Let All of Me Kneel before God’s Holy Name: A Six Part Lenten Series

praying @ altar(Creative Commons Image by Roswell UMC on Flickr)

This Lenten series focuses on our bodily worship of the Triune God. When we come to worship, we are to engage all of your bodies in the art and act of worship — our heads and our hands, our knees and our arms, our lips and our eyes, our ears and our flesh. Biblical worship is not a disembodied activity, but an embodied reality.

Psalm 103 famously begins: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” There are two significant errors here.

Listen to overview podcast 526w on this series

The first is the translation of the verb barak with “bless.” This verb is related to the Hebrew noun birek, which literally means “knee.” Barak then most woodenly means something like “kneel.” The mistranslation “bless” probably arose because a person kneels to receive a blessing. But one also knees to worship and praise — which is really the meaning here.

The second is the translation of the Hebrew idiom naphshî. The word nephesh, often mistranslated as “soul.” This is an unfortunate and unhappy translation — the term does NOT refer to one’s “immortal soul” as in some Greek-influenced systems of thought. Rather, it is a metaphor meaning “self” or “the real me.” The word nephesh actually refers to the throat-windpipe-esophagus — the “tube” — that runs down the center of a person (see Isa 5:14 or Ps 105:18). The nephesh is life itself, but it is never life outside or apart of the body. So, the “my soul” (naphshî) of Psalm 103 should be translated something like “all of me” or “my true self.”

So, a corrected translation of Psalm 103: “Let all of me kneel before God’s Holy Name.”

Taking that corrected translation of Psalm 103 as a point of departure, this Lenten series proposes focusing on worshiping God with our entire bodies — not just our heads.

Ash Wednesday (Flesh): March 1, 2017

Old Testament:           Gen 2:4b-7; 3:17-19
Psalm:                         Psalm 139:1-18
Epistle:                        2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Gospel:                        John 1:1-5, 14

Listen to podcast 527w on these texts

We often talk as if our bodies are simply containers in which our true selves reside — rather than the very thing that makes up ourselves. Our bodies (and souls) do not occupy our bodies, our bodies and souls and mind are one — unfathomably complex — reality. These bodies are mortal. We are dust and to dust we will return. These bodies are beautiful, and fragile, and fallible, and finite. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. God values our flesh so much that God’s one-and-only Son was sent to take on flesh, to tent among us, to redeem these mortal bodies, so that we can put on immortality (see 1 Corinthians 15). God works through us — through our broken vessels — to shine light into the world, to be reconciled through us to all flesh.

Music Suggestions

            Hymns            “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”
                                    “Word of God, Come Down to Earth”

            Anthems        “Washed Anew” by Thomas Keesecker
                                    “The Glory of the Father” by Egil Hovland
                                    Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart
                                    Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd

            Songs             “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons
                                    “If We Are the Body” by Casting Crowns
                                    “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman

Second Wednesday in Lent (Ears) – March 8, 2017

            Old Testament:          1 Samuel 3:1-11
            Psalm:                         Psalm 40:1-6
            Epistle:                        Romans 10:5-17
            Gospel:                       Matthew 13:10-16

Listen to podcast 528w on these texts

Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” The “word of the cross” is a different kind of preaching. It is a kind of preaching that puts an end to our attempts to make ourselves acceptable to God. It puts to death our efforts to justify ourselves. And then it gives us Christ; the word of the cross gives us the risen Christ. Faith in Christ comes through hearing, through our ears. Some are given ears to hear others, others are not. Samuel was not given ears to hear the word, but the aged Eli gave him those ears: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And then, like the psalmist of Psalm 40, God gave ears to hear. And when God gives ears to hear, God speaks words that make all ears tingle. Like this: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here, he is risen.”

Music Suggestions:

            Hymns           “God’s Word is Our Great Heritage”
                                    “Thy Strong Word”
                                    “Listen, God is Calling”

            Anthems          “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal” arranged by Alice Parker
                                    “They Follow Me” by Leland Sateren

            Songs             “Thy Word” by Amy Grant
                                    “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe

Third Wednesday in Lent (Mouth): March 15, 2017

            Old Testament:          Isaiah 6:1-8
            Psalm:                         Psalm 51:15-17
            Epistle:                        Acts 2:1-12     
            Gospel:                       John 4:1-15, 28-29

Listen to podcast 529w on these texts

Speaking — language — is an astounding ability. Of all God’s creatures, only human beings have advanced speech. In Genesis 1, God speaks the creation into existence — and only the humans, created in God’s image, speak. With our words, we praise God in song, bear witness to Christ’s love to our neighbors, communicate across distance through writing, compose beautiful poetry and meaningful stories. We confess our sins. But, if you read the book of Proverbs you will learn that we also do a great deal of damage to each other with our words: “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness speaks deceitfully. Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Proverbs 10:17). Our mouths can wound, but also heal. With our mouths, we confess our sins and proclaim to each other the unbelievable good news that in Christ, we are forgiven. We thirst for God, as the deer thirsts for streams of running water. And God satisfies us with the living water of eternal life.

