Preparing for Lent

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of the three-week pre-Lent season. The liturgical preparation for Easter takes place through three stages.


Stage One: Gesima Sundays


It begins with the ”Gesima” Sundays. These three Sundays before Ash Wednesday provide an opportunity to study the Grace of God in which graceis explained in three different ways.


Septuagesima: This Sunday is about 70 days before Easter, which is the meaning of the Latin name. The focus of this Sunday – Grace is undeserved. The Collect for this Sunday implores God to graciously hear us, who are justly punished for our sin, so that we may be delivered by God’s goodness. The goodness of God is emphasized in the parable (Matthew 20:1-16) where all the laborers receive the reward because of the goodness of the land owner. So we, too, receive the reward of eternal life because
God is good.


Sexagesima: This Sunday is about 60 days before Easter. The focus of this Sunday – Grace is passively received. In the Collect we pray to the God who sees that we put not our trust in anything we do, but mercifully defends us by His power. In the parable of the sower, the seed of God’s Word is passively received in good and noble hearts.


Quinquagesima: This Sunday is about 50 days before Easter. The focus of this Sunday – Grace is not easily understood. In the Gospel Jesus predicts His passion and the disciples ”understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

The three ”Gesima” Sundays begin the Lenten preparation for Easter. They take on the character of Lent, but mildly. The color remains green, the color of the Epiphany season. No more do we sing the Alleluia. Crosses remain unveiled, and flowers may adorn the chancel. In this pre-Lent season we gradually remove portions of the liturgy as we approach Christ’s passion.

Stage Two: Ash Wednesday through Laetare

The second step of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and ends when the week of Laetare (Fourth Sunday in Lent) is completed. In addition to the liturgical changes that began in the Gesima weeks, flowers no longer adorn the chancel, and the crucifix and crosses are veiled. During these four Sundays the focus is on temptation, faith, and the Christian struggle. The names of the Sundays are drawn from the first word of the Introit.


Invocabit: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness.


Reminiscere: The faith of the Canaanite woman is tested.


Oculi: The people tempt Jesus to show them a sign from heaven.

Laetare: This Sunday has a lighter mood to as we learn how Jesus provides for His people. Traditionally this Sunday uses rose colored paraments, unlike the other Sundays in Lent.

Stage Three: Passiontide

The final stage is Passiontide which begins with Judica Sunday (Passion Sunday or the Fifth Sunday in Lent) and extends through Holy Week and the Triduum or three Holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Now the focus is expressly on our Lord’s passion. The liturgy is spoken on Judica Sunday to emphasize the intense passion which our Lord endured. This intensity builds until we finally arrive at the empty tomb.

Luther’s Admonition to the Sick

Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet, Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague. He offers sage advice which is highly relevant today. Indeed, the first sentence is highly important. Now, his statement, “…those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick…” may indeed be true, but, as a pastor, I hope that I am allowed to minister to all who desire to hear of God’s mercy.

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[How to prepare for death:] First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation….

Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.

Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.

Learning: Is Church Enough?

Years ago, when I was a real person with a first name, I had the pleasure of taking a number of classes from Dr. Donald Pratt, a faculty member at Princeton University. AT&T Bell Laboratories had an education department which contracted with a number of specialists to teach the skills needed in the company.

One of the courses was Techniques of Instruction, where we learned how to best use our class time. Dr. Pratt told us to have a proper ratio of explanation, exercising, and evaluation. He also reinforced the idea that you can teach from any student response, no matter how different it might be from the expected answer.

In explaining new material, you go from the known to the unknown. This is why we are discussing the doctrine of the Church as found in the liturgy. Everyone who has been exposed to the liturgy has some idea what is happening, even if they don’t know the details. “Oh, I remember the pastor facing the altar some times, and facing the congregation some times.” Thus can you teach of the priestly (facing the altar) and prophetic (facing the congregation) aspects of the Office of the Ministry.

To exercise the student’s understanding and growth in learning, we assign certain tasks. “Using your concordance (list of words in the Bible with verse reference) or other reference tools, find parallel passages to Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul says we are saved by grace and not our own works.” Each learner will find various passages, thus reinforcing both the use of the Biblical study tools and the concept of salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ.

