Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

Come And See. St. Bartholomew (Altar Guild Service) 2016. John 1:43-51

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Jacobs-Ladder.jpgSt. Bartholomew, Apostle (transferred)/ Altar Guild Opening Service

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:43-51

August 25, 2016

“Come and See”


Iesu Iuva


Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  John 1:45


“Wait a minute.  Cut!  I’d like to interject…”  Philip and Nathanael (his mother calls him Bartholomew) swivel their black-bearded faces in the direction of the voice, which belongs to a gray-haired man walking toward them, dressed in a jacked with leather elbows and a bow tie.  He speaks with a slight east coast accent, and as he talks he gestures with a pipe.


“I understand what you’re trying to do with this scene,” he says to Philip.  “You want to tell a compelling story.  I get it.  But if it’s going to speak to people two thousand years from now, you’re going to have to revise the script.  You sacrifice accuracy for the sake of rhetorical power and you’re going to lose your audience.”


Philip stares at the man, who goes on: “The thing about Moses.  ‘Moses wrote about Him in the Law.’  Reputable scholarship stopped believing Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy in the 19th century.  Until relatively recently everyone agreed that these books were cut-and-pasted together from different sources by editors a thousand years after Moses was supposed to have lived.  Everybody that’s educated knows this today, even the partially educated.  So let’s try it again without Moses this time.”  The bow tied man sits in a canvas chair and puts on sunglasses.


Philip keeps staring at him and finally utters, “Who are you?”


“I’m chair of New Testament at a top-tier divinity school in New England.” Then, in response to Philip’s blank stare, he says, “A scribe, of sorts.  Okay, take two.”


Philip turns back to Nathanael.  “So, like I was saying, ‘we have found the man who has been written about in the Law and the Prophets’—whoever wrote them—Jesus of Nazareth…”


“Cut!” the professor yells again.  “Another thing: you really can’t say that Jesus is the one written about in the Law and the Prophets.  The early New Testament community interpreted the Law and the Prophets as foretelling Jesus.  Then they wrote the Gospels to show Jesus as the fulfillment of those passages.  But to say the Law and the Prophets spoke about Jesus is a stretch, at best.  Leaves us open to the charge of anti-semitism, too.  Try it again.  Take three.”


Philip stands there for a minute trying to figure out what to say.  Then he looks at Nathanael and says, slowly, “We have found the man who isn’t really written about in the Law and the Prophets, probably.  But there is a community of people who think that the Law and the Prophets wrote about Him.  Or at least they want us to think that.  It’s Jesus of Nazareth.”


“Cut!” the professor cries again.  “You can’t say it like that!  When you say it that way it sounds like a scam!”


What’s amazing is that so many people let themselves be scammed for so long.  The professor in the story isn’t based on a real person, but he is doing what leading bible scholars have done for at least a hundred years.  They have taught and written that the Bible is a literary construction made by men to advance certain beliefs, and then creatively interpreted by men to advance certain beliefs.  But as far as being historically reliable and telling us about things that actually happened?  The Bible doesn’t do that, they say.  That’s not its point.


Did this conversation between Jesus, Nathanael, and Philip actually happen?  We really can’t know, they say.  The idea that the Bible is verbally inspirited by God, and therefore not only the final authority for truth about religious matters, but also true when it speaks about geography, history, or anything else—that has been regarded as “fundamentalism” by scholars for a long time—despite the fact that the authority and clarity of the Scriptures was foundational for the protestant reformation.  And these scholars taught the ministers in mainline protestant churches—the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, some Baptists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—since before I was born.  This skeptical approach to the Bible has become normal in the Catholic Church too.


But laypeople in these churches don’t look at the Bible this way, right?  The pastors don’t preach this way, do they?  I don’t think they do, generally.  It doesn’t work very well for preaching to have the professor bursting in every few verses to correct the Bible.  But if this is the way you have been taught to view the Scripture during your training for the pastoral office, it is going to affect how you carry out the work of that office.  If the Bible isn’t to be taken literally when it says Moses wrote the Penteteuch, or when it says that Jesus had a conversation with Nathanael, why should it be taken literally when Jesus forbids divorce in it, or when it says it’s immoral to have sex when you’re not married?  So is it a surprise that the mainline protestant churches have approved homosexual “marriage” as pleasing to God?  If the Bible was put together by human beings to teach what they wanted to teach, why can’t we just put a new spin on it to teach what we think is right now?


And this affects more than simply Christian morality.  It attacks the Gospel itself.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1); the healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (Matthew 9).  The result of treating the Scriptures as human productions is often revision of the Law of God; but the end result of revising God’s law is that pastors begin to preach to people that they, after all, are not sinners in need of saving.  Perhaps we are in a general way—none of us love people as we should.  But never in such a way that the specific forms our lovelessness takes are condemned; never in such a way that the sins that our time and place seeks to excuse are made to stand before the unchangeable judgment of the unchanging God.  And so the churches, instead of proclaiming the Son of God incarnate and crucified to reconcile sinners to God, by degrees remove the offense of the cross (Galatians 5:11) and nullify the grace of God (Galatians 2:21).  God’s grace in freely remitting sins for the sake of the bloody death of His Son on a cross is only necessary for those who are dead in their trespasses and sins and cannot raise themselves.  It’s not necessary for those who have committed no grievous sins because there are no longer any grievous sins to commit.


