Our January sermon series at Christ in the City* focused on worship, but not on what we might normally think of when we hear the word “worship” – it’s not about the music, and it’s not specifically about “all of life” as worship (in the sense of doing all that you do to the glory of God). It focused on the related ideas of formation and “the political” Although the church rarely, if ever, talks about worship as political except within the sphere of academic theology – it should. And God’s people ought to understand it that way. To speak of worship as political is to reveal how integral worship is to our identity as people (namely, the people of God) and to show how weekly worship gatherings include elements that intend to form and shape our lives to be a particular kind of people.

The idea of political used here refers to the etymological source of the word, polis, which refers to the Greek city state. Political refers to being citizens – and for Christians, we’re citizens of the Kingdom of God (Luther made a distinction of our citizenship as being in two realms, the civil or left hand realm, and the sacred or right hand realm, i.e., the Kingdom of God). The intent of the series was to show through an elaboration of the Exodus narrative how God has made for Himself a people, a nation (other ideas include a “universal society,” that we are “resident aliens”, that the people of God are a culture unto themselves) which can be identified over and against all other people groups and nations by its practices which emerge from its beliefs and confessions. The idea of political here does not refer to partisan politics, to power, to ideologies, or to maneuvering and manipulation.

The use of the Exodus narrative also allowed for a weekly examination in brief of one or more elements of the typical liturgy employed for worship at Christ in the City. Not only does the preaching of the Word form the hearers to be particular kinds of people, but the preaching is reinforced through certain rituals and practices that call God’s people to live in a particular manner that reflects a lived theology – that is, we can through our liturgical order, rituals, and song, practice our identity in community in such a way that the effects of the transformative and formative power which is active in worship is made manifest and allows the hearers/congregation/people of God to go forth into the world living out their identity as people who have been called/made/formed by God (this amounts not just to worship as a way of life, but to ‘being the Church” as a way of life). For further thoughts on this, I recommend Rodney Clapp’s book, A Peculiar People.

The use of the Exodus narrative allowed for many things to be accomplished. First, it allowed for the preaching of the Word to function in its inherently political manner. The Exodus narrative is not just a historical fact and therefore, merely a story we tell. It is a narrative into which the people of God are preached – that is, when it is preached, the hearers are made part of the story (and thus, made/formed to be God’s people). The Exodus narrative is not only part of our personal history as individual children of God, but it is also figurative (or typological) of our salvation experience. God has rescued us from slavery to sin just as He rescued the Hebrews from the slavery of the Egyptians (Scripture directly connects the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism, God’s political work of making His people). The rest of the narrative then tells of various aspects of the Christian life just as the Hebrews entered into the new experience of being made the people of God. This includes liturgical practices like offering, rituals like being marked in blood (which is reflected also in Communion), confessions through which God’s people actively participate in the covenant relationship He has established with them, etc.

It also allowed for the ambiguities of the Christian life to be brought to light in a practical way: just as the Hebrews wandered through the desert wilderness, so also the Christian life includes certain amounts of wandering, wondering, questioning, doubting, waiting, and (eventually, sometimes after long periods of time) finding one’s way with the guidance of God. Even after being made into the people of God through the Covenant, through the rescue from slavery, through the covering of the blood, through the formation experienced in the liturgy and the hearing of the Word, there is still a sense of not being FULLY formed and therefore not knowing what it means to live as children of God to the extent that we do not always live as such. Thus, gathering for worship is essential to the life of God’s people because worship is formative and transformative. Our wilderness wanderings are real, legitimate, and part of the Christian life. Yet God is not absent in our journey – as with the Hebrews, He is present and directs us (and redirects us when we stray) and reminds us always of the ultimate goal (thus, this series is inherently eschatological—journeys always have destinations).

Talking about whether or not the series was a success always has a sense of “we’ll see.” As much as the point of this blog is to use a particular grammar for the Christian faith so that others might catch on and slowly begin to speak and see life differently, so was the intent of this series. The effectiveness of the series will play itself out in the life of the community (I hope and pray).

There are lots of ideas out there in contemporary Christendom which suggest how to “do church,” even some which come close to the idea I’m sharing here about worship as something that shapes us. But there is very little practical suggestion—all of it tends to be theoretical. So, as I’ve helped put this series together and played a significant role in its presentation (by preaching, introducing and concluding the services, as well as offering the explanation of liturgical elements – all of this beyond my normal role as worship director), I’ve tried to find my own way of taking what sounds exactly right in the world of theoretical theology and tried to make it living in the world of practical theology. After all, isn’t theology church practice?

*I helped start a church that is something of an entrepreneurial venture. Christ in the City (C2) is CRAVE Coffeehouse by day – the entire sanctuary is a coffeehouse. On Saturday’s during our worship service, we gather together in the coffeehouse atmostphere which inhabits a 120 year-old sanctuary for a casual worship service that is serious about the truth of the Word of God and finding unique modern ways to live faithfully in the Lutheran tradition. See more of the story here (mouse over ‘C2,’ then mouse over ‘History.’)