The Liturgy of S(p)orts
© 1989, 2010
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 (the LORD’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 to be 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. Like in basketball, the jump ball starts the game. Usually the taller player can tip the ball to his or her team. In worship, this is a game between God and us. Who will the tipoff? Even the tallest basketball players are not able to compete with God. So to start the game, God wins the tip off.
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. God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, who is 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! 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 has the liturgical ball 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—they are speaking/singing to God.
As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. 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.”
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 (Christ’s body and blood for you).
Fourth quarter: Final prayer and benediction/blessing.
In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls (in high school and college) 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 declaration:
1) Confession/Absolution (general),
2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness),
3) Sermon (application),
4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times proclaiming forgiveness of sins),
5) Lord’s Supper (forgiveness of sins —specifically “for you individually”).
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 functions the same way: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!
Notice throughout the liturgy, God provides the words through His Word. He gifts the Church with musicians and servants to help in worship, Our highest form of worship is receiving His gifts and praising Him with His words. Music and art enhance our worship, not to entertain us, but to point to Jesus and His saving work.
To this game God invites the bruised, broken, abandoned, abused, forgotten to gather together, to join with others. After all, if we are honest, we fit one or more of those descriptions as well. There is only one star—Jesus
The star and center of worship
is Jesus: who invites you!
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 for us, in us, with us, and through 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 worshippers do we complain about worshipping 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,