And what have the laypeople done in response to this perversion of God’s Word in the mainline churches?  Did they walk out when their pastors and teachers revised the ten commandments?  Some did.  Most didn’t care.  They’d gotten used to re-interpreting the Bible when it said things they didn’t agree with a long time ago.  When it forbade women from being ordained.  When it forbade divorce.  When it forbade intercommunion between those who were not united in the one faith and doctrine of Christ.  When it forbade Christians to participate in the religious rites of secret societies.  And so on, all the way back to the time of the Reformation, when people found the teaching that Christ’s true body and blood in the bread are present in and with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper an offense to reason.


But what does all this have to do with the altar guild?  In the reading, Nathaniel (who is probably, but not certainly, Bartholomew the apostle, whose feast day was yesterday) expresses skepticism at what he hears from Philip—that Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Moses and the Prophets.  He considers it unlikely that anything good could come from Nazareth.  But Philip says, “Come and see.”  Pretty confident, Philip is.  He doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael about whether or not Nazareth is a dump.  He invites him to come and see for himself whether Jesus is the one Moses and the Prophets talked about.


When we talk about Jesus to people who don’t believe in Him, say He is the Savior of the World, and our Savior, they will very likely be skeptical.  What do we do then?  Sure, you can debate with them if you’re equipped to do so.  That has its place.  But in the end, answering their objections won’t bring them to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit must bring them.  And that happens when they “come and see” Jesus.


But where do you go if you want to “come and see” Jesus?  He is at the right hand of the Father, where we see Him no longer (John 16).  Yet He promised that as His Church goes into the world to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything He commanded: and lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:20)  If anyone wants to come and see Jesus, we direct them to follow us to the place where His Word is being taught and His sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper are being administered.  We say, “Come to church with me and see.”


And what will they see there?  We hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, they will see Jesus, true God from eternity, who became human to live among us and fulfill the Law of God that we are unable to keep.  Who became sin for us, bearing our offenses on the cross, and was raised from the dead for our justification.  We hope that, being made to see Jesus by faith, they will also learn to see His presence with His Church in the Word and Sacraments, and learn to see the little congregation of sinners gathered around them as the community that has been declared righteous by God and adopted as His heirs.


But none of that is what they will see right away.  What they will see is an altar with a cross above it.  They will see a pulpit and a lectern and candles.  They will see some stuff under a sheet in the middle of the altar.  They will see pews, bulletins, hymnals, some men dressed in suits handing them pieces of paper and passing a plate.  They will see a guy up front in a white robe with a piece of colored cloth around his neck.  And the more years go by, the less familiar and comprehensible these sights will be.


And this is where you come in.  Can you make people see Jesus by putting oil in the candles, arranging the fair linen just so, ironing the alb?  No.  Neither can I.  A person sees Jesus, believes that He is the Son of God and our Savior, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.


But by care and diligence in your work you can give a witness to what we confess.  In fact you will give a witness one way or the other.  By adorning the altar and chancel with care and beauty and precision you can testify to your faith and the faith of the church that “God Himself is present” in this place.  By being careful, diligent, and scrupulous in your cleaning of the sacred vessels you can testify to our own members to the reality that Jesus has truly given us His sacred body and his redeeming blood in the wafers and wine.  And as members of the altar guild you can be leaven in the congregation, instructing your brothers and sisters how in the Divine Service Christ Himself is present in flesh and blood, opening heaven to us each week, letting down Jacob’s ladder into this Nazareth called Joliet, where people wonder if there is anything good.  You can say, Yes, Jesus visits Joliet; He visits us at 8 am and 10:45 each week.  He speaks to us His good news that raises us up from sin and despair; He renews our souls with His crucified flesh and blood, and as He does so He brings with Him the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.


And by that witness the church will be edified and perhaps visitors will come and say, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.  Or at least if He isn’t, I am convinced that the people who care for the altar believe that He is.”


May God bless you and strengthen you, then, in your holy work this year, as you continue to make the sanctuary a place where we are proud to invite people to “come and see” our Lord Jesus.


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


Soli Deo Gloria

Exorcising The Christmas Spirit with the Gospel

November 21, 2012 3 comments

At my house, Christmas music begins to play sometime in the middle or early part of November.  If you’ve ever listened to Christmas radio stations, you know that they play the same songs over and over and over and over and over again. 


And then they play them a few more times.


It isn’t yet Thanksgiving, but I’ve already heard Wham!’s “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” at least five times. This is perhaps the only song of Wham’s oeuvre which still emerges from the mists of the early 80’s to remind us of those, by comparison to today, almost Victorian times when George Michael was still into women and when pop stars didn’t come out of the closet.


I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why people who like holiday music like holiday music, just as it’s probably part of the reason why people who have never lived in the country like the formulaic Chevy-truck-ad jingles that comprise most of what’s played on country-music (so-called) radio stations.  People like it, at least in part, because it makes them feel safe.


Christmas begins about the same time in my house that it does in much of the United States—following hard upon Halloween.  Both holidays were once Christian holy days, to whatever degree they may have been reappropriated from pagans.


In America they are pagan holidays again, although I think Samhain (isn’t that what the Wiccans call it?), Yule, and Saturnalia would be more enjoyable.  What offends me about American subversions of Christian holidays—American re-paganization—is the awful aesthetics.  Some of my aversion to “Christmas” in America arises from the way that the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation of God is obscured. 

