The Liturgy of S(p)orts

Psalm 122:1 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

What an interesting insight the psalmist gives to worship. He rejoices to go to Yahweh’s house! Is that true today? Perhaps some of us quietly admit that worship is less than thrilling, less than exciting. In fact, it might be a rare occasion when we could admit that we rejoiced about worshiping. An interesting parallel with basketball will help us better understand what happens in liturgy, and why we can join the Psalmist.

For a basketball game people gather ready for the game. They (usually!) stand for the national anthem. So at worship we gather together standing for the opening hymn in worship.

At the basketball game, the players are introduced. So, too, in worship. One side in this game is: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit = God” and the other side is: “I, a poor, miserable sinner = us sinners.” At this point, God stops the game and declares, “You can’t play in My game. I am pure, holy, and righteous. You are sinners, deserving my full punishment.”

Then comes the surprise: God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, the Star of the game.” With that, we are invited to play in God’s game with God’s rules, with God’s victory already assured!In a basketball game, one team grabs the ball and rushes down the court to score points. Then the other team grabs the ball and goes the other way. In worship, since it is God’s game, He grabs the ball first and rushes down the court to tell us of His love and forgiveness. We rush down the other way, scoring with our praise. We don’t shout “Yeah, God,” but we use appropriate terms such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah.”

You keep track of who is active by watching the pastor. When he faces the congregation, God has the ball, speaking to the people. When the pastor faces the altar, the people have the ball speaking to God.

As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” that marks a quarter break. First quarter: Invocation, confession/absolution, and praise. Second quarter: Scripture readings, sermon, and creed. Third quarter: Lord’s Supper. Fourth quarter: final prayer and benediction/blessing.

In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls before leaving the game. But in worship, five times we hear the words “your sins are forgiven.” God doesn’t want anyone to foul out of the game! Notice the focus of each: 1) Confession/Absolution (general), 2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness), 3) Sermon (application), 4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times), 5) Lord’s Supper (specifically “for you”).

When the basketball game is on the line, everyone stands in anticipation of victory. So, too, in worship, when the Gospel is read, we stand, because in effect, God says, “Right here, this is My Star, and this is how He won the game.”

Years ago on Monday night football, Don Meredith had a way of signaling the essential end of the football game. He would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Many people think that the benediction/blessing at the end of the service is the same: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!

Unlike a basketball game in which the thrill of victory fades, in worship God declares that the victory celebrated during worship will continue with us during the week — daily. Therefore, we leave not looking for a let down, but having been built up by playing in God’s game according God’s rules winning with Him. In other words, the benediction declares that what God has done for us continues to be with us.

Guess what? Next week the game is repeated. Basketball fans do not complain that “we have to go to the game next week!” Nor as worshipers do we complain about worshiping next week. What an exciting event! Ultimately we look forward to the greatest day — when we will be with the LORD forever, rejoicing at the final victory won and celebrated permanently in heaven. Therefore, we join the psalmist and say, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD.’ ”

Psalm-122 300pxRichard P. Shields © 1989, 2010


Day of reflection

I realize that in light of the world events the past few weeks, this is an insignificant memory. 16 years ago yesterday my battle with depression reached an all time low, my breakdown. In some ways it seems like last week. In other ways, 50 years ago. But it is still real.

So, today I am reflecting on what happened, but more reflecting on God’s goodness in the worst times of my life. God is faithful.

The sense of loss and isolation and inability is so real even thinking about it now. That began a change in how I see the church and people in the church. I felt on the fringe, unloved, uncared for, very lonely. And my observation over the past 16 years is that many people feel that way in the church, there, but not really. Wanting to be there with fellow Christians, but scared to death to be with others.

My challenge to all in the Church is to be servants to those on the fringe, no matter how that is defined, no matter how many people that includes. The people are real, their needs are real. And the biggest need is for the Savior who breaks beyond the dividing lines and ministers to people on the fringe. He came to save all, even those on the fringe. Been there, done that, want others to be there, too.

Depression Get over it


Shared Memories

We recently returned from a long (5,762 miles to be exact) trip over 25 days. Much excitement at TAALC National Convention, even more with family afterward. And many shared memories.

Shared memories are bonds that tie together family, friends, even communities. It’s really nice when you can remember, relive, laugh, or even cry with someone who was there.

Shared Memories Lost

Our mothers are 87 years old, live about a mile apart. They have known each other for 47 years, since my wife and I started dating. So there are many shared memories. But there are also aspects of their lives not shared. My wife has those memories with her mother, and I have others with my mother.

But it dawned on me (I know, I am slow!) that when my father died in 1991, many of my mother’s shared memories became only her memories. Yes, there were friends around to reflect on that, and family (the three of us brothers and grandchildren) to tell the stories to. But the loneliness of the death of a spouse emphasized the shared memories, especially the changes. The same happens with a divorce or severe disability. It’s not that the relationship is denied but the shared memories become a thing of the past.