As teachers, we evaluate the progress of the learner by asking specific questions. (Question: “What do you think Paul meant when he wrote, ‘For by grace you are saved through faith?'” Answer: “Grace is God’s love which He gives to us although we don’t deserve it. We don’t earn salvation from sin and death, it is a gift. Even the faith which receives God’s love is a gift.”) (Question: “What are the two great teachings in the Bible?” Answer: “Law and Gospel.”) Dr. Pratt suggested we never ask, “Any questions?” If no one can answer the specific questions, the instructor has done a bad job of teaching.

In the Divine Service we have the rote learning of the Ordinary of the Mass, those elements of the liturgy which remain the same week to week. In the Divine Service we hear different readings, sing different hymns, and listen to the sermon. In the Divine Service we receive the blessings of God’s rich grace as we are forgiven, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper for the strengthening of our faith. In the Divine Service we have no opportunity to exercise our knowledge or to evaluate what we know. There is no dialog about the sermon.

Thus, to really learn what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses, we need to attend Bible Class. Yes, take that second hour on Sunday morning, grab a cup of coffee and a cookie or other tasty delight, sit down, and learn. For years, I have had the practice of allowing any question at the beginning of Bible Class. “Pastor, in your sermon you said … what does that mean?” What better way to learn? What better feedback can I have to improve my writing or teaching abilities?

Since the church opened following the shutdown for COVID, we have been studying the Augsburg Confession on Sunday morning. As a congregation we claim to adhere to the understanding of the Bible as presented to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530. It is mentioned in the constitution of this congregation, and is affirmed at the ordination or installation of a pastor. So, what is in it? How does a 500 year old document remain relevant today? What educational rabbit holes can we jump down based on our learning? How does our understanding of the doctrines mentioned in the Augsburg Confession affect us in a practical way?

Wednesday mornings a group gets together to look at current events in the light of the Bible. Again, this is practical theology. What does the “woke” culture mean to Christians? What is the form of persecution of the Church in the United States? (You don’t think we are persecuted? Join us on Wednesday!)

On Tuesday morning we have a study group and the Lord’s Supper at the Sunrise Terrace. If you can’t get to Church, the Church comes to you. Although several of the people in the group are able to attend the Divine Service on Sunday, some cannot. Yet, they take the opportunity to learn, even as they avail themselves of the weekly opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of everlasting life by receiving Christ’s body and blood for their salvation.

Going to church is great, but it isn’t enough if you want to learn. You really need to take the time to dig into the Bible. More importantly, you need to discuss what you have learned, and reinforce that which you have heard.

We offer many opportunities to join a Bible Study group. If one of our existing studies doesn’t meet your schedule, we can start a group which does. In the end, you will have a better understanding of God’s rich grace and mercy, even as you receive the assurance of life everlasting.

Public Prayer Revisited

Why, pray tell, do Christians allow atheists to set our form of worship? Consider the issue of public prayers. There are many reasons that event organizers, politicians, and leaders desire a prayer of blessing for a given event. Sometimes it is actually because they believe that prayer is a means by which we receive blessings from our heavenly Father. Other times it simply adds gravitas to the situation, it makes the event look a bit more formal.

No matter the reason for the prayer, as a pastor, as a chaplain (a pastor who serves in a secular setting), I take this request seriously. The priestly role of the pastor is to offer the prayers and concerns of the people to God on their behalf. This is a solemn duty given to us.

Saint Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-7): First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,  who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 

When we pray in public, we do so in a way which gives glory to God. Our audience is not the gathered throng, but our heavenly Father. Because there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, we pray in such a way that acknowledges our prayers are offered only through Him.

Now, this does not mean that every prayer must say, “In Jesus’ name.” Obviously the Lord’s Prayer does not mention Jesus, but He is the source of that prayer, and we pray to His Father and ours. Luther’s morning and evening prayers do not end this way either, but begin “I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ my Lord…” Clearly, then, our prayers are heard for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Why do we allow the fear of those who reject God to set the form of prayer? Too often we hear, “Oh almighty one… in your precious name we pray,” without knowing the identity of the “almighty one.” Are we praying to the Triune God, are we praying to a tree? I don’t know.

I realize that I am a geek, that I don’t get the subtle nuances of life. If I want to log in to the server which runs this web site, I have to address the server. I simply can’t say, “Oh server, whichever one is out there.” This blog post would never get written.

