Monday, June 01, 2015

Sermon for Trinity Sunday, "Worship Instruction: Why we do what we do, Part 1"

The Lord be with you! Today I wanted to do a special teaching sermon, where we will learn some of the reasons for why we do what we do in worship, and to explain the meaning behind some of the symbols and actions that we often take for granted. I pray that this will help make your weekly worship more meaningful, as we draw near to worship our Triune God and receive His gifts!
            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let’s start with a brief introduction to the theology of worship. Worship could be understood in at least one of two ways—one way is that worship is an activity we do for God, and goes from us up to God, and His blessings return down to us, like a capital “M”. The second way is to see worship as first and foremost what God does for us. His gifts and blessings come down to us, and our praises return up to Him, like a capital “W”. The difference is a question of who starts or initiates all this. Are we responding to what God has done, or is God responding to what we do? Who’s got the “first serve?”
One Lutheran pastor has stated that worship is a “W”, not an “M.” Everything starts with God and ends with God. Our Lutheran understanding of worship is summed up in the title we give for worship: “Divine Service.” We come to worship not primarily so that we can bring something to God, but primarily to receive what He gives to us. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Since Christian worship is centered on God in Christ Jesus, and since Jesus brings us the gifts of salvation, the title “Divine Service” is doubly appropriate. And with Jesus as the center of our worship, all of our response is praise and thanksgiving that resounds back to Him.
Our worship service, whether contemporary or traditional, has two key parts—the Service of the Word, and the Service of the Sacrament. The Service of the Word is everything from the Invocation, or calling on God’s Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the Sermon and the Creed. The Service of the Word centers around the reading of the Bible and the teaching of it in the sermon. The Service of the Sacrament is the remaining half of the service, and centers around our receiving of the Lord’s Supper. Today we’ll focus on the Word.
To “invoke” means to call upon, and in the opening “invocation”, we call upon God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be present with us in worship as Jesus promised, Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” and Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is also a reminder of Holy Baptism, as we were marked with God’s Name, and as we return to baptism through confession and absolution. We obey the Scripture when we confess our sins before God, and receive His forgiveness. Confession moves us to acknowledge all the sin that we have committed, known and unknown to us, sins of thought, word, and deed, and sins we have done and the good we have left undone. This moves us toward a true awareness of our neediness before God.
            God is faithful and just, as the Scriptures teach, when He forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The burdens of our sins are lifted and carried by Jesus Christ to His cross. The pastor stands here forgiving sins, not by his own authority, but as Christ authorized His disciples when He said in John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” To “absolve” is to speak Christ’s message of forgiveness as He has commissioned His disciples to forgive those who repent of their sins. For those who refuse to repent, their forgiveness is withheld by the same command of Christ. In this way, a pastor acts as an ambassador for Christ—meaning that he has no separate authority to act apart from the explicit instructions of Jesus. Just as an ambassador of a nation can only act with his king, queen, prime minister, or president’s authorization. But when you hear and believe the word of the ambassador, you are in reality hearing and believing what God Himself has instructed to be spoken. We are messengers, not the Author of the message!
Recently we’ve begun using the Introit, which means “entrance”, and used to mark the transition as pastor or priest moved to the front of the sanctuary to lead the Service. The words of the Introit usually come from the psalms. The Psalms are the original prayer or song book of the Bible, and have been used in worship for over 3,000 years. The “antiphon” is a theme verse that begins and ends the Introit, and sums up the meaning. The Introit, along with the other items printed on your bulletin insert for this particular Sunday—the gradual, the collect or prayer of the day, and the three readings—they are all called the “Propers”—because there are readings that are properly assigned for each Sunday of the Church year. The parts of the worship service that stay the same each week are called the “Ordinaries”. The ordinaries sing into our heart the familiar words of Scripture.
In our sung liturgy today, we sing the Kyrie eleison, which means “Lord, have mercy.” Kyrie eleison was the common cry of beggars asking for alms or money, in Jesus’ times. It was like saying, “Sir, can you help me?” In worship, this reminds us that we sing the song of the beggars, when we recognize we come before God totally helpless and empty, like beggars invited to a feast, and that we depend entirely on the mercy and generosity of Jesus, our host. In the Kyrie we look to God’s giving hands, and like those who begged for healing from Jesus, we cry, “Lord, have mercy!” And the very next song we sing, the Gloria, is the song of the angels, on the night when they proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!”  Jesus came down to earth, as God’s greatest gift to mankind, and brought with Him peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. When Jesus came down to earth, the heavenly chorus of angels joins and meets our earthly songs, the songs of beggars, as we become recipients of God’s heavenly gifts. God has come low to bring us salvation. And has lifted us up to be seated at His table with Christ Jesus.
