A series of posts by Pastor Eric Landry that help explain our liturgy, providing a context for worship with understanding.
February 16: Tithes and Offerings
The Old Testament Israelites always came to worship God with a sacrifice in hand. We also come to God with a sacrifice—ourselves! The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1 that we are “living sacrifices” and that our entire lives are given to God in obedience and praise. Part of that giving action is returning to God a portion of the material wealth with which he has blessed us. Each week, we take up an offering that is used to support the ministry of the church. We continue to use the term, “tithe,” because the example set for us in the Old Testament of Israel giving 10% of their income is a good one to strive after. In study after study, American Christians—some of the most generous people on the planet—are shown to only give between 2% and 4% of their income to the church. What might happen in our churches if we gave 10%? How many missionaries could we support? How much mercy ministry could we provide? How might our own hearts be changed as we create a need in our lives for God to meet, as we acknowledge the power that money often exerts over us, as we participate in the work of the kingdom of God?
February 9: Passing of the Peace
Between receiving God’s grace in the sermon and the Supper, we respond to God’s grace by receiving one another with words of peace. Wishing one another “the peace of Christ” is an ancient Christian way of reestablishing fellowship where there was strife, of introducing yourself as a Christian brother or sister, and of establishing a common basis of hope and confidence. The peace we offer to one another is not forged in this world; it is the peace of God’s new creation—where death shall be no more (Rev 21:4)—has intruded into our world and already we live in its light.
February 2: The Corporate Confession of Faith
Christians all around the world and down through the ages, we confess our faith together using the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. These two creedal statements are some of the oldest summaries of Christian theology and teaching available to us. The Apostles’ Creed was not actually written by the apostles. It originated in the second century as part of a baptismal rite. Its present form was developed by the seventh century. The Nicene Creed was written in AD 325 as a summary of the work at the Council of Nicea. It goes into more detail than the Apostles’ Creed because it was written to correct heresies that denied the Trinity and confused the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ.
January 26: The Sermon Lesson and Prayer for Illumination
Although Redeemer follows a lectionary to give guidance to our regular reading of God’s Word in the worship service, the sermon text may be based on other considerations. Some sermon series are born out of an issue that the pastors and elders want to consider together as a congregation. Some are driven by special circumstances unique to a church or its community. Still others are the result of the patient exposition of a particular book of the Bible. After we read the text for the day, we pause to ask God to show us Jesus. We believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he told the disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the Scriptures point to his person and work (Luke 24:27). So, we pray that the Holy Spirit would be active in our midst: opening up spiritually blind eyes and deaf ears so that we might be drawn back to the center of God’s grand narrative of redemption and recreation: Jesus Christ—crucified and risen again.
January 19: The Prayer of Supplication and Thanksgiving | The Lord’s Prayer
The public prayers of the church are different than the private prayers that we offer to God in our homes. Although the same requests of God might be made on Sunday as they are on Monday, the prayers of the people during the gathered worship service is a means of grace. God promises to use those prayers to accomplish his will and to enrich us with his presence. We generally pray the promises and commands of Scripture, especially as they apply to the life of Redeemer here in Austin. As a congregation, we lend our “amen” to the prayer by praying the Lord’s Prayer together. Using the words Jesus taught his disciples to say, we agree together that our Father in heaven is active in our midst, cares for our needs, forgives our sins, and guides our steps. Through this prayer, we envision and enact the coming kingdom of God in our midst. No wonder the Reformed theologian John Calvin called prayer, “the chief exercise of faith”! For in it, we appeal to the God who is there, who hears, and who acts for his people’s good and for his own glory.
January 12: The Choral Anthem
As we approach the Divine Service on Sunday mornings it is our distinct joy and privilege to sing the word of God. Paul in Colossians instructs us to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. In addition to the congregation’s songs, the Redeemer Choir carefully prepares an anthem, based on a biblical passage, as a sacrifice of praise to God and as a ministry to the members of the Body. We make every attempt to choose the most beautiful and profound selections of music, and the choir members work diligently to bring them to the highest possible aesthetic level, demonstrating our full engagement with the Gospel. The placement of the anthem falls at one of five places in the liturgy: 1) song of confession before the Corporate Confession, 2) a continuation of the Gloria (after the Declaration of Absolution), 3) The Psalter, 4) a response to the reading of the scripture lessons (as in this morning’s liturgy),π or 5) as a part of our Prayer of Supplication. It is our earnest prayer that you will be caught up in the glory of Christ as you listen and reflect on our glorious Gospel as presented in our anthems.
