Sermon Quotes on liturgy

Karl Barth

The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression….What we can and must say quite confidently is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where…it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles spasmodically, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only a troubled community which is not sure of its cause and of whose ministry and witness there can be no great expectation….The praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the community is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church.

Church Dogmatics, Vol. IV, part 3, chapter 16, par. 72, #4.

Pope Benedict XVI

Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendour.


Shane Claiborne

[People] need to find words that can reconnect them with each other. That is the gift of good liturgy, yeah. We’re not talking about fluffy stuff. We’re talking about real life for people around the world. Our prayers should be said like the daily breath that gives us life.


Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro

Liturgy and worship were never meant to be confined to the cathedrals and sanctuaries. Liturgy at its best can be performed like a circus or theater – making the Gospel visible as a witness to the world around us.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Zondervan2010, p.327.

Angela Doll Carlson

When I am away from Liturgy for too long, I find I burn for it now, for the steadiness of the calendar, the words” that ring out in repetition, the heavy scented air. When I return each week, I am coming home again. Liturgy is written into my flesh, sinking into my skin and my spirit.

Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition.

Annie Dillard

I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.

George Eliot

The most powerful movement of feeling with a liturgy is the prayer which seeks for nothing special, but is a yearning to escape from the limitations of our own weakness and an invocation of all Good to enter and abide with us.

Richard J. Foster

Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right techniques and methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.

Richard Foster’s Treasury of Christian Discipline, Jossey-Bass.

Mark Galli

The liturgy is the place where we wait for Jesus to show up. We don’t have to do much. The liturgy is not an act of will. It is not a series of activities designed to attain a spiritual mental state. We do not have to apply will pressure. To be sure, like basketball or football, it is something that requires a lot of practice–its rhythms do not come naturally except to those who have been rehearsing them for years. On some Sundays the soul will indeed battle to even pay attention. In the normal course of worship, we do not have to conjure up feelings or a devotional mood; we are not required to perform the liturgy flawlessly. Such anxious effort… blind us to what is really going on.

We do have to show up, and we cannot leave early. But if we will dwell there, remain in place, wait patiently, Jesus will show up.

Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.

Mark Galli

The most carefully crafted language in our culture tends to be poetry. And poetry at its finest moments subverts our best attempts at hiding from reality…

The poetry of liturgy has just this power. The liturgy contains words that have been shaped and crafted over the centuries. It is formal speech. It is public poetry. As such it reaches into us to reveal not only the unnamed reality of our lives but the God who created us…

But even when the words of the liturgy are not literally biblical words, the words, like all truthful words, work on us over time, like a steady, unrelenting stream slowly reshapes the banks of a river. The words do something to us even when we’re not paying attention.

Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy.

Kathleen Norris

Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998).

Eugene H. Peterson

Every call to worship is a call into the real world.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

Eugene H. Peterson

The task of liturgy is to order the life of the holy community following the text of Holy Scripture. It consists of two movements. First it gets us into the sanctuary, the place of adoration and attention, listening and receiving and believing before God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives ordered to all aspects of the revelation of God in Jesus.

Then it gets us out of the sanctuary into the world into places of obeying and loving ordering our lives as living sacrifices in the world to the glory of God. There is a lot involved, all the parts of our lives out on the street participating in the work of salvation.”

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

Eugene H. Peterson

It is useful to reflect that the word ‘liturgy’ did not originate in church or worship settings. In the Greek world it referred to publish service, what a citizen did for the community. As the church used the word in relation to worship, ti kept this ‘public service’ quality – working for the community on behalf of or following orders from God. As we worship God, revealed personally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our Holy Scriptures, we are not doing something apart form or away from the non-Scripture=reading world; we do it for the world – bringing all creation and all history before God, presenting our bodies and all the beauties and needs of humankind before God in praise and intercession, penetrating and serving the world for whom Christ died in the strong name of the Trinity.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

Eugene H. Peterson

Liturgy prevents the narrative form of Scripture from being reduced to private individualized consumption.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading.

