on Babel, Language, & Identity (a liturgy)


[This was a liturgy I delivered at my church this past Sunday as we concluded our series “in the beginning”.  Here is the amazing message that followed this liturgy.]

Greeting and Preparation

Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.

Hello, my name is Paul, and welcome to Liberti Church. Liberti Church is a group of people trying to figure out what it means to be a community of believers in Jesus Christ both in and for this city. This may be your first time here–you may have randomly wandered in here or a friend brought you; or, you may be a regular attender here. Either way, we hope you feel welcome to fully participate in this time and space set aside to worship our God.

Today at Liberti we are concluding a series going through the opening chapters of the Christian Scriptures. In them we find many iconic stories that have found themselves embedded within our society and pop culture. Today we are talking about the Tower of Babel. We’ll go into the particulars of the story more deeply later, but for our purposes right now, I would like to summarize it as this: it is the story of a group of individuals attempting to fulfill and satisfy deep desires in their hearts by accomplishing work they give themselves to to do–work borne from a collective identity, direction, and purpose for their lives. But, because they were seeking the wrong end goal–self-exultation–they were not able to find this satisfaction nor complete the work they had to do because they lost their ability to speak with a common language, therefore losing their common identity.

Now, God has brought us here today in this sacred Time within greater time and sacred Space within space to form us into a sacred people in the midst of this city; a people with our own deep longings, desires, and work to do. And that’s why in the moments ahead we will collectively speak pieces of texts together, pray prayers together, and sing songs together. It is because aGod intends to use this time to begin to restore within us what those people lost at the Tower of Babel: a common language of worship for our common identity as worshippers of God, and not ourselves.

Call To Worship

So that’s why we begin our time here today by collectively and commonly responding to God’s Call to Worship.  So will you now hear and pray with me these words with me from Psalm 87? The words will appear on the screen behind me. I will read the plain font, if you will read the bold font:

Leader: On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
People: Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. Selah
Leader: Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia—“This one was born there,” they say.
People: And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in it”; for the Most High himself will establish it.
Leader: The Lord records, as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah
People: Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” Lord, make our city more and more the city of God!

Prayer of Invocation

Father of us all — your people have gathered. We humbly request that you would meet with us this morning. You are a God who loves His people and seeks to unite them in common word, deed, and identity. Holy Spirit, would you come and begin to knit our hearts together as one, both between one another and with you? And Jesus, the one upon whom our common righteousness and identity is established, would you be seen and known within your people today and would you meet with us at your table as we together receive that which we do not deserve and did not earn. Be with us and nourish us. Amen.

Let us stand and worship our good God.

Songs of Praise
Call to Confession

You may be seated. Hear this gracious invitation from God…

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— 1 John 1:8-9, NRSV

Prayer of Confession

Earlier, we spoke of God wanting to form among us a common identity and language. But let me encourage you– this is not to form an army of puppets and cookie-cutter individuals that all think, speak, and live in exactly the same ways. Rather, this identity and language is meant to be a gift; a gift that offers us all those things that those at the Tower of Babel lost: clarity in the midst of ambiguity, rest in the midst of disarray and busyness, and security amid so many distractions. In short, he offers us life. But, we spend much of our time rejecting this life and this God in order to find our identity and language from everything and everyone around us but God.

And that brings us to the next portion of our time together: Confession. We all come at this time having rejected this life and this God in our own unique, individual, isolated ways, but there’s a reason why this will be the longest piece of text we will speak together today. It’s because in Confession we don’t find condemnation or a command to feel a greater weight of our failings; rather, it is here as we speak with this common language and this common identity if formed among us that we find precisely that which we have been rejecting! It’s in these words that we find this God and the life he offers us.  This is where we find freedom!  So, with that in mind, will you please pray with me, and with those around you, this prayer of Confession that you will find both in your bulletin and on the screen behind:

Father in heaven, this week we continue to celebrate how you have raised Jesus from the dead. You have brought life to our dying and decaying world. You have begun to heal everything that is broken. You have begun to heal us. We confess that we forget that you are inviting us to share in your victory. We focus instead on our failures and the failures of others. Because of this, we live as a despairing, cynical and critical people. Forgive us for forgetting this is your victory. Forgive us for trying to overcome by our own power. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now take a few moments to silently confess your sins.

Silent Confession
Words of Encouragement

Now look up. Hear and receive these words that God speaks over us in the fact of these realities we have just felt the weight of:

Behold, I will create a new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.
— from Isaiah 65

Now stand and sing once more to the God that welcomes us to His presence and His table.

Pass the Peace
Sermon
Eucharist
Benediction

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