Sermons are Food: Table Settings (Part 4 of 4)
Last month I started a series of posts that explored the metaphor “sermons are food.” I talked about presentation, nutrition, and the cook. Now I’d like to wrap up this exploration by speaking about the liturgy.
The Liturgy Prepares the Hearer to Hear the Sermon
The word “liturgy” is a “churchy” sounding word. What is a liturgy? A liturgy is a form that a public worship service follows. Our public worship has a very definite “form” or “structure” to it. It begins with an Invocation (i.e., In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). There is usually the Confession and Absolution, the Introit, the Kyrie, the Scripture Readings, the Creed, the Sermon, the Hymn of the Day, the Prayer of the Church, and oftentimes we include the Service of the Sacrament as well—which has its own form and constituent parts..
The liturgy is very important. It is not a thoughtless mind-numbing routine. It’s a structured order of service to prepare your heart and your ears to receive and to hear the grace of God.
If we think back to the “sermons are food” metaphor we might equate the liturgy to the utensils, dishes, place mats, glasses, napkins, table, and chairs. The liturgy is the “setting” on which the sermon is delivered. It aids you in eating the food.
A well grilled steak or a lobster bisque is never just dumped directly from the grill or stove into your mouth. It is served on plates or bowls. Steak knives and soup spoons are needed. We'd also acknowledge that having a chair to sit on certainly helps the dining experience. Etc.
That’s what the liturgy does. It helps us receive the sermon. The liturgy prepares us to receive God’s Word. It consistently reminds us that we are sinners relying entirely on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. In the Introit (usually a selection from the Psalms) we are reminded that Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, thus connecting us with the worship practices of the church that date back to 900 B.C (and beyond). In the Creed we are reminded of who God is (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that is speaking to us in the service. Through the prayers we are directed to make our requests known to God as St. Paul bids us do in Philippians 4:6. In the Sacrament, we receive Jesus Christ himself for the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. By the benediction we depart with a blessing from God who has met us in this place and with these words. So much more could be said about the value of each aspect of the liturgy, but that is beyond the purview of this post. Instead, you might consider this resource for yourself and the congregation to which you belong for deeper appreciation of all that the liturgy is.
The Analogy Breaks Down
While the liturgy certainly aids the worshiper in receiving the sermon, it is at this juncture that the analogy breaks down. It breaks down because the liturgy is morethan just the table setting. The liturgy is itself food and the sermon is only part of the liturgy. The liturgy is like eating soup out of a bread bowl, or scooping up salsa with a tortilla chip. It helps serve the food, and it is also itself food to be eaten.
One of the troubles that we experience in America is that people believe that worship is all about the sermon. When people complain and say, “I don’t get anything out of church.” What they usually mean is, “I don’t get anything out of the sermon.” The truth is, everyone in worship gets something out of it. Every time you participate in the liturgy, you’re getting something out of church. In fact, you’re getting something very precious out of the church: you’re getting nourished with the Word of God.
So, while there is a lot to explore in the “sermons are food” metaphor, we must be careful lest we think that the sermon is the only thing that feeds us. It’s not. All the parts of the liturgy feed us.
When we see all of the service—not just the sermon—as food for the soul, then we’d never skip church and say, “Well, I’ll just sit here at home and watch some preacher on TV.”
A sermon can be delivered over radio waves. Christ’s body and blood cannot. The worship service isn't all about the sermon. As a pastor, that can be a painful realization because the sermon is the part of the service that requires the most amount of prep and creates the most amount of anxiety. We're prone to thinking it's the most important part. However, as a pastor it can be a blessed realization too. The liturgy takes the pressure off the preacher. The whole service doesn't live or die by the sermon. It is surrounded by wholesome goodness from God, unfailingly delivered through the liturgy.
It’s something to think about.
The sermon is just one part of the liturgy. It’s an important part to be sure, but it is not the only part. Keep that in mind. The liturgy feeds you as well.
Pastor Timothy Koch is pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, SD.
 The Oxford American College Dictionary © 2002 defines ‘liturgy’ as, “a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, esp. Christian worship, is conducted. Timothy Maschke in his first edition of Gathered Guests defines liturgy as “Greek word ‘work of the people’; the worship activity of the Divine Service.”