Note: These posts were on hiatus during the holidays.
December 15: The Hymns
Redeemer Presbyterian Church is well-known as a singing church! We take Paul’s words in Colossians 3:16 seriously, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The hymns that we sing represent some of the best music that the church has produced over the past 2,000 years. We stand in a long tradition of church music and we work very hard to choose hymns that are true, good, and beautiful. We want to sing true hymns, those that accurately reflect biblical teaching about God, this world, and our life in it. We want to sing good hymns, those that fit the place in the service where we sing them and have also stood the test of time. And, we want to sing beautiful hymns, those whose lyrics and tune unite to convey the message of the hymn in a manner that gives the congregation full voice. So, lift up your voice and join with all the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, to praise and magnify God’s glorious name!
December 8: The Lectionary
Each week the elders of the church lead us in reading several passages from Scripture as part of our worship. We do that in obedience to the apostolic command to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture…” (1 Timothy 3:13). To guide our reading, we use a Lectionary (a calendar based reading system). So, each week you will hear sections of Scripture drawn from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament Epistles, and the Gospels, giving you broad exposure to the whole counsel of God. As the church year progresses, the readings help focus our attention on what are often called the “Five Evangelical Feast Days”: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost—central events in the life and work of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels.
December 1: The Psalter
The Psalter (pronounced, “salt-er,” the “p” is silent) is the way we describe all the Old Testament Psalms considered as one group, especially as they are being used for worship. The Book of Psalms was the church’s first hymnal. Taking their cue from the worship of the Jewish synagogues, ancient Christians would use the lyrics of King David, Moses, Asaph, Solomon, and the Sons of Korah to sing praise to God in their new worship services. We continue that tradition by singing the Psalms, chanting the Psalms, and reading the Psalms in our worship services. This may be one of the first churches you’ve been in that uses the Psalter to such an extent. We do it not just for tradition’s sake, but also because we believe along with the German Reformer Martin Luther that the Psalter is “the Bible in miniature.” That is, the Psalms are a kind of summary of all the great doctrines of Scripture, all the great episodes of God’s saving work, and all the great responses of God’s people to God. So, we turn to the Psalms to help guide and give voice to our own worship Sunday after Sunday.
November 24: The Church Calendar
Although Presbyterian and Reformed churches are not known for “keeping” the church calendar, a limited use of the liturgical seasons in an appropriate way to commemorate the high points of the gospel message along with our brothers and sisters in Christ in other branches of Christendom. By doing so, we are also able to emphasize for our friends and neighbors the Christian nature of Christmas and Easter, which have nearly become completely secular holidays. Here at Redeemer, we believe that following the church calendar gives us “signposts” throughout the year that draw our attention back to the significant events in the life of Christ: Advent (culminating in Christmas), Epiphany (the appearance of the wise men or, more properly, the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles), Lent (Jesus’ wilderness temptation of 40 days, culminating in Good Friday), Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.
November 17: Votum | Gloria | Hymn
Each week, we hear and speak the words of Psalm 124:8, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Prior to the Reformation, this verse was privately whispered by the priests as part of their worship. Through John Calvin’s liturgical reforms, the verse took its place at the beginning of the congregation’s worship as a public declaration that God was with his people with his saving grace. We respond to that declaration with two parts of praise. The first is the Gloria, a hymn from the fourth century that extols our triune God. The second is with a Hymn of Gratitude. Together, these two songs are our response to God’s gracious initiative in calling us into his presence and absolving us of our sins. Despite our sin and misery, we appear before God with confidence, knowing that our God delights in our praise and is present with us as we gather in his name.