Fred Sanders

The best liturgies in use in Christian churches are ancient, well-worn compositions permeated with scriptural language skillfully deployed across a series of pastoral pronouncements, prayers, congregational responses, and songs. These are correlated with a series of symbolic actions arranged with equal artfulness to embody the theological commitments of the church. At crucial junctures, select passages of Scripture are read aloud as the word of the Lord for that day in the church calendar. The synergy of the words and actions constitute a worship experience intended to convey the entirety of the Christian message in symbolic form, and all of this takes place in its own liturgical language, regardless of the content of the actual sermon preached that day.

The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Crossway.

Alexander Schmemann

It is not a gathering of ‘escapees’ from the world, bitterly enjoying their escape, feeding their hate for the world. Listen to their psalms and hymns; contemplate the transparent beauty of their icons, their movements, of the entire *celebration. It is truly cosmical joy that permeates all this; it is the entire creation – its matter and its time, its sounds and colors, its words and silence – that praises and worships God and in this praise becomes again itself: the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, the sacrament of the new creation.”

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism.

James K.A. Smith

Because we are fundamentally desiring creatures. We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends. So we are not primarily homo rationale or homo faber or homo economicus; we are not even generically homo religiosis. We are more concretely homo liturgicus; humans are those animals that are religious animals not because we are primarily believing animals but because we are liturgical animals—embodied, practicing creatures whose love/desire is aimed at something ultimate.

Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Baker Publishing Group.

James K.A. Smith

In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love.

Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Baker Publishing Group.

James K.A. Smith

Worship, then, needs to be characterized by hospitality; it needs to be inviting. But at the same time, it should be inviting seekers into the church and its unique story and language. Worship should be an occasion of cross-cultural hospitality. Consider an analogy: when I travel to France, I hope to be made to feel welcome. However, I don’t expect my French hosts to become Americans in order to make me feel at home. I don’t expect them to start speaking English, ordering pizza, talking about the New York Yankees, and so on. Indeed, if I wanted that, I would have just stayed home! Instead, what I’m hoping for is to be welcomed into their unique French culture; that’s why I’ve come to France in the first place. And I know that this will take some work on my part. I’m expecting things to be different; indeed, I’m looking for just this difference. So also, I think, with hospitable worship: seekers are looking for something our culture can’t provide. Many don’t want a religious version of what they can already get at the mall. And this is especially true of postmodern or Gen X seekers: they are looking for elements of transcendence and challenge that MTV could never give them. Rather than an MTVized version of the gospel, they are searching for the mysterious practices of the ancient gospel.

Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.

Robert E. Webber

Ancient worship . . . does truth. All one has to do is to study the ancient liturgies to see that liturgies clearly do truth by their order and in their substance. This is why so many young people today are now adding ancient elements to their worship. . . . This recovery of ancient practices is not the mere restoration of ritual but a deep, profound, and passionate engagement with truth—truth that forms and shapes the spiritual life into a Christlikeness that issues forth in the call to a godly and holy life and into a deep commitment to justice and to the needs of the poor.

Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books, 2008), 109.

Robert E. Webber

How do you deliver the authentic faith and great wisdom of the past into the new cultural situation of the twenty-first century? The way into the future, I argue, is not an innovative new start for the church; rather, the road to the future runs through the past. These three matters—roots, connection, and authenticity in a changing world—will help us to maintain continuity with historic Christianity as the church moves forward.

Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Baker, 2004).

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Since Moses was in Egypt land, Gods people have been struggling for justice while singing freedom songs. Theology can be clarifying. A good sermon has its place. But nothing is more essential for the life of faith in a community than liturgy that invites us to sing the freedom songs that are sung around the throne of God. Brother Ken Sehested is a song leader in that great cloud of witnesses. Receive his words as gift-and keep singing.

John Wesley

I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.  And though the main of it was compiled considerably more than two hundred years ago, yet is the language of it, not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree.