But mostly it’s just elitism. 


I’ve hated American consumerism since I was a kid.  It blights the mind, soul, and imagination by constantly making available (for a price) whatever is convenient and easily digestible.  In its wake it leaves mind-numbingly ugly and boring places to live.  It destroys all sense of the sacred.  It creates soft minds and shrunken souls. 


But my elitism really is an impediment when it comes to being a pastor. I don’t want to be superior or right; I want to teach Christians how the Church’s preparation for the birth of Jesus ought to be very different from the cheap consolation provided by American “Christmas.” 


Cheap consolation is really the enemy in almost every case when liturgical pastors and pastors wanting to teach the doctrine of Evangelical Lutheran Church run into resistance from popular piety.  American pop Christianity sells because people want to feel good and safe and because it’s easy to understand.  Sometimes people turn to it because they are suffering and they need answers immediately.  Other times people turn to it because it permits them to indulge themselves with the illusion that the solution to the suffering we endure as a result of living in a collapsing world  is to go back to the simple answers about God we really always knew and from which we were never far. 

American “Christmas”and its associated rituals—holiday music beginning in November, flagrant overspending, Christmas carol singing in Advent and parties in school, church, work all through December, overeating and overdrinking–all the Christmasy things that enable us to avoid honest appraisal of our selves, our lives, the way our society is going, and numb ourselves into a syrupy, sentimental glow—is almost exactly like American Christianity.

But here is where pastors and hearers who know something of the value of the pure teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church fail.  American “Christianity” and American “Christmas” is democratic, and we are too often elitists.  American “Christmas” isn’t supercilious toward people who just want to feel safe and good. It embraces them.


 A lot of people believe that if they really like a song by Elvis, nobody can tell them that Bach’s music is simply better.  So if they hear Joel Osteen preach and understand him, they also think that no one can tell them that a sermon by Chrysostom or Luther is simply better either. 

American “Christmas” and American “Christianity” accept this reality in people and cater to it.  But not only do I not cater to it—I despise it and have almost zero patience when people expect me to do the same thing.  Lacking patience and love toward people who don’t immediately respond to real Christianity and real Christmas is not a Christian virtue.  Harboring anger and resentment toward Lutherans who are stubborn in adhering to bad teaching and traditions flowing from that teaching–whether out of snobbery or  out of anger–is grave sin.  With this anger we make the Gospel noxious because we smear it with the scent of our own pride.  Particularly pastors.  When I get mad because I’m trying to teach God’s Word purely and you’re not listening, I’m really mad because you’re not respecting me or listening to me.  And that is to use the ministry of the Gospel which Christ instituted for the salvation of sinners as a means of exalting myself.

Jesus preached and taught to the masses; He didn’t tickle ears, but taught the Word of God in a way that was accessible to normal people–not only the great.  He was patient and continued to teach even when He met with opposition and mistreatment.  Luther preached to and taught the masses.  He sought to elevate them—that’s why the Reformation went hand in hand with a renewal of education.  But he also taught; patiently, bearing with the people, serving them and caring enough to be understood by them.   

I’ve failed consistently in this way.  It’s not that I didn’t teach, but that I became angry and afraid when people didn’t get it or didn’t appear to want to get it.  On the one hand there is fear because you want to be a good pastor, be faithful to Christ, serve the people.  On the other hand there is simply sin and profanation of God’s Name and Word.  There was my desire to be honored that trumped any other desire–whether to love and serve the congregation or to love and serve Christ.  I was unwilling to bear with unjust criticism without snapping at my critics. At other times I’ve reacted to criticism that I thought was unjust with anger or defensiveness, later realizing that I was wrong, that I was failing to properly divide law and gospel, and I needed to be opposed. 


Lutherans also have to be democratic in the sense that we are willing to teach God’s Word—slowly, patiently, consistently—and bear with people.  That is the way that Jesus was democratic.  He loved the people.  So He was willing to teach them–the eternal Son–even when they wouldn’t hear Him and when they dishonored Him.  Love means patiently teaching and listening to criticism and learning slowly, over time, where you are not being understood.  So often people embrace false teaching, or bad traditions, because they are scared or because they feel stupid and the false teaching relieves the feelings of stupidity by addressing people where they are. 


Then a guy like me comes in, teaches for awhile, receives flak, and very quickly begins responding in anger to the people.  And is it any surprise if people then run to preachers (or to religious practices) that make them feel safe, that feel familiar?  Is it surprising if people go to a pastor who is nice and acts like he loves them [even though he is a wolf], instead of to the one who comes to change everything and says, “You are doing it wrong”, and reacts with harshness and arrogance when they don’t immediately listen?  In trying to roll back American Christmas in Lutheran churches so that we can once again observe Advent, there will be the inevitable conflict.  People will say it’s “too catholic.”  Probably one of the best ways we can observe Advent is to try to fast and repent of  haughty and angry defensiveness, and show kindness, patience, and love to people who haven’t yet experienced the blessing of preparing for the mystery of Christ’s birth through Advent.  Really, it’s not something to get angry about, but to have pity about, that lots of people would prefer to sing Christmas Carols for a month and haven’t developed a taste for the rich gospel we have in so many Lutheran Advent hymns.