In a crowded room, or even when at home, we address people by name or title to say, “I am speaking to you.” Shouldn’t we do that to God? Yes, He knows all things, but He shouldn’t have to ask, “Are you talking to me?”

If the atheist is offended by the name of the Lord, so be it. I am praying for him, I am praying for her, in the best way I know, through Jesus Christ. They don’t have to pay attention, they don’t have to listen. And, they don’t have the right to force me to live according to their beliefs, even as I cannot force them to believe in Jesus Christ.

So, pastors and chaplains, please pray in the name of Jesus. Stand up for your beliefs. After all, Jesus said (Matthew 10:32-33): So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,   but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.  I don’t want to give any impression of denying our Lord and Savior.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Conundrum

The dictionary says a conundrum is a confusing or difficult decision. With the vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and all things Covid pandemic, Christians are placed in a difficult situation. Do we comply with the mandates, even if we personally believe they are wrong? Do we defy those in authority?

First off, are the mandates wrong? On September 9 the President issued a mandate that all Federal employees must be vaccinated. Also, most contractors doing business with the Federal government must have their employees vaccinated. There is no alternative way of compliance, such as weekly testing, for those who, for many reasons, do not wish to take the vaccine.

On the surface, this vaccination mandate seems reasonable. If the vaccines work as advertised, and if they are safe, this would help control the pandemic. We will never completely eradicate the disease, but we can better control it. If I care about my neighbor, would I not take efforts to keep him safe?

But, there is another aspect to this debate. The mandate does not allow for people who have health risks to abstain from the vaccine. The mandate does not allow for people who have moral reservations about the manufacture or testing of the vaccine to abstain from the vaccine. The mandate does not allow for people who desire to see the long-term effects of the vaccine to abstain from the vaccine. The mandate does not allow for anyone to consult with their physician concerning this vaccine, to see if it is appropriate.

Christians, according to Saint Paul writing in Romans 13, are to respect and obey authority. This is an application of the Fourth Commandment, and leads to peace in this society. But, when the authorities ask us to do something which goes against our beliefs and conscience, we reply with Peter, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

The authorities asking for employees to be vaccinated are not only from the Federal government, but include school districts, health care companies, airlines, and many other organizations. Do we comply, or can we ask for a religious exemption while the mandates are reviewed for legal and moral implications?

Several weeks ago, at the gathering of the pastors at the Circuit Winkel, we discussed the religious exemption letter. Several pastors noted that the Synod was neutral, for typically guidance would come from a convention or, at least, the CTCR (Commission on Theology and Church Relations). Neither body has had a chance to meet to discuss this issue. Also, Synod is advisory, so members are free to disagree.

Recently, however, I was asked to provide a letter justifying a religious exemption. I chose to accede to the request. After prayerful consideration, and after considering that we must act according to our informed conscience (i.e., a conscience which bases decisions on the Word of God), I provided the following letter.

Please note, this is written as a pastor, but not on behalf of the congregation. We have not met, either as a Board of Elders or as a Church Council, to ratify this as our official, congregational position. We will discuss the letter later this month at our regular meetings. Meanwhile, with deadlines approaching, something needed to be done.

Please feel free to comment to me about this letter.

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[Date]


To Whom it May Concern,


[Name,] who is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Slayton, Minnesota, is seeking a religious exemption from the immunization requirement. The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS) has not issued specific recommendations either for or against receiving the Covid 19 vaccine. However, the LCMS has always upheld the right of individual members who, in accordance with the Word of God, choose to exercise their faith in accordance with theirconscience.


Jesus Christ, as recorded in several places, quoted the Old Testament law: Jesus answered, The most important is, ‘‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.’’ [Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)]

The Lutheran doctrine of vocation recognizes that each person has a unique calling in life, and a unique set of circumstances. For some, serving their neighbor may include abstaining from alcoholic beverages, for others the responsible use of alcohol is permitted. This becomes a matter of conscience. Saint Paul considered this matter of conscience in his letter to the Romans: One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [Romans 14:5-6 (ESV)]


In matters of the vaccine, we adopt the same stand. If a person accepts the risks of the vaccine, then they are free to be immunized. If a person, for several reasons, declines the vaccine, we support this decision.


