Monday, June 08, 2015

Sermon on the Service of the Sacrament, for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, "Worship Instruction: Why we do what we do, part 2"

Last week we talked about worship and the reason why we do what we do. We reviewed the order and purpose for the first half or more of the worship service, called the Service of the Word. We talked about the theology of worship, and how worship is like a “W”, not an “M”—because worship begins and ends with God and His gifts that flow down to us, and we return our thanks and praise to Him. Worship is not an “M” because it does not begin or end with, or center around me—but is initiated and sustained by the blessings of God’s gifts. Carrying that same thought into our teaching today, we are going to look at the second part of the worship Service, the Service of the Sacrament. In the Service of the Word God serves us through Jesus’ words, which give eternal life. In the Service of the Sacrament, God serves us through Jesus’ body and blood, given in the Lord’s Supper.
Before we dive fully into discussing the Service of the Sacrament, let’s pause and look at three items you should always recognize in a Lutheran church, and many other Christian churches as well. The pulpit, baptismal font, and altar. They may vary in size, design, or location, but these three objects and their prominence tell a great deal about the beliefs of the people who build the church, and what our theology of worship is. Worship spaces and architecture can communicate a great deal of Christian teaching, even without words. From the pulpit God’s Word is proclaimed, the words of Jesus, which are eternal life. From the baptismal font we receive and celebrate the gift of baptism, in rebirth of water and the Spirit. From the altar we receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. These three items visibly remind us that here among God’s people, He has promised to be present and to serve us through these gifts of Word and Sacrament. They are the means or channels that Jesus has established to grant His gifts to the church. In Word, water, bread and wine, body and blood, Jesus is present serving His people. Pulpit, altar and font draw us to and point us to Jesus.  
So why does the pastor wear what he wears? Let’s be clear that it’s by a tradition, and not by God’s command, and there is no one “right way” in this matter. This is a matter of what can or cannot be usefully taught or represented by it. We believe as Lutherans that traditions that uphold and proclaim the Gospel, and do not hinder or oppose it, can have a positive (though not absolutely necessary) place in the church. Explanations may vary, but what I have been taught and found meaningful for myself and teaching others, is this—the black uniform of the pastor reminds me of my own sinfulness, as a curb to my own pride. The white collar over my throat reminds me of the calling from God to speak the Gospel—the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
The white robe is a reminder of baptism and the righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers all our sins. As Scripture reminds us about forgiveness: Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” And Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Every Christian is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that covers all their sins. And the “stole” that a pastor wears is a reminder that Christ has called us to bear His “light and easy yoke”—and that a pastor is “yoked together” with Christ, to work in the ministry to which Christ called us. We are therefore “under orders” by His gracious rule. The uniform is not necessary or commanded—but is a teaching tool that is intended to draw the focus away from the individual person, and toward the office to which Christ has called me, and the gifts He has called upon us to faithfully steward.
As the pastor stewards these gifts in the Service of the Sacrament, the second part of the worship service revolves around Jesus’ giving of the Lord’s Supper. Prepared beforehand by confessing our sins and receiving absolution, we pause again to share the peace, showing that we harbor no grudges or bitterness or un-forgiveness against anyone, but approach the altar in brotherly love and unity of faith. In the Sanctus, or Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing the threefold song of the angels that circle God’s heavenly throne, as seen in Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6, and also in John’s Revelation of heaven. Together with that heavenly hymn of praise, we sing the earthly cry of “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the words the crowds sung to Jesus on Palm Sunday, as He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem before His death on the cross. Hosanna means “save us now.” In this song we acknowledge again that heaven and earth have met in Jesus Christ, who comes from the Holy Trinity in heaven, and came to earth to suffer and die for our sins, saving us from sin and eternal death.
The Words of Institution are the words that Jesus spoke on the night when He celebrated the Last Supper with His disciples, and established the Lord’s Supper as an ongoing testament and remembrance of Him. He took bread, broke it, and gave thanks, saying “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.” Jesus’ own clear words tell us what this bread is—His body. In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” In Jesus’ own clear words, He tells us the cup is the new testament in His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. We eat and drink His body and blood in a holy mystery that requires our repentance and faith. “New testament” tells us that a whole lot more is going on here than just a nice ritual that reminds us of something. Jesus was signing and would in His death be ratifying His last will and testament for His disciples. He was putting into effect the new covenant that God had long promised, a covenant for the forgiveness of our sins, to remember them no more. The Lord’s Supper delivers forward to us the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us on His cross.
And perfectly timed with that acknowledgement, and as we begin to receive Christ’s gift for ourselves, we praise Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John the Baptist first called Jesus this, when He saw Jesus coming to the waters of baptism. When we come to communion, we bring our burdens and sins, and lay them down at the feet of Jesus, who lifts and carries the heavy burdens of the sins of the world to His cross. Through His forgiveness He grants us peace with God.
