I’ve skipped a week here on the blog because we just wrapped up Vacation Bible School (VBS) last weekend. A week of 15-plus hour days can wipe you out!
But of course the reward is seeing so many kids (over a hundred!) hear and understand that they are beloved children of God. And the double reward is realizing that without our teenagers, VBS wouldn’t even happen. They are largely responsible for the leadership and design of the entire week. The best part? At the end of one of those 15-hour days, they were gathered in the “Kid Vid” room playing Settlers of Catan and eating Klondike bars. I love those kids.
So this week, I’m back on track. Tomorrow I’m preaching on the Lukan text of Mary and Martha, and I’m going in a different direction than the usual one of dissing Martha for being, well, a Martha. Instead, I see the text as liberative. More on that in my next post.
The section of worship I’m focusing on today is Word. This is the second part in the Gather-Word-Meal-Send framework, and as I’ve already mentioned, baptism, prayer and peace sit over and weave through all four.
The part called “Word” is where we listen and respond to the logos, the living Word of God. While many of our discoveries and developments in liturgy thus far have been vigorous and active, our seeds today are more contemplative – appropriate for our gospel text.
What do we discover when we listen and respond to the Word?
*We discover how to listen for God in Scripture. This can be quite a challenge. Is God speaking directly? Through a person? In nature? In my preaching class, one of the critical questions we’re taught to ask of the text is: what is God saying and/or doing in the text?
*We discover how to listen for God in every conversation. This can take the form of what some call “God moments” where the incarnate Word is manifested in the everyday conversation and activity of our lives. It’s also a way to listen deeper when the conversation is difficult.
*We discover how to listen for God in silence. My congregation has begun to have Centering Prayer every Monday at 4:30 PM, and many people are enjoying the discipline of sitting together in silence, following a rule of centering prayer. We have also started making intentional space for silence in worship – for example, between the second reading and the gospel acclamation, or after the sermon. This was something I observed and learned when I taught music and worship at a Catholic school – the priest emphasized that it was important to take a few moments to let what had been proclaimed sink into our hearts.
What skills do we develop when we listen and respond to the Word?
*We develop skills of listening. This is a critical skill that is not well-developed in our society today. As racism has begun to rear its ugly head again in the United States, our brothers and sisters of color have implored us to begin being allies by simply listening. So many times we hear two or three words of something and think we’ve got to jump in with our ideas, our opinions, or our solutions. This isn’t helpful; we cannot possibly know their experience. Developing the skill of active listening is invaluable.
*We develop skills of telling. By this I mean we learn how to tell the story. It might be the story in the Scripture reading, or it might be another story. “Go and tell” said Jesus. Here’s the difference, though, when we tell a gospel story: we are telling good news. There are stories in the four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and there are also gospel stories that tell good news outside of those four books of the Bible. Hint: you’ll find such gospel stories in some very unexpected places.
*We develop skills of discerning prophetic hope. This might seem like a distant thing, only accessible to one who can speak in a prophetic voice. But I think that in our listening and responding, we begin to live the Word, and it is that lived, incarnate experience that helps us make the connections between Word and life that are essential for that prophetic hope. It might be one word in a reading, or it could be an entire chapter of a book, but the repeated listening combined with experience reveals hope in new ways and in new places. I like to imagine what it might look and sound like if two generations read a passage of Scripture to one another, and then each spoke of what they heard in it and what hope they found in it.
*We develop the scope of truth, revelation, history, and tradition. These four categories of our life together might seem easy to define at the outset, but diving into the Word week after week brings us to new horizons with each one. We learn that truth is not limited to what Jesus might say – it encompasses actions and what he doesn’t say as well. In listening to stories from the prophets of the Old Testament, we realize that revelation isn’t limited to the last book of the New Testament. This is one of the reasons why good Bible studies are so invigorating – you find yourself wrestling with the text in ways that are challenging as well as liberating.
All of these come into play in our texts this week, in a variety of ways:
In the Old Testament lesson, we read of the visitors to Abraham and Sarah. This is an aspect of tradition (hospitality to strangers was expected) but it’s also a story involving revelation – that Sarah will have a baby.
In the Colossians reading, the expansive description of Jesus the Christ brings us truth and revelation, “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.”
The gospel account of Mary and Martha touches on all four: Jesus speaks truth when naming how one can be “distracted by many things.” The history and tradition are present in the gender-restricted roles of server and hearer, but the revelation comes in Jesus’ assertion that the one thing, being rooted in and listening to the Word, is for all people – not just men. Likewise, being in service to the neighbor is for all people, not just women – as we saw in last week’s parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus said “go and do likewise” to the lawyer – even though he was of an upper class, and male, he was created for service, as are we all.
When we say “Word” it’s not limited to the printed words on the page. The Gospel of John tells us that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Emphasis mine.) This is the Greek word logos – the living Word of God, Jesus.
Bethlehem has a number of ministries that seem to me to be generated in Word: Liturgical Arts – Readers – Global Music Ensemble – Children’s Chimers – Good News Singers – Handbells – Second Sabbath.
What other ministries might you see as coming from Word?
Hymn writer Ruth Duck has penned beautiful words that sit in the space between the hearing of the Word and the doing of the Word:
You are called to tell the story, passing words of life along,
Then to blend your voice with others, as you sing the sacred song.
Christ be known in all our singing, filling all with songs of love.
You are called to teach the rhythm of the dance that never ends,
Then to move within the circle, hand in hand with strangers, friends.
Christ be known in all our dancing, touching all with hands of love.
You are called to set the table, blessing bread as Jesus blessed,
Then to come with thirst and hunger, needing care like all the rest.
Christ be known in all our sharing, feeding all with signs of love.
May the One whose love is broader than the measure of all space
Give us words to sing the story, move among us in this place.
Christ be known in all our living, filling all with gifts of love.
“You Are Called to Tell the Story”, text by Ruth Duck, b. 1947. © 1992, GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.