Music Suggestions:

            Hymns                        “As the Deer Runs to the River”
                                                “Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
                                                “Taste and See”

            Anthems                     “Cry Out and Shout” by Knut Nystedt
                                                “All Who are Thirsty” by Benton Brown and Glen Robertson
                                                “How Can I Keep From Singing?” arr. Bradley Ellingboe
                                                “Like As The Hart” by Herbert Howells
                                                “Come and Taste” arr. Alice Parker
                                                “O Taste and See” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

            Songs                         “Lord I Thirst for You” by Keith Staten
                                                “I am Thirsty” (Rhema)

Fourth Wednesday in Lent (Hands): March 22, 2017

            Old Testament:           Isaiah 1:12-17
            Psalm:                         Psalm 90:16-17
            Epistle:                        1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
            Gospel:                        Matthew 12:9-14

Listen to podcast 530w on these texts

Our hands are among the most complicated, beautiful, and powerful parts of our bodies. The TV celebrity chef Alton Brown calls the human hand the “best multitasker ever invented.” With our hands, we work — and so Psalm 90 prays that God would “prosper the work of our hands” — showing that God values the work we do in daily life. Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul advises the early church “to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” We assume the postures of prayer and praise with our hands — lifting our hands to God in praise, folding our hands to center our bodies to begin prayer. We pass the peace with our hands, showing that we are prepared to be reconciled to each other, just as we are reconciled to God. But we also sin with our hands, so God bids us to repent and let our hands be washed in repentance and forgiveness. Our hands can be broken — withered, arthritic, maimed, bent, missing. We pray for God’s healing power. We receive Christ’s presence with our hands, taking the bread and the wine. We bless each other with our hands, love each other with hugs and handshakes and encouraging each other with high fives. May God prosper the work of our hands.

Music Suggestions:

            Hymns                        “Lord, Take My Hand and Lead Me”
                                                “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”

            Anthems                      “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” arr. by Ringwald

            Songs                          “Below My Feet” by Mumford and Sons
                                                  “Do Something” by Matthew West
                                                  “Give Me Your Hand” by Aaron Strumpet

Fifth Wednesday in Lent (Knees): March 29, 2017

            Old Testament:         Psalm 103:1-3 (use corrected text, above)
            Psalm:                        Psalm 134
            Epistle:                        Acts 21:1-6
            Gospel:                       Mark 1:40-42

Listen to podcast 531w on these texts

The country group Sugarland’s first hit was entitled, “Baby Girl,” sung from the perspective of a girl looking for stardom in the music industry. In the song, the mother advises her daughter to “remember what your knees are for” — meaning prayer. Indeed, many children have been taught to pray each night while kneeling before their beds. The word “kneel” in Hebrew (barak) means to kneel, to bless, to praise — because kneeling is the posture from which we can pray, praise, receive blessing, receive forgiveness, and receive the Lord’s presence in bread and wine. Kneeling is above all a posture in which we acknowledge our dependence — our dependence on God. Psalm 134 plays with the several meanings of “kneel.” “Kneel” before God — meaning pray. Lift up your hands and kneel — meaning praise. And may the Lord “kneel” you — meaning bless you. Remember what your knees are for.

Music Suggestions:

            Hymns                       “Let Us Break Bread Together”
                                                “Jesu, Jesu Fill Us With Your Love”

            Anthems                    “Bless the Lord, O My Soul” arranged by Carolyn Jennings

            Songs                        “Find Me in the River” by Delirious
                                                “Light to Fire” Bill Maxwell

Sixth Wednesday in Lent (Feet): April 5, 2017

            Old Testament:          Isaiah 52:7-12
            Psalm:                         Psalm 40:1-3 or Psalm 121
            Epistle:                        2 Corinthians 5:6-10
            Gospel:                        Mark 1:16-20

Listen to podcast 532w on these texts

Feet. We stand on them. But we can fall. We tread on them as we walk or run. But we can trip. They carry our weight. But feet can grow weary. So many of our metaphors for the life of faith involve feet. We speak of following Jesus; we speak of taking a stand for justice and standing up to evil; we speak of backsliding in faith or walking with Jesus; we speak of walking by faith and not by sight; the Letter to the Hebrews even speaks of the life of faith as running the race that is set before us. The life of faith is putting one foot in front of another, following Jesus even as we trust that Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us.

Music Suggestions:

            Hymns                        “Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus”
                                                “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”
                                                “Jesu, Jesu Fill Us With Your Love”
                                                “The People Walk (un pueblo que camina)”
                                                “We are Marching in the Light of God”

            Anthems                     “O For a Closer Walk With God” arr. Stanford
                                                “Marching to Zion” by Lowry/Robinson

            Songs                         “I Will Follow” by Chris Tomlin
                                                “Feet That Move” by Northwood Worship
                                                “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin