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“Living the Liturgy: Invocation”
Matthew 28:19-20


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Ash Wednesday—March 9, 2011

For our Lent services this year we are having a series of meditations on the various portions of the traditional Liturgy of Christian worship.  The Liturgy, which we generally follow in our Sunday services, is used in some form not only in the Lutheran Church but by Christians of almost every denomination, around the world and across the centuries going back almost 2,000 years.

“Liturgy” comes from the Greek word “leitourgia.”  We call our way of worship “Liturgy” because that is the word the Bible itself uses to describe Christian worship, in the Book of Acts.

We begin our meditations this evening with the “Invocation” and the “Confession of Sins and Absolution.”

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Those words have been proclaimed today at the beginning of Ash Wednesday services in millions of Christian churches around the world.  And this Invocation of the Triune God has been spoken countless billions, even trillions of times by faithful Christians since Jesus Christ said to his Church: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Invocation at the beginning of Christian worship services is first of all a reminder of that Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. . .  You must be born again.”  That is what happens in Holy Baptism, which St. Paul describes as, “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  In your Baptism you were “born again” spiritually as a child of God, adopted by God into his family of faith. 

So, the Invocation at the beginning of our services is a reminder of who we are by virtue of our Baptism, an affirmation that this is really a family gathering, for through Holy Baptism we are united together into what St. Paul calls “the family of believers.”

The Invocation has also been called the shortest creed.  It comes at the very beginning of our services as a proclamation that this is distinctly Christian worship, that we are gathering together to pray, praise and give thanks to the only true God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Finally, the Invocation is a prayer for the Lord’s divine presence and blessing as we worship.  As Jesus promised, “For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them.”

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” . . . 

The Invocation is reminder and affirmation that we have been born again as God’s children through Holy Baptism in the name of the Triune God.  It is a short creed, proclaiming that this is Christian worship of the Holy Trinity.  And it is a prayer for the Lord’s presence and blessing.

. . . “Amen.”

“Living the Liturgy: Confession of Sins and Absolution”
 John 20:22-23


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Ash Wednesday—March 9, 2011

Most newspapers have a movie reviewer and a restaurant reviewer.  The “Cleveland Plain Dealer” is the only newspaper in the country to have a church reviewer.  He visits a different church each week and then writes a review about his worship experience there.

Some years ago, the “Plain Dealer’s” church reviewer visited a congregation of our church-body, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, in a Cleveland suburb.  He gave it a four-star, thumbs-up rating.  He said the thing that he really appreciated most was at the opening of the service, the straightforward, matter-of-fact “Confession of Sins and Absolution.”  He was especially struck by the reality and frankness of the words: “I, a poor, miserable sinner.”

The “Confession of Sins and Absolution” sets the tone for the rest of the service.  It tells us what this service is going to be about.  It tells us why we are gathered here together. 

We are not here to be entertained by a flashy show.  We are not here for a self-help lecture.  We are not here for a massive group therapy session with the preacher playing psychologist.

We gather in this house of God because we have a spiritual sickness and we are seeking the cure from the great Physician of souls.  We gather in this house of God because here we find something we can’t get from the flashy world of entertainment.  Here we find something we can’t get from self-help gurus.  Here we find something we can’t get even from psychology.  St. Paul describes it as, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”

The “Confession of Sins” says that we are here because we are poor, miserable sinners seeking that peace of God, which comes only from God’s gift of forgiveness, salvation, eternal life.  “We poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God answers our “Confession of Sins” with the comforting, Good News of “Absolution”:  “[I] announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Does the minister really have such power, to actually forgive sins in Jesus’ name?  When Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he told them, “’Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them.’”  Yes, Jesus sends his Church out into the world as ambassadors with the power to actually forgive sins in his name.  Not only ministers, but every Christian, including you, has this power of “Absolution.”

So, it is not just pretend or symbolic when Christ’s ministers proclaim, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.”  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, “[It] is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself. . .  we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

“ I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You . . .”  That tells us what this service is going to be about, why we are gathered here together.  Not for flashy entertainment, or a self-help lecture, or playing psychology, but to receive “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.”  “[I] announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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