I’m grateful for my beautiful wife and son and for the opportunity they give me to practice not being a jerk about American Christmas in Advent.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn to  lead our family, graciously, into the gift of observing Advent with its call to repentance, faith, and willing obedience to Christ. 


In long gone times there were outward, physical disciplines associated with repentance, faith, and renewal.  Self-examination and confession and fasting went with repentance.  Attending Advent services midweek meant giving one’s attention to Christ’s Word, which works in contrite hearts the faith that our sins, from which we cannot free ourselves, have been blotted out by the suffering and death of the baby of Mary.  And where this faith is, there is joyful giving from a new and glad and confident heart.  So Christians practiced almsgiving.  Instead of buying family huge, extravagant gifts, they gave to the poor.  This is the way I want to learn to spend Advent with my family.  But that is a lot harder than simply trashing American consumerist “Christmas” and its associated rites, such as having to listen to “Feliz Navidad” for a month and a half.  As annoying as that is.  It takes doing it myself, and then walking with them into it.  Not just giving orders.

I wrote an article for the church newsletter trying to explain the importance of Advent and why we don’t immediately start singing Christmas hymns in church in December.  And I also tried to point out why it would be better if during Advent the Church behaved differently from the world, and instead of the church calendar filling up in December with Christmas parties (during Advent), we should consciously reject the way the world tries to greet the miracle of Jesus’ birth not by “making straight the way of the Lord” but by bombarding ourselves with things designed to arouse “the proper Christmas spirit”.  I don’t know whether the article will succeed as a gracious attempt to teach the gifts of Advent or whether it will be one more instance of making people feel dumb and then wondering why they reject what you say.  I’ll post it on here shortly.

Our society really need this witness from the Church in Advent.  But it will never happen if those who understand the gift of Advent don’t love people enough to teach patiently and bear with people when they don’t get it or reject it.  So I hope that God will teach me and sinners like me to love and serve our brothers and show the value of pure doctrine and the church’s liturgy by demonstrating the love and patience that come from the Gospel.  Then maybe they could hear that we are truly safe in Him—not in the false comfort that comes from avoiding penitence, but in the true comfort given by Him who was placed in a manger to deliver us from our sins.



Advent Services and Evening Prayer

October 29, 2012 1 comment

This may be useful for pastors planning Advent or Lent midweek services; I translated this, such as I could, from the hymnal of our sister church in Germany.  I liked some of the differences in the SELK vespers service, as well as the rubrics, and thought the suggestions about Advent worship were helpful.

(SELK Gesangbuch p. 262-264)


Advent and Lent Worship

 1.         The midweek (Wochengottesdienste) services in Advent and Lent can be held according to the order of Vespers.

For the Psalmody in Advent Psalms 19, 24, 25, 80, and 85 are suggested (in conjunction with the antiphons 664-667).  In Lent Psalms 22, 32, 38, 43, 51, and 130. 


The Responsory can be done according to the usual form, but also in the form for festival seasons (p. 295).  In place of this also a hymn stanza can be sung: in Advent, “Ach, mache du mich Armen” (Gesangbuch 9:4)(LSB 354 st. 4) and in Lent “Ehre sei dir, Christe” (Gesangbuch 57:7) .


Another prayer can be spoken in place of the preces.


The song of praise (Magnificat or Nunc Dimittis) is dropped when the litany (Ges. Nr. 138) is sung in place of the Kyrie Eleison.  In this case, the Lord’s Prayer, silent prayer, and Prayer of the day follows the litany.


In the Vespers at the hour of the Lord’s death and on Holy Saturday, the Entrance is dropped.


2.        The midweek services in Advent and Lent can also be held in a simple form of devotion/meditation, for instance in the following way: Hymn- Votum (?)- Entrance Prayer, Scripture Readings interspersed with hymns or hymn stanzas [In Lent: Hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy”]-Sermon-[In Lent: Luther’s Explanation to the Second Article from the Small Catechism-Hymn-Closing Prayer, Lord’s Prayer, Blessing, Hymn Stanza.

3.       As Scripture readings for the Advent Services, the Messianic prophecies are considered (for instance Zech. 9: 9-10, Zeph. 3:14-17, Mal. 3:19-24; Is. 35:3-10; 40:1-11; 45:1-8; 63, 15-64; 26:1-12), Sections from the Revelation of John (1:4-8; 19:6-16; 3:14-22, or 22:1-13, 20), as well as from the Gospels (Matt. 21:1-9, Luke 21:25-33 or Mark 13:5-13; Matt. 11:2-10 or Luke 1:5-25; John 1:19-28 or Luke 1:26-38).


In Lent, besides texts from the Old Testament (for instance, selections from Gen. 1:1-3; Exodus 12:1-14; Genesis 22:1-13; Jeremiah 15:15-21; selections from Isaiah 59; Selections from Isaiah 45 and Isaiah 53: 4-12), before all will sections of the Passion History of the Lord be read, (Matt. 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23 or John 11:46-57, 12:1-11, 13:1-38; 18-19).


(274 f.)


Vespers (Evening Prayer)


[Hymn of the Congregation]


The congregation rises.


If no compline will be held, the confession of sins with the foregoing “Our help is in the name of the Lord” can be spoken here.



Liturgist:  Lord, hear my voice, when I call;

C: be gracious to me and hear me.