For what reasons might a person not be vaccinated? First, there is the concern for personal health. The Fifth Commandment says, ‘‘Thou shalt not kill.’’ Certainly this applies to caring for our neighbor, one of the arguments for being vaccinated. But the Commandment also condemns self harm. If one has a history of a negative reaction to various medications, then one needs to abstain from them. To use medications similar to those which have caused physical harm in the past is, in fact, contraindicated by this Commandment. It becomes not only a matter of health, but a matter of obedience to God’s Law.


We believe that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul explained to the congregation in Corinth: Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? Ifanyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. [1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)]


If we firmly believe that a certain substance may harm our body, we are bound by conscience to abstain. In [Name’s] case, I am aware of his/her reluctance to use any medications because of his/her medical history. This is not simply a medical issue, but one of sincere faith.


There is a moral duty to refuse the use of medical products, including certain vaccines, that arecreated or tested using human cell lines derived from abortions. Several of the vaccines which are available do use human fetal cell lines, thus they should not be considered by anyone who believes that murdering the unborn is wrong.


As [Name’s] pastor, I fully support his/her decision concerning this vaccine based on discussions of his/her faith, moral reasoning, and matters of conscience. To quote Martin Luther, ‘‘…to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.’’


Please feel free to contact me if you have additional questions.


Respectfully yours,
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey B. Williams
Pastor

Sunday Evening

We fall into interesting and delightful habits. For the last eighteen months or so, I have spent Sunday evening unwinding, relaxing from the stress of preaching and teaching by spending some time alone. One of my seminary professors suggested the obligatory Sunday afternoon pastor nap is a response to the “post-partum” depression of spending a week preparing a sermon, only to see it put into the archives.

What do I do on Sunday evening to relax? I write. Each weekday, around 8:30 in the morning, you can hear the Moments of Meditation on KJOE radio, Slayton, Minnesota, 106.1 on your FM dial. For several hours each Sunday evening I look at the best way to proclaim salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ in 90 to 120 seconds. That is both a difficult challenge, and a lot of fun.

Of course, there are other projects on Sunday evening. In 2017 I wrote a series of sermons tying the Introit to the Gospel lesson. This was supposed to be a way to proclaim the Gospel during Lent, but the exercise and study was so interesting that I completed the whole year. Now I am collecting these sermons into a book for others to enjoy.

Of course, the KJOE morning spots are also collected into a book. You can find it at either https://lulu.com or https://amazon.com. This year’s radio devotions will be available in late January or early February next year.

I’m also pondering an approach to adult confirmation based on the liturgy of the church. Because the liturgy is drawn from the Bible, it is a great starting place. Also, we learn by going from the known to the unknown. Therefore, if we start with that which is familiar, the liturgy of the Divine Service, we can draw in the Bible and the Catechism. This is not an original idea. One of my seminary professors, the late Dr. Donald Deffner, wrote several books using this approach.

You would think that this time alone, the writing and recording, the study, would be tiring after a morning of preaching and teaching. Yet it is invigorating, especially as I can find other ways to proclaim the goodness of our Lord and Savior.

May our Lord continue to bless you.

Bumper Sticker Theology

We live in a world where sound bites and quick visual images replace in-depth discussion. Slogans and bumper stickers replace learned discourse. Indeed, bumper stickers may make us feel like we are making a difference, but, in fact, they do little to change the world.

Recently I saw a bumper sticker, “Science is Real.” Interesting. At first glance, this sounds plausible. But what is the sticker actually saying? Why would someone desecrate the paint on their vehicle to display such a message? Who claims that science is not real, but a fiction?

My initial guess, either this is about evolution or climate change. Of course, it could be about Covid vaccinations or mask wearing. All of these are controversial topics in which both sides of the argument quote scientific journals and principles.

What is science, anyway? Is it a statement of absolute truth, or is it a model which fits the observed data? Does science cause action, or is science merely an observation which can be used to predict future events?

“Science is Real” suggests the driver believes that science causes events. “Science is Real” suggests that scientists believe that their hypotheses are proven with absolute certainty. “Science is Real” suggests that the person who placed the bumper sticker does not understand science.