What struck me this year was that most of my mother’s friends have died and most of the family members of her generation are gone. Thus, the shared memories for my mother are hers, and hers alone. The loneliness increases.

Yet, as her son I can bring back shared memories of the past 65 years that she may have forgotten. Likewise she can refresh my hazy memory of special or unique events, and even more everyday events that hold a special place in our memories.

Shared Memories and Worship

This caused me to think about church and shared memories. I love being part of a liturgical church and serving as pastor because the basic form has been consistent since the New Testament era. The musical forms have changed, but the structure is the same.

Such a heritage allows shared memories that are not time bound. Thus, as one generation passes and another comes on the scene—not unusual to have 4 or 5 generations present in worship on any given Sunday—the faith expressed still reflects the shared memory.

Why is that? Because the shared memory starts with Jesus Christ, not with us. As Jesus comes to us (as he promised)

  • in Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20): The invocation in worship (“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) brings to mind our own Baptism into Christ (Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3). The shared memory of the worship community is Christ-focused from the beginning words. Note that the invocation does not begin with these words “We make our beginning in the name of the Father…” To do so changes Baptism to our action, to making worship dependent on us, and we call God into our presence. Our shared memory becomes what we make it, not what Jesus has made it and continues to make it.
  • in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-27 and Gospel accounts): Again, note that we do this “in remembrance of him” not in a vague way, but in a tangible way: Jesus gives his body and blood in the feast, for the forgiveness of sins. The share memory is not determined by the worship community, but by Jesus himself.
  • in the Word (John 5:24; Matthew 28:18-20): Jesus establishes the community (through the Holy Spirit working) and Jesus is the center of all discussion (1 Corinthians 2:2). This does not mean we don’t talk about all that God has revealed in his Word, but it does mean that Jesus cannot be “one of many” topics, rather the center about which all revelation makes sense. The shared memory of the original disciples becomes the shared testimony on Pentecost, and continues today with everyone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Shared Memories in the Word

One of the greatest challenges in maintaining the shared memories as Christians is the great variety of English translations. It is relatively easy to keep the shared memories using KJV/NKJV/NAS/RSV/ESV. But what happens with the advent of GW/NLT/NET, etc. when the shared vocabulary is no longer there. Part of that relates to a shared cultural background in which the Biblical language and imagery had influenced society.

We don’t live in that kind of world today, no matter how much people (pastors, theologians, etc.) want to protest against it. We face a situation in which it is not just a breaking of shared memories but even of breaking shared language.

Shared Memories and Continuity of Faith Expression

I have beat the drum of “continuity of faith expression” for years. That is, in worship and translations, can we have 7 year old, 18 year old, 45 year old, and 80 year old understand with a common faith expression?

Obviously I favor translations that speak to today’s people. So I find myself torn, using accessible and faithful translations, while maintaining continuity of faith expression. This is not something I made up, but is a very real problem. For congregations that are long established and average age of worshipers is 55, then this is less of a problem. But what of the next generation?

In and beyond all this is the need to maintain the shared memories of Jesus Christ within the community. How is that done in your ministry? In your church? In your denomination? What challenges do you face with regard to shared memories?

Rethinking HCSB

Over the past 3-4 months I have been reflecting on translation issues especially related to HCSB. This hasn’t been systematic study, but percolating ideas as I encounter the texts.

Yahweh or LORD?

I had posted previously (three years ago) about the HCSB sporadic use of Yahweh as a translation of the Hebrew יְהוָה֙. At the time I suggested that HCSB translators adopt Yahweh consistently throughout the Old Testament.

But in practice I am beginning to rethink this. It seems that the connection with the Septuagint (LXX) where κύριος is used for both יְהוָה֙  (YHWH) and אֲדֹנָי֮  (Adonai) would be strengthened. Further, the quotations in the NT follow the LXX, so there would still be a problem.

It seems that the better solution is to retain LORD as the consistent translation of God’s name. I think some kind of footnote could be used to indicate the difference between LORD and Lord. Obviously that does not help an oral reading, but the greater good would seem to be served by using LORD.


I know that several translations (NLT, GW, HCSB) use contractions because “it is accepted English.” Originally I wasn’t opposed to the use of contractions. But as I reconsider this point, I realized that contractions work well when reading (by yourself). But with oral reading, contractions seem a little awkward. I also realized if the text has a contraction, when I read orally, I will use the non-contracted form without even thinking about it. So I will read, “I cannot” not “I can’t.”

Therefore, I would recommend HCSB consider replacing all contractions. I don’t think (notice you are reading this from a screen, not reading out loud to someone!) there is any benefit of using contractions, especially for an oral text.