L: Make haste, O God, to deliver me,

C: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

L: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

C: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever and ever.  Amen.  Hallelujah.


In place of the Hallelujah from Septuagesima Sunday till the evening of Holy Saturday:

Praise be to You, Lord, King of eternal glory.


The Congregation sits.


Praying the Psalms (Psalmody)

A psalm or (and) a psalm-hymn, or instead of this on feast days and during festival seasons also a hymn appropriate to the time or season.



More readings may follow.

After the (last) reading, the following responsory is sung



Cantor: Your word is a lamp to my feet…

Especially on feast days and festival seasons, the responsory on p. 295 may be sung.


Where no responsory will be sung, the reading will close with the following sung or spoken versicle:


Cantor (L): But You, Lord, have mercy upon us.

C: Thanks be to God in eternity.


[Interpretation or Reading from the Church Fathers]




The congregation sings [responsively with the choir] an evening hymn, or the Hymn of the Week, or a hymn for the season.


Song of Praise/Canticle

The Magnificat


If there will be no compline, the Nunc Dimittis can be sung instead of the Magnificat.


Where circumstances demand it, the singing of the canticle can be omitted completely.  The canticle is also dropped when instead of the Kyrie Eleison the Litany will be sung.  In this case the Litany is followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the silent prayer, and the prayer of the day.


The Congregation rises.



The Kyrie, Our Father, Preces, and Prayer of the day can also be spoken.



L: Kyrie eleison.  C. Christe Eleison.  Kyrie Eleison.


Our Father



Responsive Prayer (Preces) Or one of the responsive prayers (1-5) on pages (296-305)


L: Lord, be gracious to me,

C: Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.

L: Lord, show us your grace

C: And help us.

L: Let your kindness, Lord, be upon us

C:as we have hoped in you.

L: Let us pray for the Holy Church of God:

C: Remember, Lord, Your congregation, which you have purchased from of old.

L: Let us pray for our shepherds and teachers:

C. Lord, take not from their mouths the Word of Truth.

L: Send the messengers/heralds of salvation to the ends of the earth

C.  and convert the hearts of the unbelieving.

L.  Spread your goodness over those who know You

C: and Your righteousness over the godly.

L: Let us pray for all who are ordered to us/commanded to us/ commended to us [for spouses, parents, children, and our whole household]: 

C: Help, my God, Your servants, who depend on you

L: Lord God of Sabaoth, comfort us,

C: Let the light of Your countenance rest upon us.

L: Rouse Yourself, Christ, and help us

C: and redeem us for the sake of your goodness.

L: Lord, hear my prayer,

C: and let my cry come to you.

L: Let us pray.


Silent Prayer


In times of need or distress in the Church, or in other particular circumstances, a definite request can be named during the silence of prayer by the cantor, lector, or a member of the congregation.


Prayer of the Day


The prayer-leader prays one of the following prayers of the day or a general prayer or the collect of the previous Sunday or feast day.  (On Saturday evening and on the day before a feast day he prays the collect for the following day.)


Monday Evening.

Lord God, dear Father in heaven: we pray You, purify us from all sins of this day, and let Your patience with us have no end, that we after the work of the day may find quiet for the weary body and peace for our souls, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


Here an evening hymn can be sung if one has not already been sung above.






The almighty  and merciful God, the +Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless and preserve us (you).




Sermon Fragment–19th Sunday after Trinity

October 15, 2012 2 comments

I am reduced to fragments because I never get through the editing process before Sunday morning.  I have to edit on the fly.  Though I would like it to be different, I am afraid it will be the same this week, since I have two funerals and a houseguest.  If I really want to get my sermons shorter, what I think I need to do is plan to preach on about half of one point that I want to make.

19th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 9:1-8

October 14, 2012

“I Will Build My Church”—Week 3: Divine Service, Scripture, Prayer

“Built by the Authority of the Son of Man”


You who have been consecrated to be God’s dwelling place by the authority of Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 


We are God’s house of living stones

Built for His own habitation.

He by baptismal grace us owns,

Heirs of His wondrous salvation.

Were we but two His name to tell

God still with us would ever dwell

With all His grace and His favor.


When Jesus promised Peter that He would build His church, He was already signaling that He was a different kind of Messiah than Peter thought he would be.  The glorious King of the Jews from David’s house was going to build a temple for the Lord in the last days, the Scriptures said.  But Jesus said that He was going to build “His Church,” which means a gathering of people. 


To us a king’s church calls to mind a cathedral with ceilings arching into the heavens and walls of cavernous, echoing stone.  It’s difficult for us to get comfortable with the idea that when Jesus said, “I will build my church” He didn’t just mean the city of God with 12 pearly gates that comes down from heaven in glory on the last day.  Is it possible that He envisioned the church on earth between Pentecost and judgment day appearing not only in churches with pews packed full of smiling people but also in congregations less than half full, congregations where funerals outnumber baptisms, churches that die slowly through persecution or through rejection of God’s Word?  Or congregations wracked with conflict, where members sin grievously against one another, where pastors feed themselves and not the sheep, or where there is more joy over the 99 that need no repentance than over one sinner who repents?  How could it be possible that the Messiah would come to build that kind of a temple?


