God Is With Us! - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - Zephaniah 3

The theme of this service for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, based on Zephaniah 3, is the assurance for God's people that "God is with us!"

A theme service based on Zephaniah 3:17:
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Sermon Notes
Music Notes
Liturgy Notes

Theme of the service

From time to time, it's very meaningful to allow a specific text or passage of Scripture shape the entire worship service.  For this service we've chosen Zephaniah 3:17, a passage that brings hope and assurance to God's people after a time of great distress.  The theme of the text is captured in its phrase “the Lord your God is with you”.  Thus the theme of this service is the assurance for God's people that “God Is With Us!”

The remainder of the text spells out three different dimensions of God's relationship with us.  Each of those three determines a part of the worship liturgy and reinforces the theme of assurance that God is with us.

We Gather in the Presence of God

            Prelude: “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”, Martin [organ] and/or Leavitt [piano]

            An Introduction to the Service

            An Interlude for Quiet Meditation

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting

            People of God, where is your trust placed?
            Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
            Grace, mercy and peace greets you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
            Amen!

*Song of Entrance: “The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life” st. 1, 2, 5 PH170, PsH23, RL89/90, SFL201, TH85/86/87, TWC330/615 st. 1, 5

The Reading of Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20

            The Word of the Lord.
            Thanks be to God!

God Delights In Us

“He will take great delight in you….”

            Message

            *Song of Promise: “I Am the Lord Your God” PsH 199

            The Reading of Scripture: Genesis 1:31 and Isaiah 65:17-19

                        The Word of the Lord.
                        Thanks be to God!

            Our Sung Prayer: “Psalm 17”
                        (The congregation joins and follows the cue of the leader; see Music Notes.)

God Quiets Us

“He will quiet you with his love….”

Offertory: “It Is Well with My Soul”, Medema [piano] or Burroughs [handbells]

            Offertory Prayer

            Message

            Prayer

            Song of Reassurance: “Be Still and Know” RN10, SFL225, TWC516

                        1. Be still and know that I am God….
                        2. I am the Lord who heals your life….
                        3. In you, O Lord, we put our trust….

            The Reading of Scripture: Psalm 23

                        The Word of the Lord.
                        Thanks be to God!

            Song of Confidence: “When Peace Like a River” st. 1 PsH489, TH691, TWC519

God Rejoices Over Us

“He will rejoice over you with singing….”

            Message

            Prayer

            The Reading of Scripture: Revelation 19:4-8

                        The Word of the Lord.
                        Thanks be to God!

            *Song of Celebration: “Alleluia! Alleluia!” (tune Hymn to Joy/Ode to Joy)

                        1. Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to heav'n and voices raise;
                            Sing to God a hymn of gladness, sing to God a hymn of praise.
                            He who on the cross as Savior for the world's salvation bled,
                            Jesus Christ, the King of Glory, now is risen from the dead.

                        2. Now the iron bars are broken, Christ from death to life is born,
                            glorious life, and life immortal, on the resurrection morn;
                            Christ has triumphed, and we conquer by his mighty enterprise,
                            we with him to life eternal by his resurrection rise.

                        3. Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
                            hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, praising Thee their sun above.
                            Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away:
                            giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
                                              -Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), alt.

The Closing of Worship

            *The Benediction with congregational Amen!

            *The Doxology: “Alleluia! Alleluia!” (same tune as above)

                        Alleluia! Alleluia! Glory be to God on high;
                        Alleluia to the Savior, who has won the victory;
                        Alleluia to the Spirit, fount of love and sanctity;
                        Alleluia! Alleluia! to the Triune Majesty.

            Postlude: “Hymn to Joy”, Burkhardt

*  You are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

Most of the minor prophets are rather obscure books to most Christians, and Zephaniah is probably one of the most obscure of all.  Only three short chapters, with a major thrust of judgment, it is not the kind of book most Christians turn to readily.  But there is much here to recommend its careful reading!

The grimness of the prophets' message is shaped by the fact that it contains many words of judgment both on Judah and the surrounding nations.  Therefore, this message might begin with the setting and what gave rise to these words of judgment.  Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum and Habakkuk.  He prophesied during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.)  His aim was to pronounce God's coming judgment on their sins so that they would return to him in repentance.

