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Speaking and Being Silent in Worship (January 26, 2018)

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

This is the third column about how we worship at Christ Church. This series came about as the result of a question asked by someone who wanted to know what we do on Sunday mornings, and why we worship in the way we do.

In my first column, I identified Holy Communion or the Eucharist (which is the Greek word for “giving thanks”) as the centre of worship for us. Last week, I talked about being a covenant community, a people gathered together through baptism. Baptism is our initiation; it is also our commitment to live according to God’s gospel values.

This column focusses on two seemingly contradictory elements which nevertheless are closely related: we speak, and we listen in silence.

One of the regular features of worship in almost every tradition of Christian worship is what we call the sermon. For Anglicans, the sermon seeks to comment on the Scripture readings which we have read.

There are normally three readings and a Psalm in Anglican worship. The first reading is taken from the Old Testament. That’s followed by a Psalm, one of the songs which we find in the Bible which is usually a song of praise or a lament. The Psalm is most often chosen as a response to the first reading, and we normally read it together, either in unison or responsively. Then the second reading is read, normally from one of the letters in the New Testament. Finally, we read a snippet from one of the gospels, which are stories from the life of Jesus.

The sermon, as I mentioned, seeks to comment on one or more of those readings. We try to apply ancient literature to contemporary life.

Now, let me be clear. The sermon is not a talk about how to be nicer people, or how to be a better father or mother, or how to make family values part of our life. The sermon is certainly not about becoming more prosperous. It is not a motivational speech, although some may be motivated to live differently as a result of listening to a sermon.

A sermon is intended to help people grow in their faith. A sermon tries to point to those places where God is present in human life. A sermon helps people name their experience in the light of God’s gift of life. A sermon gives us insight so we can discern where we can work in partnership with God for the healing of the world.

We try to get to the heart of what the Bible is saying, and learn how to live as more faithful people of God.

But the sermon is not the only time we speak. We also speak in what we call the Prayers of the People. We bring our concerns for other people into God’s presence. We pray for the world and its trouble spots. We pray for people who are sick or struggling in other ways. We pray for our church, and for other churches in town and around the world.

We entrust the world to God’s care. We make ourselves aware of the world’s ills so that we can discern those places and times where we need to work with God for the world’s healing.

The other element in worship is silence. It is not enough for us only to speak. We must also make time to listen. In the silence, we deliberately and consciously slow down so that we can hear the promptings of the Spirit in our hearts and minds.

Silence is not just about reverence. It is also about combatting all the noise in our world. It is a hard thing for many of us because we live in a world filled with noise—radios, televisions, car audio systems, computers, smartphones, tablets, and so on. In worship, we work hard at building in some silence—moments of silence, really—in which we can listen to the promptings of our hearts and minds. We need silence so that we can listen, so that we can pay attention. So much of the sound in our world is intended as a distraction to avoid this very important task of listening.

We begin with a few moments of silence. There is a brief time of silence following the sermon. There are snatches of silence at various points in worship between various parts of our service. This is a conscious, counter–cultural choice which we make.

Some people say that worship is boring. I suppose that’s so. We are so used to all the distractions around us. But when we learn to listen, really listen, in the midst of that silence, it is no longer a matter of being bored. It’s about seeking to take advantage of an opportunity to practice something different in worship.

We do a few other things in worship as well: we sing (where else do we actually sing these days?), visit with friends as we gather week by week, and check into how others are doing in their lives. We seek to encourage one another in faith.

But these four activities which I have described in these columns—Holy Communion; Baptism; Speaking; and Listening—they are the heart of our weekly practice.

You can learn more here. You could also learn more by joining with us in worship. You would be most welcome.