Jesus’ Church is holy.  On the last day the church’s holiness and radiance as the pure bride of the Lamb will be visible before all creation.  Those who truly belong to Christ will be manifest.  But now the church’s holiness is hidden.  The sinful flesh of Christians makes the perfect holiness which Christ put on them in Baptism invisible.  False Christians also are in the midst of the visible gathering of the church, along with false teachers.  Together they cause divisions and harm the witness of the church, but it is not always possible to root them out without also destroying or harming weaker members of the true church.


So the church on earth suffers and is weak.  You don’t necessarily find it in buildings that are beautiful, or full of nice people who are dedicated to serving God.  This is very hard for us to accept.  If Jesus is God, how could His temple be so weak and small and afflicted?


It was also hard for Peter to accept.  Right after Jesus praised Peter for confessing, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, right after He promised to build His church, Jesus began to teach the disciples that when they went to Jerusalem, Jesus would not be seated on David’s throne and begin to rule the whole earth.  Instead He would suffer at the hands of the chief priests, be killed, and then be raised on the third day. 


Peter, who had just confessed the faith, that Jesus is the Messiah, begins to rebuke Jesus for saying this.  And a few minutes after praising Peter, Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”  He went from blessed to Satan in a few minutes.  Why?  Because he believed Jesus was the king of the Jews, but his reason couldn’t accept that this mighty king would then be rejected and put to death.


That is why it is so hard for us to accept that Christ’s church can really be found where there is great sin and weakness and suffering.  How can weakness and suffering be the work of a God who loves you?  How can God’s temple be being built if it is suffering and dying?


The same way that God was found in a man who was condemned to death as a blasphemer, then whipped, mocked with a crown of thorns, presented to a crowd in his humiliation who screamed for His crucifixion.  If that happened to you, would you have a hard time believing God was with you?  Yet we say that the true God can’t be known or found apart from the man who died in this shame and weakness.  We preach that there is no other tree of life than the dead tree He dragged out to Golgotha, and His blood that stained it and the body that hung dead from its limbs is the fruit of the tree of life.  We say that only in the curse pronounced by God upon Jesus—“Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”—does God bless us and make His face shine upon us.  His face shines upon us in the face that poured bloody sweat onto the ground in the olive grove, the face in which we spit and tore out the beard (Is. 50? 52?), bleeding from thorns, the face that pleaded till death for His Father’s blessing and forgiveness for us.


If Jesus’ death on the cross saves us, if our Lord and Savior is the one who died on the cross, then it is a simple fact—the way of the cross is the way of salvation.  Jesus’ church inherits the life everlasting.  It is being saved.  That means that instead of looking as though it is being built up, we can expect it to look like it is being torn down and destroyed.  The one that Peter said was the King of the Jews and the Son of God later had a sign above His head that said “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”—and His head was bloody from a crown of thorns, and His hands were nailed to a tree.  And what little He had in the way of earthly possessions and honor was torn down and thrown in the dust.


That is the rock on which Jesus builds His church, against which the gates of hell can never prevail.  The rock is Himself, the King of the Jews, who dies on the cross and rises from the dead and takes away the sins of the world.  Because this is who He is and what He does, He has the authority from God the Father to loose people from their sins.  That means that He forgives sins, but also that He sets people free from the power of the devil, and all that goes with the devil’s kingdom—death, sickness, misery, slavery to sin.


In the New Testament, “authority” usually means not only power but also the right to use it.  Lawful rulers have authority from God to punish lawbreakers with death—that means God has given them the right to do it.  Parents have authority from God to punish their children.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows that He has been given the right by God the Father to loose people from their sins.  He not only has the power to do it, but He has been authorized by God.


In contrast, the devil and demons are sometimes described as having “authority”, but their authority is really only power that they have stolen from God.  The devil does not have the right to twist God’s Word, or to tempt us to give glory to ourselves or our idols instead of to God (which is the same thing as giving glory to the devil.)  When the devil lies and tempts, and then dominates sinners, the devil is stealing from God.  He has power, but he has done this against God’s will.


In the same way, sinners are able to steal from God.  Those who are under the power of sin take God’s gifts and do not thank Him.  They love and serve and trust God’s gifts instead of Him.  They have the power to do this, but not the right.  Adam and Eve were authorized to have dominion over all the earth, to be fruitful and multiply, and to eat all of the fruit in the garden except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They had the power to take from that tree, but not the authority.  And once the devil had gotten them to step out from under God’s authority, he now was able to control every person who was not brought to repentance by God.  Since that time, people are born taking what God has not given them authority to have.  We judge and condemn and take revenge on those who sin against us—even if that is only in our hearts—but we have no authority to do this.  We put our own honor above God’s honor; we put our will above God’s will.  We give the love, praise, and worship of our hearts to other things besides God, to whom it belongs.  When God does not give us what we want or think we need we go and take it for ourselves.


That’s why it was such a shocking thing for Jesus to tell the paralyzed man, “Take courage, child.  Your sins are forgiven” or better, “Your sins are loosed from you.”  Even when you sin against another person, your offense is most of all against God.  If you lose your temper and insult and curse your neighbor, you have sinned against them, but you have also sinned against God, because He has not authorized you to condemn and curse and injure those who sin against you—not even to punish them in your heart.  By taking revenge, you dishonor the true God and worship another, because you are saying, “God is unjust and will not take care of me, so I have to get justice myself.”  The same thing is true with every sin against our neighbor—they are all dishonoring God—not trusting Him above everything else, not loving Him above everything else.