This message can, therefore, teach us how to read the message of minor prophets.  When God sends hard times, he intends to pave the way for restoration and new hope.  When he sends rain, he's preparing the day for lush growth.  When he pronounces judgement, it is so that God's people will recognize their sinfulness and return to the Lord to be renewed in his grace.

These words of our text are found near the end of the book, after all the words of judgment.  They speak of a day of the Lord in which he will dwell in grace with his people again.

Don't miss the fact that “your God is with you”, or “God is with us” is the word “Immanuel”, the word that God always spoke to his children about the arrival of the Messiah who would bring his redemption. 

The last three lines of this text contain three separate and slightly different thoughts, each of which expands on the ways in which God is with us.  Each of these requires a careful Scripture study and contains much comfort and assurance for God's children.

a. that God delights in us is not only very comforting, especially to those of us who are struggling with our “loveableness” before God, but it also gives us beautiful insight into the personality and nature of God.  Multiple other passages can be drawn in to show the same.

b. that he quiets us with his love is an obviously needed ministry for all of us.  Stress is altogether too prominent in our lives.  Many pictures of such “quieting in love” can be drawn from the ministry of Jesus and also illustrated in our own experiences.

c. that he rejoices over us with singing may be more difficult to picture.  Does God sing?  Are we able to picture him that way?  This passage says so. Though we are not given much information about this matter in Scripture, it surely leads us to believe that when the angels and the church sing they are echoing the song of God himself, a thought that gives much more significance to our singing!

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:

PH        The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH      The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL        Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)|
RN        Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL      Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC     Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,      Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH        Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great        Commission Publications)
TWC     The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV    With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The prelude suggestions are both based on the hymn tune “Resignation” and both are reflective in nature. You may choose to use one or both, or other music that is anchored in Psalm 23 themes. The piano prelude can be found in John Leavitt's “How Sweet the Sound”, published by CPH 97-6891 [2000] (M).  The organ piece written by Gilbert Martin can be found in “The Bristol Collection vol. 2” edited by Lee Hastings Bristol Jr., published by Flammer HF-5078 [1975].
  2. “Psalm 17” by Jane Marshall is taken from the collection “Psalms Together” published by Choristers Guild CGA-18 [1986] (E).  This brief responsorial for soloist/small group or choir with congregation is based on the theme of being the apple of God's eye.  The music includes a reproducible page for congregational use.  The solo part can be sung by a child – though some coaching will be needed in helping to cue in the congregation.
  3. The offertory music can be found in Ken Medema's piano collection “Sanctuary” published by Genevox 4181-16 [1989] (M).  The handbell anthem written by Bob Burroughs for 3 octaves of handbells plus a treble C instrument is published by Triune Press HB160 [1986] (E).
  4. The closing hymn, normally sung to the tune Ebenezer/Ton-y-botel, is paired with Hymn to Joy/Ode to Joy.  While Ebenezer is a wonderful tune, we wanted to include a stanza from “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” as part of the close of the service.  Notice as well the description of the Trinity in the Doxology text.
  5. The postlude arranged by Michael Burkhardt effectively combines a J.S. Bach “Prelude in G Major” with the tune Hymn to Joy.  It is published by Morningstar MSM-10-729 [2000] (E-M).

Liturgy Notes:

1. Because the format of this service is structured somewhat differently than usual, it is necessary to introduce the service and explain how the text shapes the entire structure of the service.  Point out that the text is printed at the top of the sheet for ready reference.  Because the service is intended to be reflective and meditative, we suggest that after the introduction of the service the worshipers are encouraged to spend a brief moment in quiet meditation and prayer (not a bad idea for any service!)  It probably is wise that the pastor briefly introduce each new section of the service by pointing to the appropriate statement of the text.

2. Four different Scripture readings are found in this service.  The first is the primary passage, and the others are supporting passages which reinforce the message of each part of the text.  We suggest that lay readers be included for each of these readings.

3. In the third section of the service, the prayer and the singing of “Be Still and Know” should be combined without interruption—from prayer to a time of reflecting on the voice of God while singing.

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