This past Sunday, we had a little bit of a technological snafu, and I thought it might be helpful to explain what was going on. Somehow, the responsive reading that appeared on our screen was the reading from the previous Sunday, not the psalm that was intended for this Sunday’s service. When we discovered the mix-up, Heather offered to lead the reading as it appeared on the screen – from Psalm 34:15-22. But I knew that Psalm 146 was the correct reading for the day, and that it was printed out (like normal) for Heather to read from the pulpit. So I asked her to read the entire psalm aloud by herself, thus nullifying the “responsive” part of this week’s responsive reading.
When we worship together, content is more important than form. What we sing, read, pray, and communicate is more important than the way in which we do it. I would much rather change a responsive reading into reading done by one person, rather than have everybody involved in reading something that doesn’t quite fit into the flow of the service.
You see, our services at Mt. Haley are carefully designed to move from one item to the next, always with a central theme in mind. Each week, when I plan the service, I sit down with the scripture texts for the day. Those usually (but not always) come from the “lectionary,” a structured way of working through the whole Bible, which is used by many different Christian groups around the world. I sit with those passages and consider what they have in common, what kind of theme they suggest for us to experience together in worship. With that theme in mind, I then select songs and the “between-song” scripture verses, so that the entire service is, more or less, about that particular theme.
For example, this past Sunday was all about “Jesus the healer.” The sermon text, Mark 7:24-37, tells two stories of Jesus healing different people. The reading from Isaiah 35:3-7 is an ancient prophecy of the Messiah who would come and bring healing to the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute. The songs we sang reminded us of Jesus’s ability to bring healing in all areas of life: physical, spiritual, emotional, and so on. Through his sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus gives us abundant life even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
So our responsive reading, which came very early in the service, needed to set the tone for the rest of the service. We needed to hear Psalm 146 proclaim its ancient truth:
God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalm 146:7-9 NIV)
All of this is to remind you that our worship services are not cobbled together by accident. Each service has a theme, a guiding principle, something that draws together every piece of what we do. That theme is printed in the bulletin at the beginning of the service. Just this morning, Stacy (our wonderful secretary) had the idea to include the theme on the electronic presentations that run before the service, both in the sanctuary and in the narthex. That way, you will have more opportunities to see the theme of the day and to begin thinking and praying about it, even as you get settled in your seat in the sanctuary.
I hope this helps you to worship at Mt. Haley. Worship is one of the most important things we do as a community of faith! Thanks for being part of this experience with us.