As we have been “taken in” during the worship service, brought in to God’s gifts and blessings, so also worship prepares us for our sending—sending out. We pray after the Lord’s Supper, “we give thanks to You, Almighty God, that you have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” Salutary means “wholesome”, “healthful”, or “beneficial”. We have been refreshed and strengthened for good spiritual health in heart and mind, by God’s Word and by the Lord’s Supper, where we are forgiven and strengthened by Jesus’ own body and blood.
And having received this healthy meal, we “implore”—that is we beg or earnestly ask God—“that You of Your mercy would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another, through Jesus Christ Your Son our Lord”. So we are praying that Jesus’ gift we have received would strengthen us in two directions. Vertically in faith or trust toward God. And horizontally in love toward one another. The love of God that has fed and nourished us through His Word and Sacrament, is now strengthening us for our sending out to the world, where we “tell everyone what He has done” and “rejoice and proudly bear His name.” As we have received love from God, we are to love and serve our neighbor in return. We serve them with God’s Word when we tell what He has done for them, and we serve them with actions when we care for their needs, show Christ’s compassion, and live out our Christian calling in the callings God has given us.
Each of you has several specific ways in which you serve your neighbor in the responsibilities you have been given. That is the arena that God has given you to practice the command to love your neighbor as yourself. And when we leave this church, we are sent back out onto the mission field, which surrounds us everywhere! Everywhere that we live, work, and play, is an opportunity to give witness to our Lord and His love. God has called His servants in the church to prepare us for this task. Ephesians 4:11–12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Pastors or “shepherds” equip the saints”. We serve you in worship by the Word of God, so you are equipped to serve others, building up the body of Christ. As members of the body of Christ, your hands, feet, hearts, minds, voices, and talents are the ways in which the body of Christ serves our neighbor in love. As Lutherans, we call this great truth the “priesthood of all believers” or the “royal priesthood”—to use the term from 1 Peter. This would be a topic for a sermon in itself, but in short you as Christians, by virtue of your baptism, are called to serve and pray for your neighbors, and this is a royal calling from God, because you are members and heirs of God’s kingdom!
Worship closes at all our services with the Benediction. Probably the oldest part of the Christian worship service, that has been used since 3,500 years ago, when Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, and brother of Moses, was commanded by God to bless the people of Israel and put God’s Name upon them. These words, from Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” The first thing to notice is the threefold repetition of “The Lord”—which like the threefold “Holy, Holy, Holy”, are both Old Testament hints at the Trinity. God has never changed in His nature as 3 in 1. Only the fullness of how He revealed that to us in time has changed.
That God instructed His people to be blessed in this way is simply marvelous in itself, and shows the character and heart of God. By our sins and stubbornness we have done much to earn God’s wrath and displeasure—to see His face frowning on us because of our sin. The book of Hebrews tells us how earthly fathers (Hebrews 12:10), “disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” If as imperfect parents, we have turned frowns toward our children’s bad behaviors, and attempted to correct them, how much more the perfect, wise discipline of our loving eternal Father. And yet as we have confessed our sins, been cleansed and forgiven by both His Word and His own body and blood—we have been restored through Jesus Christ to full communion or fellowship with God. Only by His removal of our sins, can we now safely have fellowship with God. He has removed the barrier between us, and God’s smile and favor has been restored toward us. Just as a parent’s face softens with love toward the tearful or remorseful child, so also God’s heavenly face shines down lovingly upon us as we hear the benediction. The Son of Man first served us, gave His life as a ransom for us, and adopted us as God’s own children. And the face of God that we see in Christ Jesus is the face of His mercy and grace welcoming us and giving us His peace. What better sending?
And with the closing “Amen” we declare, sing, or exult our “Yes! Yes! It shall be so!” to God’s Word. Amen says “I believe it” and means we have put our confidence in God to do what He has promised, and to answer our prayers according to His will. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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    1. Review: Why is worship a “W”? (Meaning the direction flows from God down to us and returns back to Him)  Who is the first to serve? Mark 10:45; 1 John 4:19. What is our response to Him?
    2. What three items are prominent features in almost all Lutheran churches? What gifts of Christ do they point us to, and how do they illustrate that Christ first serves us in worship? John 6:68; Matthew 28:19-20; 26:26-28
    3. How does the pastor’s uniform remind him of his sin? Of his calling to proclaim Jesus’ forgiveness? How are all Christian’s reminded of the righteousness of Jesus that we are clothed in? Isaiah 1:18; Galatians 3:27. How are pastors to steward Christ’s gifts? Luke 12:42-48; 1 Cor. 4:1-2.
    4. What do the words of the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy” teach us about God and Christ? Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9. When and where were these words originally spoken?
    5. What do we mean by the “Words of Institution”? Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. What does Jesus say the bread and wine are?
    6. What is a “testament?” What is so significant about Jesus establishing a “new” testament? Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 9:15-18.
    7. Why are the gifts we have received in the Lord’s Supper and the rest of service “salutary” or “healthy and wholesome?” How have we been refreshed? What are we prepared and sent out to do? 1 Peter 2:9.
    8. What are your callings or “vocations” in life? In the areas of society, family, or church? What responsibilities are you given, and how is that guided by your Christian faith and what Jesus has done for you?
    9. How are pastors to help Christians carry out these responsibilities? Ephesians 4:11-12.
    10. The closing words of the service are perhaps the oldest in all the service. Numbers 6:24-26. Why did God command this blessing over His people? What does it mean to have God’s discipline? Hebrews 12:10. What does it mean to have God’s favor shine upon us? What does Amen mean?

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