Monthly Archives: April 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter

“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”

Part 6: Preface through Agnus Dei

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We are on our way to the high point of the Divine Service, for which the rest of the service has been preparing us.  Nowhere else in all of creation does our Lord come to us as intimately, as physically, as personally, as when He gives into our mouths His own Body and His own Blood.  If the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, if we are baptized into the one Body of Christ for salvation, then it is here, at His altar, that we are renewed and strengthened in the unity of that one Body.  Here He gives us forgiveness yet again and in yet another way.  As we eat and drink the holy Body and cleansing Blood of Jesus, He makes us one with Him, and so we are one with His Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit.  Here, as always, the action of salvation is Trinitarian, the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together.  As we are brought into this close fellowship with our Savior, we are, necessarily, brought into close fellowship with all others whom Christ gathers and feeds.  St. Paul sums up our communion in both directions, with Christ and with other people, when He says, “This cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17, ESV).  As this Body of Christ, this single and unified Church, we pray the Preface, which is probably the oldest and least-changed part of the liturgy.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”

Part 5: Offertory through Prayer of the Church

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psalm 51:12; LSB 193).  With what has the joy of the Lord’s salvation been replaced in your heart and mind?  Is it something concrete, like the joy of some other thing, which makes Christian joy seem to pale in comparison?  Or is it more like the absence of something, a general malaise and indifference?  All your colors have been dulled by the blows of the world, and you’re not sure you would recognize joy anyway.  But you see some people and there is an almost intangible something that they have and you want.  As the Holy Spirit applies the Law of God to your heart, you begin to feel your lack of joy.  You recognize that your heart is not clean, that the spirit within you is not right.  In the Offertory, we highlight our lack of the very things for which we pray.  Things have gone wrong inside you and you can’t make them right.  Things are going wrong all around you and you have no control over any of it.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10; LSB 192-193).  This song, which we call the Offertory, comes from the response of David, after the prophet Nathan had confronted him with his adultery and murder.  After hearing Nathan’s sermon about a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb, David, like us, applied its meaning to others: “As [Yahweh] lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6, ESV).  And Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7, ESV).  Suddenly, Nathan’s sermon was not about someone else, but about David.  Likewise, you and I should always hear in the preached Word of God our sin, our unclean hearts, our wrong spirits.  Before God, you may not look at others, but only at yourself.  I may preach to and for you, but if it has not hit home for me, it is likely not quite true.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter

“Hearing His Voice”

John 10:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It doesn’t make much sense to preach a sermon about preaching a sermon, so consider this a brief break from our series on the liturgy. But there are some things that can be said about preaching in general, and they actually fit nicely with our text from John 10. Preaching is sort of a strange thing to do. It seems like a relic of a long-past age, an age of philosophers and prophets, not the age of iPods and YouTube. When I think about it, it seems a little presumptuous to have this captive audience to which I am supposed to speak authoritatively! If I did not have a call from God through you, ratified at my ordination, I would have no right to say “Thus sayeth the Lord.” But, to those whom Jesus sends, He promises, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16, ESV). Whenever I allow myself to think about what I’m actually doing when I get up here, it nearly scares me to silence. Who am I that I should speak the Word of God to you? That you should listen to the sound of my voice, or follow me where I say you should go? But that’s exactly the point. Do not follow me. Or, do not follow me except as I follow Christ. You are the sheep of whom I have been given care, but I am not, finally, your shepherd. Jesus Christ alone is your Good Shepherd, as He is mine. Listen to the sound of my voice only because it is Christ who has put me here to speak His Word. Do not follow or listen to anyone except if they follow or speak the words of Christ. This pulpit is not mine. I cannot say whatever I want. I am only the gatekeeper, and my vocation is to let Christ and only Christ speak. He must increase, but I must decrease.

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Third Sunday of Easter

“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”

Parts 3 and 4: Salutation/Collect through Creed

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Lord be with you.” (“And with thy spirit.”) This is not, “Hi, how ya doin’?” “Fine; you?” As the one whom you have called to carry out the responsibility before this altar, I am speaking the blessing of the Lord Jesus to you. And you, as the body of Christ in this place, are affirming the call and the ordination. When I was ordained and installed here, you promised to honor and uphold me as your pastor, and that you would receive me, show me that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ. When we speak this Salutation to one another, you are renewing my ordination and my installation as your pastor. You are saying, “Yes, we have called you by the Holy Spirit to gather our prayers and speak them to God before this altar.” They do not cease to be your prayers, however. I say, “Let us pray.” We are praying together. But since God is a God of order rather than disorder, one of us must speak on behalf of all. And so, as I invite all who are gathered to pray, I “collect” those prayers into a single, concentrated prayer, which sums up the Church’s focus for the day. It is the reappearance of the thread which began with the Introit, and which we will see again in the readings, Gradual, and sermon. As we look at the Introit, Collect, and Gradual for today, we can begin to piece together a picture: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1, ESV)! “O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world.” “Christ has risen from the dead. God the Father has crowned him with glory and honor, He has given him dominion over the works of his hands; he has put all things under his feet.” The fallen world has been raised up because Jesus lowered Himself; but the Lord is still Lord, and those who are under the Lord’s dominion, that is, those who recognize the risen Lord as their Lord, also dwell together in the unity of the Spirit given by that Lord. We, as this united body of the Lord, offer together our prayer to the Lord of all creation. “Grant to your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys” (Collect for Easter III).

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Second Sunday of Easter

“What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It?”

Parts 1 and 2: Preparation through Gloria

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Normally, you would not see me in the pulpit yet. Normally, I would not be saying anything until I say the words which began this sermon: “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But today we are going to begin a series covering the Great Fifty Days of Easter (from now until Pentecost) to try to understand and appreciate a little bit better what happens when the people of God are gathered to hear His Word, receive His gifts, and worship Him in return. Instead of a regular sermon at the appointed time, I am going to do something out of the ordinary and “preach through the liturgy,” as we dig deeper and hear better this great gift of the Church’s liturgy as it has been handed down to us for hundreds and even a thousand-plus years.

This is the Divine Service. It is not divine because it fell from heaven whole (though all of it has been taken from holy Scripture), but because it is where God meets with us. And it is service because here is where God has promised to serve us, by His holy Word and His holy Sacraments. Our high priest, Jesus, is “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:2). Why do we have this Divine Service? Can we not get along without it? True, it is not commanded in the Scriptures; but the form of the liturgy shapes the content of the Gospel, which it delivers. We have the Divine Service because God has chosen and still chooses to work by means: especially as a Man born of a virgin; but also by words, water, bread and wine. All of this divine service aims at the same purpose that John had in writing his Gospel: “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV). The Scriptures testify to Christ, and the Liturgy testifies to the Christ who is found in the Scriptures. What is our part in the service? Our service, our liturgy, is to offer back to God in worship and prayer all things which He has graciously given us: our time, our offerings of money and possessions, indeed, our entire selves. This is the rhythm of the Church of God: He gives and we receive; He blesses and we are blessed; He forgives us our trespasses, and we are forgiven. He is active and we are passive. But as He gives to us, we give to others. As He blesses us, we bless others. As He forgives us, we forgive those who trespass against us. In the realm of our neighbor, our family and friends, we are active. We are the “masks of God” as He serves them. And all of it becomes a joyful symphony of praise to our God.

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