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Congregational song and sermon preparation.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost--Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series A

"Music is a servant of the Gospel and a principal means of worshiping God in Lutheran churches. Congregational song gathers the whole people to proclaim God's mercy, to worship God, and to pray in response to the readings of the day and in preparation for the Lord's Supper." So declares The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament (11A).

Whenever I read this wonderful description of the essential role that music plays in Lutheran worship, two phrases jump out at me--"servant of the Gospel" and "response to the readings." That I am drawn to these words reflects at least three of my biases about the relationship of music and worship, and particularly music and preaching.

Obviously, my attraction to the words servant and response reveals that I am not a musician. Though I thoroughly enjoy listening to music, singing hymns, and intoning the liturgy, both my natural musical ability and my formal training in this arena is, shall we say, limited. As a parish pastor, I was blessed by strong partnerships with organists and choir directors. The congregations we served together were blessed by the fruits of our intentional collaboration.

The phrase "servant of the Gospel" also reveals my concern that, just as a preacher's personality and charisma should not overshadow the message, music in worship is not a performance. Or, more precisely, music in worship is more than a performance. We dare to believe that God speaks in and through music. Excellence in performance surely helps this to happen, but excellence in performance is not the goal.

The phrase "response to the readings" reveals my conviction that our first act of faith, of bearing witness, of giving God thanks and praise, all in response to the good news we hear in preaching, is singing the Hymn of the Day. The congregation or assembly does not wait until worship is over before it proclaims the good news. Worship itself is the congregation's first opportunity to respond to the gospel by claiming its role in the missio Dei. In fact, worship forms the assembly to carry out its mission and ministry in the world.

While these convictions may be correct, I fear they have kept me from appreciating the powerful role that hymns can play in sermon preparation. As I read this series of Preaching Helps, prepared for us by John Rollefson, I was struck by the way he uses hymns to shape his sermons. While I have always been attuned to selecting hymns that reflect the message, I am excited by the way hymns can offer insight, language, and images. What The Use of the Means of Grace calls the ever-expanding "treasury of music" is itself a commentary on scripture worth considering. I imagine Pastor Rollefson sitting at a round table as he prepares these "Preaching Helps." He is surrounded by a choir offering praise to God. As their music connects with the text he is considering, he takes note of the hymn and describes the connection in order to share it with us. More than helping us to prepare sermons for these summer Sundays after Pentecost, this series of Preaching Helps might serve as a catalyst for cultivating intentional collaboration with your congregation's musician and for inviting music as a "servant of the Gospel" into your process of sermon preparation. I encourage you to read these pages with hymnals close at hand. If, like me, you cannot read music, why not gather some members of the choir and invite them to sing?

Since January 2004, Rollefson has served as pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master in west Los Angeles near UCLA. In February John celebrated the 30th anniversary of his ordination. In those years John served congregations in Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, and San Francisco. He is a graduate of Luther College, Yale Divinity School, the University of London, and the Graduate Theological Union. He's been a Resident Fellow at the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John's Abbey and University, a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, and a member of the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton Seminary's Pastor Theologian Program for which he continues to lead a group in L.A. John enjoys playing basketball, tennis, and golf, as well as, with his wife, Ruth--a vocal music and piano teacher--attending films, concerts, and museums and visiting wine country. He is the father of two grown sons, the elder, Griff, a Ph.D. student in Musicology at UW-Madison, and the younger, Jake, a May graduate of Wittenberg University.

During the summer I invite colleagues to contribute to this conversation on preaching. We are currently scheduled through June 2006. If you are interested in writing, or if there is someone you would like to hear from, please let me know. I pray the coming summer brings you rest and refreshment.

Craig A. Satterlee

Editor of Preaching Helps
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Author:Satterlee, Craig A.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Previous Article:Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings.
Next Article:Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (proper 10): July 10, 2005.

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