Even though we are Christians we have a difficult time believing in original sin, because our society has eliminated sin from its way of thinking.  We believe that there are bad people, but those are usually people who do evil against other people on purpose.  The fact that from the time of birth we dishonor God—not trusting Him to give us what is good, not loving Him more than we love His gifts—we don’t think of as sin, but rather as weakness that God would be unfair to be angry about.  The fact that it is natural for us not to pray or want to hear God’s word, to disobey and dishonor parents and authorities, to hold grudges, to lust and engage in sexual sin, to attack people’s reputation and covet their things—we think that since we can’t help it, it can’t be a punishable offense.  God in a sense owes us forgiveness.


But when someone is born with some flaw that they have little control over that causes them to harm us repeatedly, we behave differently.  They say that sociopaths are born without the ability to empathize with other people’s pain, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting angry when they run us over.  People are born with mental illness, and we may give them some breaks, but if they are dangerous to society we don’t say, “Well, they can’t help it, so we won’t lock them up.”  They say Hitler was abused when he was a child, and the reality is that those who are abused quite often become abusers when they become older, but no one says that Hitler should be excused.  And in the same way, we were born in sin, and as a result we dishonor God every day and refuse to acknowledge Him as God.  If we say, “I can’t help it, so I shouldn’t be punished,” what we are really saying is that God is at fault for our sin.

Which is indeed what we said when we crucified Jesus.


That is why it was a shock when Jesus said, “Your sins are loosed.”  Human beings can’t forgive sins.  God must forgive sins.  They are committed against Him.


Is that why Jesus forgave—because He is God?  Yes and no.  Notice what Jesus calls Himself—the Son of Man.  Jesus is not on earth simply to show that He is God.  He has put aside His divine power and put on our likeness—the likeness of sinners who are subject to death and God’s curse.  He only uses His divine power when it is necessary for fulfilling His mission.  He never uses it to make things easy for Himself, because He is on earth to be what we are.  He has come to do what we cannot do—live under God’s authority without sin.  We disobey God and live as we wish.  Even when we repent, we find our flesh rebelling against the will of God.  Jesus came to do what we could not.


So it is not simply as God, but as one of us that Jesus has authority to take sins away, to take them off of people, to set them free from their power. 


To show that He had this authority and power from God, He did a shocking miracle.  With a word He told a paralyzed man to get up and walk home. 


Yet Jesus acts as if it were a better thing, a greater thing, to simply say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Your sins are loosed from you.” 


That is because it is.  Because if your sins are taken away, God erases them from His book.  They are gone.  His wrath then is gone, death is gone.  God becomes yours, and everything that is His.  Not in the sense that you get to do what you want with it, but in the sense that it all serves you; He makes it all work for you.  It’s all yours, but not in such a way that you can destroy yourself by misusing it.


That authority—to forgive sins—is how Jesus builds His church—how He creates a holy assembly who belong to God and are free from sin, and able to live forever in His presence.  Who begin to love their neighbor.


When Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven…” He was talking about this authority—to forgive sins.


Jesus has given this authority to the Church, and He has authorized ministers to exercise this authority so that people may be loosed from their sins, set free from Satan’s kingdom, and delivered into the Kingdom of Jesus, the church, in which we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, unity with God.


How is this authority exercised?  Through Jesus’ word and sacraments.  That is why the church is not found where there is earthly glory.  We know where the church is by where Jesus’ gifts are—where His authority to forgive sins is being used.  There, even though human beings are exercising the keys, Jesus is present, working through His church.



All authority…


It’s not that we simply need information.  We need to be free to be Jesus disciples.


Jesus’ power, connected to His sacrifice on the cross.

Divine Service



            Sacrament of the Altar.



Growth in love


            Confession and absolution.

                        It looses us, just like the paralytic, but spiritually. 

                        It is better to be a paralytic and have sins loosed.

                        The tremendous gift—we are free, and we are not alone.



            The whole Scripture points to Jesus and gives us the Spirit.




            Claiming our authority as sons of God when the gates of hell close in on us.


            Bringing our paralyzed neighbor to the Father.

Your sins are taken away from you by Christ and destroyed forever.


In the third place: That this may be done in us, God, our dear Lord, sends diseases, even death unto us, not as if He were angry with us and meant to destroy us, but out of His great mercies, because He desires to lead us to true repentance and faith in this life, and finally to deliver us from sin that still besets us, and from all evil, both bodily and spiritual; as the Holy Scriptures testify.  For thus St. Paul says 1 Cor. 11: When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. …

In the fourth place: Since this is a truth, and since you have been most certainly assured out of the Holy Gospel, preached to you through the mouth of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and verified by His death and resurrection, that all your sins have been put away from you upon Christ, yea, also from Christ are taken away, every one of them, and destroyed forever; And since thus in the sight of God there is no more ground left for wrath and condemnation, but only grace, comfort, life, and salvation for the believers; and since then God our dear Lord now looks upon you not as a wicked, condemned sinner, born of Adam, but as upon a perfectly just, holy, dear child in Christ, in whose righteousness and life you, in believing it, shall live and be saved eternally, as certainly and truly as He has borne the wrath of God, and has not died in His own sins, but in yours: Do then give heed and receive comfort in such grace, and be assured that sin, God’s judgment, death, and hell have no longer anything to do with you; but Christ, the only Lamb of God, bears them, who has not only taken them upon Himself, but also  overcome them by Himself and destroyed them forever.  Through and in this your Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, you shall confidently expect of God the Father, every grace and comfort, redemption and salvation, and in this comforting confidence you shall give yourself to His gracious will and say: The Lord is my light, whom shall I fear?  My Father in heaven, thy will be done.  Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.  Amen.