November 10: Confession and Absolution
Most of us run away from any honest contemplation of our sin. We measure ourselves against the behavior of others. We justify our selfish actions. We shift blame to those around us. We might even secretly complain that God is the real reason for our misery and distress. The time of confession allows us—both individually and corporately—to be honest with God: maybe for the first time this week, maybe for the first time ever. A brief reading of the Law gives us the context for evaluating our lives against God’s all-encompassing claims. Then, we all join in a unison confession of sin. After we confess our sins, the minister stands with hands raised absolving us, declaring the forgiveness of sins in the name of Christ and by the authority of God’s word (John 20:23). We are forgiven because Jesus, who “knew no sin,” suffered the punishment of sin by dying on the cross with the result that “in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
November 3: The Call to Worship | Trinitarian Declaration | Prayer of Adoration
After ascending the hill of the Lord and entering into the presence of the living God, we wait expectantly to hear God speak to us. God welcomes us into his presence through the words of his minister who calls us to worship. These Scriptural words draw us forward as the people of God who have gathered to receive good gifts from our heavenly Father. We are then reminded that our worship takes on a Trinitarian shape: we offer our praise to the Father, by the Spirit, in the Son. We reply by adoring our God in prayer: extolling the greatness of the God who condescends to meet with his people each week in our gathered worship.
October 27: Choral Introit | Hymn of Invocation | Pastor’s Procession
Since the creation of the world, God has set in place a pattern of work and worship. When the day of worship dawns, God’s people lay down their earthly cares and concerns to gather together for worship. As they go, they sing! “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘let us go up to the house of the Lord,’” David sings in Psalm 122. So also, when we gather each Sunday, we sing as we ascend Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22). Our choir sings a short musical piece (usually a hymn introduction or excerpt from a choral anthem that is matched to the musical key of the hymn that follows). Our pastors lead us into the presence of God by celebrating God’s name, his work, and the blessings that he continues to bestow on his people. So, lift up your voice! Join with us as we enter into God’s presence—knowing that “this is the day that the Lord has made, [so] let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
October 20: Prelude I Words of Preparation I Collect
In our multi-tasking, hyper-connected, distracted world, the opportunity to unplug is precious and rare. Each Sunday we ask that you take advantage of that opportunity, and we provide the tools that appeal to all your senses to help you transition from one reality into another. The prelude is often a piece of music written to help Christians in another time and place worship God. We use it as a signal that something different is about to happen. You hear the sound of the music, you begin walking into the sanctuary, and you find your seat. Then, we give you words of preparation—a text of Scripture and a prayer for the day—that you can use to transition your mind from the kids’ homework, the project still sitting on your desk, the message from a friend, or the worry about the bills toward the worship of God. Finally, we ask that you use a moment of silence for prayer or reflection or just patient waiting for the service to begin. Sometimes it’s hard to “feel” like you’re ready for worship, but by regularly using these tools you can prepare your body and your mind to enter into the presence of God.
October 13: Children and the Liturgy
Worshipping here at Redeemer is a feast for the ears. The music, the singing, the words spoken in unison—each part of our worship service serves up an auditory treasure. In the middle of it all, you might here a small voice yell out its own, “Amen!” Or stumble on a word in the Creed. Or even ask a mother if the “long talking” is done! We love having children in our worship service because we believe that God is forming them (and us) into the worshippers he created us to be. By standing with their parents, by responding with “thanks be to God,” by singing the doxology, the heart habits of our children are being formed. It is not enough merely to teach our children the truth, we must also embody the truth in the standing, sitting, praying, singing, giving, receiving acts of worship each Sunday. Parents, please explain the service to your children. Sometimes drawing an illustration in their bulletin can help them follow along. Those of you without children in the service, please welcome the children (as Jesus did!) and give a smile of encouragement to their parents. Sundays can be hard days to be a squirmy child or a tired parent, but the investment we all make here will reap eternal rewards.
October 6: The Divine Service
The “Divine Service” is the term we use to describe our weekly, public, gathered conversation with God. It is the Divine Service because God is the primary speaker and actor in the service: he calls us into his presence; he creates and strengthens faith by his Word and Supper; he sends us out with his blessing. We respond with prayer, praise, confession, and acts of gratitude and service. Although we know that God is with us every day of the week in all our regular activities (he is omnipresent), God has promised to be with us in a special way when we gather together in worship. If you long to know God’s presence and power, you will find it in the Divine Service. So, even if this form of worship is new to you, please participate as much as you are able—you are standing in a stream of Christian worship that stretches back almost 2,000 years. We are glad that you are here with us to be served by our faithful Father.