One of the hardest concepts to grasp, so it seems, while studying research for a doctorate, you can never prove anything true. You can only disprove a hypotheses. There is no way to account for every possible data point. You suggest a model, an idea that reflects reality, and then look for those cases which disprove the model. If you can’t find cases to disprove the model, if you can’t find data that doesn’t fit the model, then you use the model to predict future events.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the French scientist, Pierre-Simon marquis de Laplace, developed a model which explained how the universe was formed. When he described the model to Napoleon, the emperor asked, “But where is the Creator in this model?” Laplace replied, “I had no need for that hypothesis.”

For modern man, the science is real. There is no need for God as the creator of heaven and earth. For almost a century, the Laplace model of the formation of the solar system was the accepted explanation. The Laplace model suggested an eternal universe without a beginning. Unfortunately, in 1964 Arlo Penzias, a researcher at Bell Labortories who was working on microwaves, discovered a background radiation which suggested the universe had a beginning. Yes, the work of Penzias suggests a “big bang,” an event which started the universe.

Now “real science” is seeking an answer to the question, “What caused the beginning of the universe?” Unfortunately for those who relied on the Laplace theory, it looks like the Bible may be correct. The simplest explanation is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Of more interest, the scientific theories now reinforce the idea that God can transcend our space and time. There is more to the universe, more dimensions, than meets the eyes.

Let’s not let the “Science is Real” bumper sticker cause us to reject God, as did Laplace. Rather, let the “Science is Real” bumper sticker urge us to discover the laws of nature, the principles by which our Lord continues to allow this world to run with predictability. Let the “heavens declare the glory of God” as we use real science to better understand His immense power and majesty.

Keep your eyes open for more “bumper sticker theology.”

The Doctrine in the Liturgy

The late Dr. Donald Deffner, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, once suggested teaching an adult information class using the liturgy of the Divine Service. This makes a lot of sense. Prosper of Aquitaine, who died around 450 A.D., suggested that the way we worship informs what we believe. The words, in Latin, Lex orandi, lex credendi or “the words of worship are the words of the creed.”

Is this a true statement? Can we learn the six chief parts of the Small Catechism by studying the Divine Service? What are these chief parts which we will study? First are the Ten Commandments. Yes, in the Lutheran tradition the first action of the congregation is our confession of sins. Second, the Apostles’ Creed. This is easy, for the Divine Service begins “In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit,” the baptismal formula found in Matthew 28:19-20. The Apostles’ Creed was written to explain that verse, to confess the God which calls us to faith. The Lord’s Prayer, the third chief part, plays a prominent role in the Divine Service.

What about baptism? As noted, any time we hear the invocation, the words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we are brought back to baptism. The office of the keys and confession? Absolutely, we find that before the Introit. The office of the keys also speaks of the office of the ministry, something that we see throughout the Divine Service.

Finally, we come to the sixth chief part, the Lord’s Supper. Half of the liturgy of the Divine Service is devoted to the Sacrament of the Altar which Jesus gave His church on the night He was betrayed.

Our approach to the forthcoming Adult Information Class, which begins on September 15, will be to look at the liturgy, see where it comes from the Bible and agrees with the Bible, and then look at that topic in Luther’s Small Catechism. In this way we will become familiar with the service we use every other week, plus the Bible and our Lutheran confessions.

I am excited about this approach to the class. Please join us.

Learning Old Things

During the eighteen months since I was installed at Trinity, we have been studying the possibility of offering the Lord’s Supper each Sunday. This ancient practice of the Church dates back to Pentecost, as seen in Acts 2:42. Doctor Ken Wieting, in his book The Blessings of Weekly Communion, goes into much greater detail than I can do in a simple blog post.

The question has been asked, “Have we been wrong in our teaching and understanding of the Lord’s Supper?” Consider, fifty years ago people communed an average of four times a year, and congregations might have offered the Lord’s Supper less than twenty times a year. Although both the Biblical and confessional writings have not changed, the church practice has changed over the years.

Some of the changes were positive, such as Luther involving the people in the liturgy rather than being spectators. Some of the changes were negative, where human logic replaced the Word of God. In the same way that medicine and education look for the best outcome for all concerned, the Church desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

How the Church approaches this goal has changed. The problems addressed by the Church have changed, which also affects how the truth is taught. During the 1970s, for example, the Missouri Synod was more concerned about the Bible being the Word of God rather than simply containing the Word of God. This fundamental question about the Bible meant that there was less time for the study of the Lutheran Confessions.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as the Missouri Synod recovered from the seminary walkout of 1974, pastors began to spend more time looking at the question, “what does it mean to be Lutheran rather than simply Protestant?” Interest in the confessions grew, as did the study of the liturgy and worship practice.

