The season of Advent is the beginning of the church year. If you follow the lectionary readings for this season you will find that they are accounts of prophets proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom and anticipation of the coming of the messiah. We re-live this anticipation through these texts, our music, and even the way creation enters more deeply into darkness until the passing of the winter solstice.
Dr. Steven Taylor is the founding pastor of Graceway Baptist Church in Ellerslie, New Zealand. He has a PhD on the Emerging Church and a Masters in Theology in communicating the cross in a postmodern world. Steve recently did a course at Fuller Seminary entitled “Communicating the Biblical Text in a PostModern Culture” in July.
He argues that to communicate the biblical text for today’s context requires one to “incarnate, indwell, our culture.” Taylor goes on to use the phrase “DJing” with respect to the community. A record DJ learns the historical stories (old records) and uses them authentically in contemporary culture and integrates them into the community's stories. There is too much to summarize here, but do look for his book “The Out of Bounds Church: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change” from Zondervan.
Taylor cites Bono of U2 as a person who effectively DJs today. According to Taylor, Bono is in fact a worship leader for over 40,000 people; Bono recontextualizes the biblical text and leads concert goers into a time of community worship and prayer. Taylor plays the “Vertigo ‘05” DVD and shows us how Bono is leading worship. This intrigued me to the point that Dr. Taylor and I discussed this further after the workshop. The following is from Steve’s article “7 Things I learnt from Bono about Worship Leading.”
1. Connect uniquely. In the Vertigo DVD, Bono speaks about Chicago and his memories of Chicago. He makes a unique connection with context, day, and time.
2. Engage through familiarity. Bono includes songs that resonate with previous experiences and previous encounters.
3. Use repetition to call forth prayer. Bono uses the repetitive “Hallelujah.” It is easy to sing. The simple repetition enables the audience to sing with the band.
4. Secure a 5th (visual) band member. U2 now has a 5th member of the band to add a visual layer to the experience. A wise worship leader will look to add not just singers or musicians, but a “visual” person to their team.
5. Create hope by drawing the best from the past. Bono tells the audience in the Vertigo DVD, “We as a band are looking to the future. We’re taking the best of the past and moving forward with hope.”
6. Plan participation. Bono can draw one boy from the audience to sing to, one woman from the audience to dance with. He uses repetition to call forth prayer and encourage congregational singing.
7. Invoke passionate practices. Bono invites the audience to hall out their cell phones and to text “Make Poverty History campaign.” A worship leader turns singing into action. He turns entertainment into justice.
Ron’s story about baptizing his nephew and the connections of baptism to our care for creation show how multifaceted the layers of this sacrament are. All of life, for those of us born of water and the Spirit, is wet. In other words, every moment of each day is grounded in baptism. Even if we are not following the will of God, those moments are redeemed in God’s grace, which is one aspect of baptism (cleansing from or forgiveness of sin). This is why confession or at least a reflection on how we “missed the mark” or sinned is a part of the compline prayer. The ancient “compline” prayer, or prayer at the close of the day shapes our sleeping and rising in the death and resurrection of Christ. This image is one of baptismal life; continually dying (repenting and turning from ways that separate us from Christ) and rising to new life each day.
Throughout the worship service there are several moments each Sunday where we can engage water in ways that help us understand and live more deeply into our baptism. Here are a few examples:
During the gathering of the people you can pour water into the font or baptismal pool with words that accentuate our inclusion into the family of God such as:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you m ay proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
After confession, you may pour or splash water while you while declaring God’s grace and forgiveness. Any words of forgiveness and grace accentuate baptism. However, you may use words that are more explicit:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3,4) Know that you are forgiven and be at peace, walking in the light of Christ, loving God with all your being and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Calling for the offering is a great place to remind people of the promises they have made at baptism. We promise to follow Christ, obey his word, love God and one another and live our lives in ways that show Christ’s love in this world. Our best offering is the way we live. While money is important, how we make that money and our priorities in the way we spend money are also part of living into our baptism. The way we live each minute of the day is our best and most important offering, even more important that anything that has to do with money. Too often the offering seems to revolve around money, especially when we process plates of money down the aisle singing a doxology. What are ways we can expand our offering to include living the baptismal life?
Sending people into the world is another place where the image of water can remind us that we leave this place to live into our baptism. Perhaps you could use such words as this while pouring or splashing water:
We are the people of God, members of the household of faith, a royal priesthood. Let us proclaim with our lives the good news of Christ for all the world!
These images are just scratching the surface of the mystery of baptism. There are many more aspect of this life we live in faith and many more ways to express it. The Presbyterian Church USA is inviting all its member churches into five practices each Sunday:
1. Set the font in full view of the congregation.
2. Open the font and fill it with water on every Lord’s Day.
3. Set cup and plate on the Lord’s Table on every Lord’s Day.
4. Lead appropriate parts of weekly worship from the font and from the table.
5. Increase the number of Sundays on which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.
You can read the whole report, including supporting material that is helpful for studying and reflecting on baptismal life at https://pcusa.org/theologyandworship/worship/sacramentworkgroup.htm
By engaging in these practices each Sunday we can begin to explore how baptism is a part of every aspect of Christian living. Just a few examples would be forgiving others, caring for creation, what we do at our jobs (or our vocation), the way we spend money, we interact with others, all this is grounded in the life of faith which is the baptismal life. The mysteries of the faith are never fully exhausted. These practices can be explored each and every time the community of faith gathers and even in our daily prayer.
In a class I'm teaching on Crafting Language for Worship, we recently had a discussion about the value of significant words and repeated phrases in worship. Some of my students from evangelical and free-church traditions reported with delight the value they have discovered in the the persistent Easter season call-and-response "Christ is risen! Alleluia!/He is risen indeed, Alleluia!" They report that using this refrain now is profoundly formative, reminding them of the catholicity of the church, and connecting them with the faithful of so many times and places.
All of this reminded me of a time when my congregation practiced a fast from the use of the word "Alleluia" throughout the season of Lent in anticipation of its exuberant reintroduction to worship on Easter Sunday. Throughout the forty days, we still sang songs with "alleluia" in the lyrics, but self-consciously hummed "mm-mm-MM-mm" instead.
Meanwhile, the young children of the church spent one of their education hours creating colorful construction paper butterflies, decorated abundantly with the word "Alleluia." These were then crafted into a beautiful mobile, which debuted on Easter morning hanging high over the communion table, pointing to new life in Christ. Alleluia! He is risen!
In response to sticky, sycophantic treatments of the theme "Heroes of the Faith," an artist I know created these images for use in a worship service. Feel free to use them, but credit him: (C) 2005 Scott Beahm.