Each Sunday we have three readings, usually one from the Old Testament, an Epistle or Letter, from the New Testament, and the Gospel reading, which is the centerpiece. They usually follow a common theme, or relate an Old Testament prophecy to New Testament fulfillment, or are linked by a connection to the day in the church year. The schedule or calendar of readings we follow is called a “lectionary.” The three-year lectionary we follow has an A cycle that mostly focuses on readings from the Gospel of Matthew; the B cycle, we are in this year, which is mostly from Mark and John; and the C cycle, which is mostly from the Gospel of Luke. In three years of reading, we cover most of the four Gospels, most of the New Testament letters, and many key passages from the Old Testament. Since the Old Testament makes up about 80 % of the Bible, obviously there is a lot more to read to fill in your study of the Bible, but the lectionary keeps us moving in yearly cycles centered around the life of Jesus. It helps bring before us the “whole counsel of God” by routinely taking us through a host of different Bible passages, rather than limiting us to the pet interests of your pastor. It challenges me to bring forth treasures from God’s Word, rather than selecting the passages that are easiest or most interesting to me.
Together with the sermon, the three readings are the climax of the Service of the Word. As we sing in the Alleluia verse: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! Alleluia!” The readings bring us Jesus’ living Word. The sermon is where we are taught and instructed in what God’s Word means, and Jesus gifts are delivered to us. In the sermon you can expect to hear the word of Law that speaks to our sin, convicting and calling us to repentance. You can also expect to hear the word of Gospel, the Good News of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Those themes are constant through Scripture, but the particular shape of each Law and Gospel sermon comes from the readings. If I have done my job well, the goal is always to “preach Christ and Him crucified”, as the apostle Paul said, and to help you “see Jesus” through all the Scriptures that testify of Him. He has the words of eternal life!
Today is unusual for the creed, as we use the much longer Athanasian Creed. There are three Creeds that are the broad inheritance of the Christian church, and that date to the first 3-5 centuries of Christianity. They are the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creed. “Creed” simply means “I believe”. In the Creed we confess to God and one another what God’s Word has declared to be true. The Creeds are both a positive statement of what we confess the Bible teaches, as well as a guard against various false teachings that continually attempt to enter the church. They point out the boundary line between what the Bible shows is true and false about God and salvation in Christ Jesus. By weekly repetition, you memorize a summary of what we believe, teach, and confess, which is also a useful basis for sharing what you believe about God.
The Service of the Word has two more elements—the first being the prayers of the church, where we follow the words of St. Paul:, 1 Timothy 2:1–4  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Our prayer is for the whole people of God, and for all people according to their needs. We pray for our leaders and government, that they be guided to lead us into peace and justice. We pray for the saving knowledge of God in Christ Jesus to be known to all people, as this is God’s expressed desire.
The closing elements of the Service of the Word are the Offering and Offertory. Here we offer back to God what He has first given us—a portion of the money and gifts that He has first blessed or first served us with. We raise those offerings to Him in thanksgiving and song, acknowledging Him to be the Giver of all good gifts. What have we to return to Him but continual thanksgiving and praise for all He has done for us. And so we continue the “W” movement of worship, as God’s gifts have come down to us in varied ways, we return to God our thanks and praise, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Is worship an “M” or a “W”? (Meaning, does it start from us and move up to God and back down again, or does worship flow from God to us and returning back to Him?)  Who is the first to serve? Mark 10:45; 1 John 4:19. What is our response to Him?
  2. What are the two main parts of the Divine Service? What does the Invocation mean, and why do we do it? Matthew 18:20; 28:19-20. Why do we confess our sins at the start of service? 1 John 1:8-10. How did Christ authorize the church to continue His ministry of forgiveness? John 20:23. How are pastors (and all Christians!) like ambassadors for Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
  3. What is the “job” of the antiphon verse, in the Introit? What do we call the parts of the service that change every week, like the readings and prayers? What do we call the parts that stay the same?
  4. Kyrie Eleison means “Lord have mercy.” How was this the cry of the beggars in Jesus’ time? Mark 10:46-52. What reality does the Kyrie teach us in the worship service? Who and what do we depend on? Why is the Gloria the song of the angels? Luke 2:13-14. What message did they bring, and what does it teach by following the “song of beggars?”
  5. Where does the Alleluia verse come from, and what does it teach us about hearing Jesus’ Word? John 6:66-69. What is the pastor’s job in teaching? 1 Corinthians 2:1-2; John 12:21.
  6. Creed is from the Latin credo or “I believe.” Why do we publicly confess our faith? Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:9-10.
  7. How does the Bible instruct the church as a body, in their corporate prayers? 1 Timothy 2:1-10. Why do we exchange the peace after prayers? Matthew 5:22-24; Ephesians 4:1-3
  8. What do we return back to God in our Offering and the Offertory?

From the anticipation of His birth in Advent and Christmas, to His revelatory miracles in Epiphany, His suffering and death in Lent, and the celebration of His resurrection in Easter season. Pentecost Sunday last week, and Trinity Sunday today, move us into the non-festival part of the church year, which focuses more extensively on Jesus’ parables, miracles, teaching, healing, and other themes. Each church year returns to its close by again anticipating and looking for the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead.

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