This is the second of four articles, each focussing on one of the four different stages we move through as we worship.
The place of the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession and the sermon: are you wondering about this? In September a change was made to the order of service in both services, moving the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession so that they now occur after the sermon. This has allowed the reading of the scriptures to be followed more closely by the sermon that reflects on them and has moved the prayers themselves to a place in the service where they are now part of our response to God’s Word.
In my article in the September newsletter, I began by noting that in the Presbyterian and Reformed Traditions, worship is often shaped so that it goes through four movements. The first of this, our approach to God, I went into in more detail in that article. It includes the call to worship, hymns, prayers of approach and confession and assurance of forgiveness. Together these guide us into our time of worship, uniting us, preparing us and making us ready to hear the word of God, which is the second movement in our worship.
The hearing and preaching of God’s word is at the heart of our worship in the Presbyterian Tradition. John Calvin called the Word and the Sacraments the marks of the church and taught that where the word is preached and the sacraments administered, there you have church.
At St. Andrew’s the hearing of God’s Word, most often begins with the reading of a responsive psalm, and it is usually led by one of our children. There is a poignancy in this that reminds us that we are called not just to instruct our children but to learn from them as well. The psalms themselves are the prayer book of the church, teaching us the language of lament and praise. They bring the deepest of human emotions and experiences into intimacy with God.
During the 11am service, we follow the reading of the psalm with a children’s hymn and a time with the children up front on the chancel steps. Although it is called children’s time, it is a very important part of the service for all of us. If we are sincere in raising up people of faith, disciples who find home and nurture in the worshipping community, then it begins with welcoming children in our worship and sanctuary today. Just as we need to hear the Good News in worship ourselves, we are called to share it with our children. In collaboration, Christine, Aisling and I have been giving thought and prayer to this particular time in the service, working so that it connects meaningfully with both the Sunday School lessons that follow, as well as the rest of the worship service.
The worship service continues with one or more readings from the Bible. A short prayer for illumination always precedes this reading, asking for the Spirit of God to open us body and mind and soul to the hearing of God’s word. This is a particularly reformed prayer and reflects our belief that the Holy Spirit is both the power by which God’s word is revealed to us and the means by which we understand its application in our own time and place. Whether the readings for the day come from the Hebrew Scriptures (which we also sometimes call the Old Testament), and/or the Gospels and Epistles of the Greek (or New) Testament, all of Scripture testifies and points to Christ.
The sermon is what follows next. Preparing for and preaching the sermon are an important part of my role as teaching elder and pastor of the congregation. In preparing and delivering it I pray that it will be a vessel through which the Word of God and Holy Spirit can work and move. In reading the texts and working with them each week, some of the things I look for are how God’s transformative grace is at work in the text and how that helps reveal what God is doing in the world around us and where we are being called to join with what God is doing.
This then brings us to the completion of the second part of the worship service. The next part, our response to God, is where the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, also called the prayers of the people are now found and I will write more about that next time.
Rev. Dr. Karen Dimock