The long forgotten translator is this guy–August Crull.  Now we see at least one precedent for Pres. Harrison’s giantic mustache within confessional Lutheranism:

The Liturgical Gag Reflex: It may not be good manners, but it’s better than swallowing poison

February 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The quote from C.F.W. Walther below got me thinking…

Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

Pastoral experience teaches (me anyway) that people HATE changes in ceremonies as a general rule.  Imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is not a historically Lutheran practice; however, it’s been done at my congregation for around 15, 20 years–maybe longer.  Some of the same people who are skittish about ceremonial that strikes them as “catholic” have no problem with getting ashes smeared on their foreheads.  But overall, I really think their skittishness is a good thing.

Is there a certain narrow-mindedness involved in rejecting a church based on its ceremonies?  Sure.  But it’s not just laypeople that feel this way.  I feel this way too.  When I see an LCMS congregation where the pastor imitates non denominational church ceremonies, I immediately am suspicious.  When on the other hand an LCMS congregation reserves the body and blood in a tabernacle and genuflects or otherwise adores it outside of the celebration of the Sacrament, I also am suspicious.  Or when they start doing Taize.

Is it narrowminded?  Somewhat.  But the reality is most laypeople, and most pastors, for that matter, are not equipped for nuanced theological analysis of what is really being taught at that congregation, nor does anyone have time for it.  Walther noted that a lot of Germans in America managed to avoid the German Methodists and Reformed, even though they didn’t know much theology, because these other churches broke the bread at communion instead of using hosts.

Obviously, you are not automatically a Baptist if you use bread with yeast at Holy Communion, and you’re not automatically a Papist because you think it is appropriate to reserve the body of Christ to take to the sick.  BUT:

do you want to be recognizable as a Lutheran Church to people who want to be Lutherans?  Then you need to consider that when everything you do looks like a non-denominational church, you might offend those who want to be Lutheran and they may have a hard time trusting you.

At the same time, those who want to return to the liturgical richness of an earlier period in Lutheranism should recognize that those folks who understand themselves as “Lutheran” and want to be “Lutheran” are often unaware that making the sign of the cross, incense, etc. is “Lutheran.”  Even if we succeed in teaching these things in our own congregations, shouldn’t we be concerned about the guy from North Dakota who is so freaked out by an LCMS pastor swinging a censer that he leaves and joins an ELCA congregation that conducts a “Lutheran” liturgy–at least one he recognizes as Lutheran?

If people in the US are ever going to become familiar with the Lutheran church, in addition to teaching clearly, it would be beneficial if we had a distinctly Lutheran rite and ceremonial, so that we neither look like we’re aping the nondenom churches nor Rome.

I vote for the historic lectionary and the common service, DS II, and the German Mass.  I think it would be really good too if we were distinguished by singing hymns, which is essentially dying out elsewhere.

By the way, this reminds me: the Northern Illinois District convention is coming up.  At nearly every LCMS convention there’s always some resolution talking about how great it is that we’re all orthodox and we all agree on doctrine so much that we’re the envy of every denomination in the US.  This makes me want to puke, but there’s nothing you can do about it, since they always pass.  Then there’s nearly always a resolution about how “we should trust each other.”

Now because we think that righteousness is pretty much always synonymous with niceness, pretty much everyone agrees that we should “trust one another.”  But much like the resolution that says we all agree on doctrine, resolutions calling for us to “trust one another” are godless resolutions posing as pious ones.

I would agree that the LCMS is often polemical, dysfunctional, etc., and that concern with pure doctrine easily can turn into self-righteousness.  But it’s godless to try to silence complaints by saying, “We’re united, we’re united, do not look at the man behind the curtain.”

  Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you seek the glory that comes from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”  (John 5:44)

Which is exactly what we’re doing–patting ourselves on the back while we tolerate all kinds of things that should not be tolerated.  And for the same reason, I am not supposed to simply “trust you.”  I shouldn’t trust you.  I shouldn’t even trust myself!  Jesus said: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good–except God alone (Mark 10:18).”  Scripture says that human beings “are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit…they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent…foolish, faithless…” (Romans 1:29-31)  “No one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 1:10-11, 18).  “All mankind are liars.”  (Psalm 116:11)

So I agree that I should deal with you in love, whoever you are.  But trust you?  I trust you even less for putting this resolution forward!  The fact that so many in the Missouri Synod keep talking about how we should trust one another betrays that many do not believe Article II of the Augsburg Confession about original sin.  Should I love you?  Yes.  Should I assume that another pastor means well until I know for certain that he is unrepentant?  Yes.  Should I then “trust” other pastors so that I do not speak out when their practice contradicts God’s Word?

No.  Instead we should pass a resolution that we stop “trusting” one another so much and learn to tell one another the truth in love.

Below is the rest of the quote from Walther and the link to Weedon’s blog.

“The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.””

“We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.
“Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.
“With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?
“The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.””

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