Liturgy – The Tension Between Tradition and Innovation

Posted on December 27, 2008


Over the holiday weekend our family attended Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Santa Rosa. Having attended a Lutheran Elementary school and church as a child, a twinge of nostalgia welled up inside of me. But coupled with that sense of nostalgia was the sense of missing out on the dramas, the more contemporary styles of music…the culturally relevant parts of church that I have grown accustomed to. The Lutheran service was predictable, scripted, liturgical, and, well, somewhat dry as it was “familiar.” It was, in virtually all ways, the same now as it was then.

Once in high school, I left the formal church liturgy for a more, shall we say, “contemporary” experience, full of fun music, drama, humor, and lively community. Recently, I have been challenged to move beyond that towards a more “revolutionary” experience of faith (cf. Revolution by George Barna).

However, as we read through the order of service printed in the bulletin, I was struck by its beauty, profundity, and consistency. I have mused about this for a while (and even teach it in my classes), that there exists a beautiful tension between tradition and innovation. However, though I know it to exist, seldom do I experience the tension. This holiday weekend, I was reminded of my experiences as a youth restlessly enduring the blandness of liturgy, and I was also struck with the reality that that same program was now full of wonder, mystery, and powerful words that are steeped with meaning and purpose. There are wonderful things to be said about innovation — moving forward, staying “with the times,” and being “relevant” to the changing culture around us. Yet, there is something powerful and connected about sustaining the traditions of our ancestors, to carry on the same words, the same songs, and the same liturgies.

So, below, I’ve typed out the program, in full, so as to be reminded that while I will continually move forward in creative innovation in church and in spirituality, I will not be generationally chauvinistic towards the elders of the faith to whom these words mean something deep and powerful. And if we, the younger generations can come to a sense of appreciation, perhaps we too can be transformed and revolutionized by the liturgies that have preceded us, and have ultimately been the vehicles that brought us here anyway.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Santa Rosa

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Santa Rosa

December 28, 2008



Pastor: Blessed be the holy Trinity, + one God, who is the light and life of all the ages.

People: Amen.

Pastor: Trusting in Jesus Christ, who came to share our humanity and bring light to this broken world, let us come before God without fear to make our confession.

Silence is kept for reflection
The presiding minister leads a prayer of confession:

Pastor: Comforting God,

People: we confess before you and in the presence of one another that we are sinners who fail to live as you desire. So often we place our trust in ourselves and not in you. We do not love each other as you have commnaded. Because of us, your whole creation suffers. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Chrsit, forgive us. In yoru boundless patience and mercy, lead us to live by faith in your promise.

People: Amen.

Pastor: God’s love for us is greater than all our sins. God promises full pardon and complete forgiveness to all who turn from sin and place theri trust in Christ, the light of the world. Hear and believe the good news that all your sins are forgiven. With God nothing is impossible.

People: Amen.

[song: “Angels, From the Realsm of Glory” (this link has organ music which helps to give the feel of the service)]

Pastor: The grace and peace of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, be with you all.

People: And also with you.


(sung) In peace, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy. Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord. A-men.


Pastor: The Lord be with you.

People: And also with you.

Pastor: Let us pray. Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

People: Amen.


[the special music this morning was a 4 person handbell choir. Ahh, the nostalgia!]



I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all th enations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and al lth ekings of your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Assistant: The word of the Lord.

People: Thanks be to God.

THE PSALM: Psalm 148

Hallelujah! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God in the heights.
Praise the LORD, all you angels; sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
Praise the LORD, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars.
Praise the LORD, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of hte LORD, who commanded, and they were created,
who made them stand fast forever and ever, giving them a law which shall not pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps;
fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars;
wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds;
sovereigns of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world;
young men and maidens, old and young together.
Let them praise the name of the LORD, whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
The LORD has raised up strength for the people and praise for all faithful servants, children of Israel, a people who are near the LORD. Hallelujah!


God Most High, by your Word you created a wondrous universe, and through your Spirit you breathed into it the breath of life. Accept creation’s hymn of praise from our lips, and let the prasie that is sung in heaven resound in the heart of every creature on earth, to the glory of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

SECOND READING: Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Assistant: The word of the Lord,

People: Thanks be to God.


Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.


[this portion was read from the Bible, from the center of the room. It was not printed in the bulletin.]

Pastor: The Gospel of the Lord.

People: Thanks be to God.

THE SERMON: “Destiny”

Silence for reflection
Please stand for the singing of the hymn

HYMN: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (lyrics here)


We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from GOd, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and hte Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen


Assistant: Rejoicing that the grace of God has been revealed in the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God’s creation.

After each portion of the prayers:

Assistant: Gracious God,

People: hear our prayer.

The minister concludes the prayers:

Pastor: Into your hands, loving God, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Savior.

People: Amen.


The presiding minister and the assembly greet each other in the peace of the risen Christ:

Pastor: The peace of Christ be with you always.

People: And also with you.

The ministers and congregation may greet one another with a gesture of Christ’s peace, and may say these or similar words:

Peace be with you.

GATHERING OF GIFTS: Stewardship of Our Lives


(sung) Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord, and fill to the brim our cup of blessing. Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown, that we may be fed with the bread of life. Gather the hopes and the dreams of all; unite them with th eprayers we offer now. Grace our table with your presence, and give us a foretaste of the feast to come.


Assistant: Loving God,

People: you sent yoru only Son to live among us, bringing us your grace and truth. As we prepare to receive the gift of Christ’s presence once again, all we have to offer is what you have given us. Receive all that we have and all that we are to your glory and for your service, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.


(sung) The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.


Pastor: It is indeed right, our duty and our joy…we praise your name and join their unending hymn:


(sung) Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of pow’r and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in th ename of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.



Pastor: Gathered into one by the Holy Spirit, let us pray as Jesus taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen


Pastor: See, your salvation comes: God comes and dwells among us. Eat, drink, and be satisfied!

People: Thanks be to God.

All baptized CHristians who come believing in our Lord’s presence with us through the Sacrament are invited to come forward for Holy Communion. Young children are invited to come forward to receive a blessing.

Holy Communion will be served by intinction or by common cup. Both wine and grape juice are offered, as well as gluten-free wafers. You may drink from the chalice or intict (dip) the wafer of bread into the wine/grape juice.


A prayer station is located at the back of the sanctuary during Holy Communion for any who desire special prayers for themselves or on behalf of others.



(sung) Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us peace.

Pastor: The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in his grace.

People: Amen.


Assistant: God of all creation, you have set before us our inheritance of salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. You have filled us with your goodness and peace. Use us that all might be satisfied with your abundance; through your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

People: Amen.


SENDING SONG: “The Bells of Christmas” (lyrics here)


Pastor: May the good news that is Jesus, the Messiah, bring you great joy each day. Almighty God, Father + Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you now and forever.

People: Amen.


Assistant: Go in peace. Your light has come.

People: Thanks be to God.