Because of the growing interest in our confessions and practice, we rediscovered the understanding of worship. What happens on Sunday morning is not our gathering to give praise and service to God, but that God invites us into His presence to receive the fullness of His blessings.

Where the Word of God is proclaimed in its purity, where the Gospel of reconciliation is given to sinners, people will be saved. They were saved by God’s rich grace and favor when the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once a quarter. The are saved by God’s rich grace and favor when the body and blood, under the bread and wine, are offered weekly.

The question we must ask, which practice (infrequent offering of the Lord’s Supper, versus weekly offering of the Lord’s Supper) provides the greatest blessing and comfort for the redeemed sinner? Let’s not denigrate that which happened in the past based on our enlightened and exalted position of knowledge. Let’s not tear down the statues of the past simply because they don’t agree with our understanding of the present. Let’s move forward, thankful that our Lord has always worked through Word and Sacrament to bring the benefits of Jesus death and resurrection to this sin-sickened world.

May the generations which follow us look back and say that we were correct in our desire to frequently offer the Lord’s Supper, even as we continued to teach the law and Gospel in our sermons, visit the shut-ins, and proclaim salvation by grace through faith for the sake of Christ.

Whose Work is It?

Our church sign, below the new bell tower, advertises the “Sunday Service” at 9:00 am. Should it say “Worship Service”? Should it say “Divine Service”? What is happening as we meet on Sunday morning. Who is serving who?

There are two ways of looking at our gathering together. Normally the definition is that of a “worship service,” a time where we gather together to say “Yea God!” The Book of Worship for U.S. Forces, the military hymnal published in 1974, says: “Through the ages the people of God have related to their Creator through the medium of worship and song. Books of Worship record some of man’s noblest expressions of his continuing search for understanding and meaning. Their pages flow in endless streams of song and Scripture, prayer and praise. They speak of the believer’s faith in the daily renewal of life and love between creature and Creator.

Thus, to worship is to seek God, to ask for His favor because of our praise and thanksgiving. Worship is our work.

But what if Martin Luther was correct when he wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”? Would we choose to go to church in order to praise a probably absent God? Oh, sure, God is everywhere, but omnipresence seems so much like an observer rather than a participant.

Consider the Lutheran doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. At the Words of Institution, the congregation says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” They are joining with John the baptist as he pointed to Jesus, “Hey, look, there is the One who is our salvation.” The Agnus Dei is a confession that Jesus is truly present, in an active sense, as we are gathered around the altar. What do you think, is the Word of God made flesh present in the readings from the Bible, in the sermon, and in the hymns?

Now we believe, teach, and confess that, as Saint Paul asserts, faith comes by hearing. The Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith through the proclaimed Gospel as well as the “visible Word” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each time you hear, “Your sins are forgiven,” Christ Jesus is truly present.

That view of our gathering says that we come into God’s holy presence at His invitation. The invocation, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is not a magic incantation to conjure up God, to invite Him into our presence. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that we are gathered at His invitation, at His call, in the faith which He has given through Word and Sacrament.

Dr. Kenneth Weiting, The Blessings of Weekly Communion (CPH, 2006), wrote: “…the true presence of the living Christ in the Divine Service is also understood. This presence is not simply His omnipresence — His presence everywhere — but His saving presence, His presence in the concrete means by which He has promised to give us forgiveness and life. This is not Jesus in the air, whom we must try to contact through spiritual achievement. This is not Jesus in our hearts, whom we control with our feelings. This is Jesus who comes to us from the outside in specific, humble ways He has chosen to make our hearts new.”

With this understanding of our gathering together, we use the term “Divine Service” to confess that God serves us with the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting for the sake of the bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We are privileged to be in His presence and He calls us so that He gives to us the fullness of His rich gifts of grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, life, and peace.

We are, as a congregation, considering the question of offering the Lord’s Supper on each Sunday. We are discussing this in light of the theology of worship, the spiritual benefits of the Lord’s Supper, and love for our neighbor who may need the assurance of God’s grace given by Jesus Christ.

Please pray for this congregation as we seek to serve our Savior by allowing Him to serve us.