding.
Admittedly, these activities are very counter-cultural, even down right odd. Where else do you go into a public gathering and say all the same things together at the same time? Saying the Pledge of Allegiance used to be much more common than it is today, and even the singing of our national anthem seems to be declining. So church may be one of the last places where this kind of corporate speaking and singing is being preserved.
But let me point out two important truths: (1) It feels unnatural (or uncomfortable) to join in a corporate voice because it’s so uncommon; (2) This a good thing.
It is easy for us as Christians to think that feeling uncomfortable in worship is bad. We are “creatures of comfort” after all, so we don’t usually go towards discomfort, Christian or not. But we need to acknowledge that this sensitivity toward comfort is largely a product of the prevalence of consumerism in our society. We are constantly connected to media and therefore advertisements. Advertisements make us painfully aware of how much better our lives would be if we had something that we currently don’t. We are trained from a very early age that we can have things how we want, no questions asked. Not to mention we have incredibly posh standards of living here in America.
In worship, however, the same rules do not apply. Sometimes we need to feel challenged, convicted, and pushed outside of our comfort zone. I would say we need these way more than we realize. If we avoid these “discomforts,” we will not experience the growth in character and Christlikeness that God intends for us. So we embrace the things that are a little odd or uncomfortable. This includes opening our mouths to speak.
Another societal obsession we have to contend with is image, looking good in front of other people. We might be more committed to image than to comfort, because we are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable to project a good image to others (case in point: dress shoes!). When we worship we need to be reminded that our image is rooted not in how good we look or sound but in who Christ has made us to be: his Church, his sons and daughters called by his name.
No, we’re not perfect and we don’t always get it right. But that’s ok. We will keep on gathering to sing, say and do the things that remind us of who we are. If being counter-cultural means kicking comfort and a proud self-image off of the throne of my heart, sign me up. I need more of that.
So a word of encouragement: We are committed to reading Psalms or prayers, or saying the creed together, but we don’t do it because it feels good or because we are trying to look really holy. We do it because it is an important part of our identity as God’s people. That being said, someone is going to mess it up. Things aren’t going to go perfectly. And here’s the good news: That’s ok! We don’t get points taken away for saying the words wrong. This is all part of our imperfect service of worship made perfect by Christ.
You know what I’m talking about. Consider the following scenario: “We will now read the Psalm responsively…” The reader reads, then the congregation reads, but for some reason you were on a roll so you keep going. Except no one else is reading with you. You have now blasted out the first word of the verse that only one person was supposed to read. Or maybe you get distracted mid-creed and mistakenly say you believe in the Holy Spirit when you should have said you believe in Jesus Christ. Then what? "Image" rears its ugly head and you shrink back in embarrassment.
I know this because I do it almost every week. I try really hard to get all the words right, but inevitably I mess something up. I immediately think the people around me are trying not to laugh. But, chances are, they’re feeling relieved because they have messed up the words too.
I think these little flubs are more serious than we may think. I consider these little mess ups to be a major acts of spiritual warfare. Here’s why: If I mess up and “image” is successful in getting me to withdraw and disengage my heart and body from worshiping God, then I have bowed my heart to image instead of God. I must instead turn those little moments into reminders that I am here not to look good or get it right, but to celebrate God’s story and the Savior who actually did get it right.
So I invite you to join me in celebrating this messy, beautiful, family story we call worship. Gathered worship is a corporate service to God, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it’s a family affair.
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