The Practice of Worship, the Practice of Peace

June 1, 1997

by Rebecca Slough

Rebecca Slough is assistant professor of ministry studies at Bethany Theological Seminary. Rebecca attends Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship (OH) and is active in an emerging Mennonite Fellowship in Dayton, Ohio.

Peace Sunday sounds redundant since every Sunday is a celebration of the peace we know in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Too often on Sundays we focus on the peace we have with God through Christ, so we have to be jolted into remembering that Christ’s peace extends well beyond our puny Sunday imaginations. Peace, the practice of right and loving relationships, will be the primary theme of our Peace Sunday worship, but worship shapes our lives in the way of peace and justice Sunday after Sunday. That is, if we allow our actions in worship to form and in-form our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls.

How so, you ask?

Through the biblical tradition and the history of the church to the present, God has met his people in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit’s power through the basic actions of worship: thanksgiving, praise, adoration, proclamation, confession, petition, intercession, offering, testimony, and blessing.

God has always acted first toward humankind, and then human beings respond. In worship, too, God clearly takes the initiative. Proclamation of the Word in Scripture, enlarged by the word of the sermon, comes as God’s gift to the gathered body. Blessings, whether offered by the pastor or others in the priesthood of believers, are only specific moments of offered well-being and care in the continuous stream of blessing that God continually gives.

Our praise, thanksgiving, and adoration honor God’s unsurpassed greatness, compassion, and love. Our prayers of confession acknowledge our sinfulness and idolatry, as we seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Prayers of petition seek God’s mercy for our deepest needs. Intercessions speak our concerns for brothers and sisters, known and unknown. Offering opens our tight and constricted hands and hearts, an act that makes available to God what is truly God’s. Testimony witnesses to the Spirit’s movement in our lives, recognizing God’s work within us to conform our lives to Christ’s.

These actions, done with intention and openness to the Holy Spirit’s movement, are the means for righting our relationships with God, one another, and with the world. They are our beliefs about peace in action, embodied in the Body.

If these actions of worship truly shaped our personal and congregational lives in the way of peace, what might we notice? I offer these suggestions to spur your meditations and imaginations.

Thanksgiving: If thanksgiving shaped our peacemaking, gratitude would be the basic quality of life. We would know life, our life and the life of all peoples, as a gift. We would each have a realistic appraisal of our possibilities and our limits. In a society that has organized itself around limitless resources, rights, and opportunities, recognizing our limits with gratitude would be truly counter-cultural.

Praise/Adoration: If praise and adoration shaped our peacemaking, God’s love and goodness, Christ’s lordship, and the Holy Spirit’s power would be the focus of our work. Life itself would be a continual expression of worship. We would be equal members of God’s royal priesthood—all called and empowered to serve God and to serve others in their service to God.

Petition: If prayer of petition shaped our peacemaking, we would acknowledge that we can not fulfill the deepest desires and needs of our own hearts. Our haughtiness, pride, and arrogance would necessarily give way to humility.

Intercession: If prayer of intercession shaped our peacemaking, we would see more keenly the needs of all peoples around us, whether near at hand or across the continents. We would feel their pain, suffering, frustration, and despair, and in trusting in God’s goodness we would cry out for God’s mercy on their behalf.

Confession: If prayer of confession shaped our peacemaking, we would more readily acknowledge our part in distorting our relationships with God and with each other. We would search our hearts and souls honestly, naming the violence, the indifference, the self-centeredness that colors all we do. We could gain perspectives on intentions. With the hope of the Holy Spirit and the promises of Jesus, we would trust in God’s grace to help us repent and to change our hard-heartedness. We would have the courage and the strength to realign our relationships with God and with each other. Then we could more readily forgive those who have sinned against us.

Offering: If offering shaped our peacemaking, we would open ourselves and our resources to God and to each other. Our gifts could be utilized as God deems fit to serve God’s purposes. Impulses to hoard, clutch, possess, and control could slowly diminish, and with God’s help, become extinct.

Testimony: If testimony shaped our peacemaking, we would show everyone that faith is a public matter not a private affair. Faith is political, social, and ethical. To witness to God’s work in us and to claim Jesus as Lord flies in the face of all conventional wisdom about security, trust, and power. To witness to our dependence on God and our vulnerability to social ridicule is another counter-cultural activity.

Blessing: If ministry of passing on God’s blessing shaped peacemaking we would wish well-being for all people, whether we personally liked them or not, whether they were enemies or not. We would begin to see that there are more than enough blessings from God for everyone. Over time we could begin love the peoples of the world as God loves and blesses each of us.

Proclamation: If God’s Word shaped our peacemaking we would live the ways of peace in joy, not under the weight of obligation. We would be drawn irresistibly into a love for God that consumed our hearts, minds, strength, and souls and spread to our neighbors as ourselves.

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