Lauren F. Winner

Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. it re-points the person praying, taking him somewhere else.

Mudhouse Sabbath

Lauren F. Winner

But if roteness is a danger, it is also the way liturgy works. When you don’t have to think all the time about what words you are going to say next, you are free to fully enter into the act of praying; you are free to participate in the life of God.

Mudhouse Sabbath

N. T. Wright

Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action, love taking thought, the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared — an ultimately better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about.

After You Believe

N.T. Wright

What we have at the moment isn’t as the old liturgies used to say, ‘the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead,’ but a vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 2009, p.25, Harper Collins.

N. T. Wright

I’m very eclectic, musically as in other things! But also to frame the hearing and knowing of Scripture within a context of worship, which is what Anglican liturgy does, just seems to me such a very complete and compelling thing.


Mary Hays

We aren’t just conversing with each other when we recite the Psalms antiphonally or responsively. We are talking to God, too. Reminding one another and God of his promises and our complaints. We are witnessing one another’s cries for help and reminding God that we are in this together.

Personal E-mail to Tish Harrison Warren

Nicholas Wolterstorff

The liturgy as the Reformers understood and practiced it consists of God acting and us responding through the work of the Spirit…The liturgy is a meeting between God and God’s people, a meeting in which both parties act, but in which God initiates and we respond.

Quoted in James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016), p.71.

Bryan Chapell

The common pattern of the order of worship in the church reflects the pattern of the progress of the gospel in the heart.

Christ-Centered Worship

Phyllis Tickle

When one prays the hours, one is using the exact words, phrases, and petitions that informed our faith for centuries…We are using the exact words, phrases, and petitions that were offered just an hour earlier by our fellow Christians in the prior time zone, and that, in an hour will be picked up and offered again in the next time zone. The result is a constant cascade before the throne of God of the “unceasing prayer” to which St. Paul urges us.

Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours (New York: Random House, 2004), xi-xii.

N.T. Wright

The author chuckles at the resistance to using a prepared, written liturgy in prayer. He compares it to being unwilling to dress in any clothing we did not make ourselves, or being unwilling to drive a car we did not construct entirely by ourselves.

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Peter Leithart

As in ancient Israel, thanksgiving had a liturgical form in the communities of early Christians. In talking about tongues, Paul says that one who does not know the tongue cannot join in the “Amen” at the eucharistia, since one cannot understand what has been said. More important, the central rite of Christian worship involved a Eucharist, a thanksgiving prayer.

Gratitude: An Intellectual History, Baylor University Press, 2014.

Peter Leithart

Thanksgiving is thus the liturgy of Christian living. It is the continuous sacrifice that Christians offer. Gratitude to God is the continuous sanctification of the world.

Gratitude: An Intellectual History, Baylor University Press, 2014.

Mark Galli

The liturgy lives out a story in a story-deprived world. Liturgy is not a once-upon-a-time story we merely watch others perform. We are the characters in this story, actors in the divine drama whose opening and closing has been written by Jesus Christ himself

The story that modernity gave us has had its run. Its story arc was about progress, the notion that human life would get better and better because science and technology would solve the most nagging human problems. But events-two world wars, the Gulags, the holocaust, HIV/AIDS, and 9/11-and postmodern philosophy have revealed how weak this plot line was.

Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder & Power of Christian Liturgy, Paraclete Press, 2009.

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Cosmic time, which is determined by the sun, becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward union of God and the world, of history and the universe, of matter and spirit- in a word, toward the New City whose light is God himself. Thus time becomes eternity, and eternity is imparted to time.

The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2014.

Jeremy Driscoll

The meaning of the whole creation and the whole of human history is contained here in ritual form and in the people who enact the ritual. This action will cause the Church to be: to do  Eucharist is to be Church. To be Church, to be assembled into one, is what God intends for the world. The Eucharist is celebrated in thanksgiving and for the glory of God, and it is done for the salvation of the whole world.

What Happens at the Mass, Liturgy Training Publications

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