Period Sermon Liturgy

Choosing liturgy for the Period Sermon is a little challenging.  Part of the issue is that the text from Leviticus does not appear in the lectionary.  Most of the prayers, litanies, communion liturgies, sermon helps, etc. are based on the texts that are in the lectionary.  What that means is when I’m preaching on a text that is not included in the lectionary, I have to do a little more work to find meaningful prayers or a lot more work to write my own.  The text from Mark does appear in the lectionary but most of the ‘helps’ are geared toward the little girl who was raised from the dead and not the woman who was healed from her unusual and lengthy bleeding.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to find much. 

Generally speaking, I use this sermon when I am guest preaching, so typically, the church does not ask me to provide the liturgy.  There are enough general liturgy pieces available that are just fine and when a there is a guest preacher.  So, I haven’t actually tried to write liturgy to go with this sermon.  Inspired by feedback from our worship committee, I decided to give it a try. The church I serve has recently formed a worship committee to help with planning worship and providing feedback how others are experiencing worship.  The feedback was that the members really enjoyed when our efforts feel most coordinated.  They like when a phrase in the prayers reminds them of the sermon.  And the more of those little gems we drop in throughout the liturgy, the more they seem to enjoy each of them.  If the other pastor and I can get the texts and themes to the music director and organist in plenty of time, they can choose anthems and instrumental pieces to reinforce the theme too.  They even include program notes to explain their music choices.  It has been fun (and sometimes challenging) to coordinate elements. 

My experience has been that most churches do not read each lectionary text each week.  Third Church usually has a worship leader read one and if the pastor chooses he/she can read another one as part of the sermon.   What that means is we don’t read the Psalms often.  Our current hymnal does have music for many of the psalms so sometimes it’s an option to sing one of those before the sermon.  Sometimes we include the Psalm as part of the call to worship.  Psalm 30 is in the same lectionary grouping as Mark 5 and it does pick up on some of the main ideas like healing, bringing life, and praising God because of the healing. 

I might choose to use a portion of the Psalm for the call to worship. 

Psalm 30: 1-3, 8-12 (NRSV)

L: I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

P: O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.

L: O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

P: To you, O Lord, I cried,
    and to the Lord I made supplication:

L: “What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?

P: Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

L: You have turned my mourning into dancing;
    you have taken off my sackcloth
    and clothed me with joy, so that my soulmay praise you and not be silent.

P: O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

In churches that do read the Psalms as part of their scripture readings, I might use an amplified or devotional version of the text for the call to worship.  I might even use my own words loosely based on the Psalm and in keeping with some of the themes of praising God for healing, renewing life, and the idea of service to others:

L:  Lord I praise you, for you have healed me

P: When I thought I would die, you renewed my life

L: I can not serve others if I do not take care of myself

P: You O Lord, are gracious to me, even when I am not gracious to myself

L: Even in my sadness, you have shown me peace and joy

P: O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

In my faith tradition (PCUSA) we confess our sins together during worship.  Sounds a little scary, right?  Not to worry, we say the same words that are printed in the bulletin.  Although, that can sometimes be so general it’s not meaningful.  The challenge with corporate confession is making it meaningful without being so specific, someone could think they are not included in the sinful because “that’s not how I sin”.  We all have our favorite sins.  And we all have our favorite “other people’s sins”.  Our book of common worship has great prayers and sometimes it’s nice to use those or to borrow phrases.  There are also full services in our book of common worship that include different prayers than the general worship outline.  So, for this prayer of confession, I borrowed phrases from the services for “Mission in the World”, “Service for the Care of Creation”, “Service for Justice and Peace”.

While writing the prayer of confession, I’m also thinking about the woman with the unusual bleeding in the Mark text.  She is experiencing what I would call “being sinned against”.  She has been excluded from community for something she can not control.  The laws, the customs, the systems she lives in are causing her isolation and emotional pain (on top of her physical pain).  Jesus heals her so that she can be restored to health and to community.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t heal in the way Jesus did, if I could I would be standing in front of children’s hospital and not writing liturgy.  But I do believe there is a power in liturgy.  I believe that when we pray together, the words we say can take on life and can lead us to action, to repentance and to forgiveness.  I believe that we can work for healing and for restoring community.  We can choose to include those who would normally be excluded.  We can address those in power to advocate for the oppressed.  When we choose not to include and when we choose not to advocate for the oppressed, we are sinning. And when we confess our sins together we are acknowledging that we are all part of a system that hurts and heals.  And that together we can make changes for our own good and for the good of others.

I’m also thinking about women who are experiencing exclusion from society today.  Some women are told to separate themselves into menstrual huts for various reasons (usually involving some sort of stigma around menstruation).  These practices exclude women from their community and can be dangerous.  There are other issues, like child marriage, sexual abuse, and female genital mutilation that are related to the cultural treatment of women around the world.  I’m keeping those in mind too, but for worship, I want to really focus on bringing restoration to community and to health, because those general ideas could resonate with other issues/sins and people might make those connections too (and all of that can be part of the working of the Holy Spirit).  Basically, this again is a place to balance the specific mission project information and to give room for the Holy Spirit to speak in the lives of the worshipers (and to be okay that the Spirit may lead them in a different direction).

A quick note about punctuation, I tend to add more commas than grammatically necessary in corporate prayers.  It is my hope that keeps us on the same pacing as we read together.  It might be a general writing quirk, as evidenced in this blog.  😉

Prayer of Confession:

Holy God, lover of justice and equity, you have called us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We forget that everyone is our neighbor, especially those who are weak, poor, and oppressed.  Your justice demonstrates that we are called to protect those who are vulnerable, yet we hide in the shelter of privilege and power.  Lord, have compassion on us, and on those who live with injustice, stigma, and pain.  Help us to use our influences to restore broken relationships, to strengthen the weak, and to give voice to the oppressed.  Forgive us, Merciful God, when we fail to do follow the example of your son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession are the typical prayers we would find in the section of the service we call “Gathering”.  This section would also include an opening hymn or spiritual song.  I will address music later.  The next section of worship is called “Word”.  This section contains a ‘prayer for illumination’ which is basically asking God to open our ears and our hearts.  Following this prayer is a scripture reading, children’s sermon and sermon.  Sometimes there is a musical response (hymn, song or choir anthem).  When I’m guest preaching, I keep the children’s sermon generic, usually about how God loves them, and they should others, or I let a lay leader do the children’s sermon.  Sometimes I talk about how I usually attend a different church but that our churches are connected.  After the sermon, some would call this section “Response to the Word” and others would just call it all part of the “Word” section.  This section (or continuing section) would include communion.  Many protestant churches do not have communion each week.  Some churches prefer not to have communion without their pastor and other churches want to have communion at the regularly scheduled time, even if there is a guest preacher.  I have done the Period Sermon and Communion in only one instance (so far).  This would also be where a Baptism would traditionally be placed, although some churches choose to move it up in the service if the parents typically would have the infant in the nursery during church.  But that’s a longer discussion for another time perhaps.  This is also the place in the service where we ordain and install church officers or pastors.  Again, not on a Sunday with a guest preacher so I won’t be worried about liturgy for that now.  An Affirmation of Faith would be appropriate in this section too.  An Affirmation of Faith is usually read in unison like the Prayer of Confession.  This time, the congregation is reading a statement that explains what we believe.  Sometimes, a Creed or Confession is used, and at other times a section of scripture (that could be considered a Creed) is used.  Okay, that was a lot of explanation, but if it wasn’t enough or you have questions, leave a comment or send an email, I love to talk about this, but I want to stick to the parts of the liturgy that I’m writing specifically to fit the Period Sermon.  The parts of this section that I would write especially for this sermon are the “Prayers of the People” and the “Offertory Prayer”.

“Prayers of the People” takes different forms in each church.  If I’m guest preaching, I ask the pastor or whomever has made the arrangements for me to preach, how they style this prayer. 

Sometimes, this prayer is a place for the congregation to lift up those that they want to prayer for especially.  This can include a list of individuals from the congregation or known by the congregation that are sick or going through a difficult time.  Prayer requests might be shared out loud and the pastor fills in prayer around those requests.  When I need to do this style, I make up prayers on the spot.  I like the pressure, and this makes me feel more connected to God, because I rely on, and believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding me and the words I’m saying.  One of the churches I served in a non-ordained roll liked this style.  When I was new to it, I would jot down words or phrases beforehand to help guide me.  The more of those style prayers I led the less I relied on a script. 

Sometimes, this prayer is one that the pastor leads and leaves silent intervals for people to pray (out loud or silently).  This is where I would write my own or borrow one from the Book of Common Worship.  I recently fell in love with the Prayers of Intercession found in the “Mission in the World” section (page 564).  I won’t share the whole prayer, because I feel like it would be unfair to give away another person’s work.  But, I do want to share the part that I love most (and hope to not offend the writers).  The prayer begins with, “Holy One, Holy Three, mother of all creation:  Yours is the womb of life.  Yours is the found of living water.  Yours is the voice that breaks down walls.  Yours is the love that cannot be contained.”  The rest of it is beautiful and powerful too. 

Sometimes, this prayer is a litany.  The pastor prays and concludes each section with “Lord, in your mercy” the congregation responds ‘hear our prayer’ or some other predetermined ‘call and response’ is used.  I like to start with general prayers for the world and move towards more local and specific prayers.  This is also a place I may expand on themes from the prayer of confession and the sermon.

L:  Let us pray for Days for Girls International, the work they are doing in our world, and in our community.  When I say, Lord, in your mercy, please respond with hear our prayers.

L: Creator God, we pray for all of the world, that creation can be restored to health and wellness.  We pray that the use of products that add pollution to the planet will cease and that more people will be inspired to use sustainable, renewable, and reusable products.  Lord, give us the courage to talk to others about reusable menstrual products as a solution that is kind to our world and to our bodies.  Lord in your mercy…

P: Hear our prayers.

L: God of Peace, we pray for especially those who find themselves in vulnerable positions and excluded from community.  We pray for the women who live in places where they are separated from community while they are menstruating.  We pray for their safety and we pray that hearts and minds are changed so that these harmful practices stop.  We pray for the restoration of community for all people.  Lord, in your mercy…P: Hear our prayer

L: God of Justice, we pray that the those in power would understand the need for sustainable access to menstrual hygiene products.  We pray that those making laws and policy would respond to the need to have free products in public restrooms, prisons and schools.  We pray for those who are held back from full participation in life because of lack of access.  We pray for those who are embarrassed when their flow is visible on their clothing.  We pray for those who are using items that cause harm because they do not have access to safe and clean supplies.  Lord, in your mercy…P: Hear our prayer

L: Loving God, we pray for the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls, for those that gather together to help each other and build a better community.  We pray that gathering to make kits creates a loving and supportive community for women and men in the Pittsburgh area.  We pray that they continue to inspire and to be inspired.  We ask that you continue to bless this project.  Lord, in your mercy… P: Hear our prayer

Offertory:

Usually this is the time that I thank the congregation for their donations (usually they have brought in wash cloths, gallon zip lock freezer bags and hotel soap).  And I encourage them to continue putting their faith into action, through mission work and giving.  My favorite scripture to offer as a reflection while the offering is being collected is: 1 John 3: 17-18 “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  When the collection is over, there is a prayer:  Gracious and Generous God, we thank you for all that you have given to us.  We ask that you receive our offerings as a token of our thanks and a promise that we will put our faith into action to help others.  Lord, give us the strength and courage to do your work.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen. 

The last section of our worship service is called “Sending”.  This section includes a hymn or spiritual song, a blessing and charge from the pastor that sends people from worship and into service for the world.  I remind the congregation that God loves them.  I say that I hope they have been inspired to participate in Days for Girls or to find another way to help others.  Then I send them out with love and peace in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Hymn Choices:

The Church I’m currently serving uses the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, but most hymnals have a few different indexes.  To choose hymns, I typically look at the Scriptural Allusions index first.  Hymn #181 Come Sing to God is based on Psalm 30, but I probably wouldn’t use it if I’m using the Psalm for the call to worship.  No surprise that there is not a hymn based on the Leviticus text.  There isn’t a hymn for the Mark 5:21-43 text, but I can check on the same story in Matthew 9: 18-26 and in Luke 8:40-56, but nothing there either. 

The next index I check is the Topical Index.  Here I am looking for thematic words: mission, community, discipleship, and maybe I’m looking for a communion hymn too.  Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ #514 is a communion hymn that has a celebratory feel and includes lyrics that feel like they could fit in with a mission themed worship service.

Here are some of the other hymn choices I might make:

Called as Partners in Christ’s Service #343 (opening or closing hymn)

Help us Accept Each Other #358 (middle hymn)

Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples #434 (middle hymn)

Come Great God of All the Ages #132 (opening or closing hymn)

This church printed the sermon title on the screen. My husband said the title was above my head the entire time I was preaching. He snapped a picture of it, but he added text because the original text was so light. I’m so grateful to have my biggest fan come with me when I guest preach.

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