This is the last installment of “worship learning moments” for my diaconal project this summer. It’s on the last part of our worship: sending.
All of worship is a cyclical movement, both centripetal that pulls us to the center and centrifugal that sends us out from the center – which of course is Christ.
As St. Augustine wrote, “we become what we receive” – Christ himself – and we are sent out in the world.
As we are sent, we discover:
*that we are challenged to be salt and light. Once formed and transformed, we actively answer Jesus’ call to be salt – “seasoning” – for the world, as well as light. More on light in a second. Let’s think about the idea that we “season” the world.
What’s your favorite unusual seasoning? Mine is cumin. I stumbled across a great recipe for chilaquiles (Google it, SO YUMMY) some years ago that involved cumin in the sauce. I was stunned at what a major taste difference that teaspoon of cumin made! Maybe what Jesus is saying is that even our smallest efforts to make a difference do just that.
We’re also called to be light to the world. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” goes the African American spiritual. Not shine so that we get the glory, but so that God gets the glory and folks are shown that there is hope in struggle, light in darkness.
I’m thinking of the preaching challenge to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” – while this might not be the best pastoral care advice ever given, it’s an interesting tension to keep at the forefront. There are times when we bring the comfort (light) and times when we ask the hard questions (afflictions?) and bring the challenges (salt). Both help us grow as the people of God, in service to the world.
*that we are called to be distinct-yet-among. I’ve always struggled with the bumper stickers that say “not of this world.” I get what it’s trying to say, which is distinct-yet-among. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to be distinct and a lot harder to add the yet-among. This is readily seen in coffee hours after church – it’s a lot easier to hang with our friends than greet the visitor. But what are we called to do? We have good news to share! In our worrisome society, the “distinct” might be felt by a visitor as the effort someone makes to greet them and make them feel welcome.
*that we are living into a sense of mission – proclamation – incarnation – and kingdom. I’m going to take a little writer’s privilege and shift “kingdom” to “kin-dom” to help us think in ways that don’t sound so empirical. The ways that we do our sending at the end of worship can vary in phrasing or responses – even with an absence of sending, such as during the Great Three Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which are seen as one continual act of worship).
Think about the “old standard” sending: “Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!” We see mission in the first two phrases. We are urged to proclamation in the second phrase. Incarnation and kin-dom are seen in all three phrases.
And in being sent, we develop the skills of:
*service and partnership. Maybe there are announcements in the bulletin or on a projection screen that invite us into ways to be church together for the sake of the world. Maybe we sign up for an upcoming service day outside.
*seeking the ways of God in what some might call “the low places.” This is most directly heard in a sending phrase like “Go in peace. Remember the poor.” If we’ve made a decision to help serve the meal at the local shelter, we know in hearing the words of sending that our congregation adds its blessing to that work.
*disciplines and techniques for cooperation with people from many backgrounds. Perhaps we’ve sung a sending hymn in another language, or drawn a prayer or blessing from another culture. As we “practice” together on Sunday, we can then take the experience out into the world during the week, knowing that perfection isn’t the point – making the effort is.
*how to stand with the oppressed. “Go in peace. Remember the poor” is one suggested sending phrase. Many of my classmates at PLTS challenged this: remembering is fine, but it can be taken as a passive action. We thought about other phrases: stand with the poor. Accompany the refugee. Welcome the stranger. Even something as direct as “feed the hungry.” If we change these words up from time to time, as local contexts and situations dictate, we emphasize our understanding that we are sent to do exactly these things.
*practicing the virtues of justice, peacemaking, temperance, and love. We’ve practiced them throughout our worship of God together. In sending, the music and language we use – as well as the physical actions we embody – give us strength and assurance that God walks with us as we then practice these virtues in daily life.
Worship is practice for how we are to be Christ in the world.
We gather to worship weekly, because as with any acquired skill, practice is needed!
And then we go to live worship in our daily lives. To be that salt and light to a hungering world.
These are my favorite sending words. I love the urgency of the opening phrase, the whole sense of “carpe diem” that infuses the whole thing:
Life is short
and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts
of those who travel with us.
So be swift to love
make haste to be kind
and go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!
This Labor Day, I give thanks for the work God sends us to do in this world. Blessings on your work and your weekend, dear friends.