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“Living the Liturgy: Sermon”
2 Timothy 4:1-2


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service IV—March 30, 2011

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

For our Lent services this year we are having a series of meditations on the various portions of the traditional Liturgy of Christian worship.  So far we have looked at the Invocation, Confession of Sins and Absolution, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Salutation and Collect of the Day, and the Scripture Readings.  This evening we continue with the Sermon, Creed, and Prayers.

The beginning of Christian preaching is recorded already in the Old Testament, on the very first pages of the Bible, at the end of the fourth chapter of Genesis: “At that time men began to preach in the name of the Lord.”  Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness.”  Jonah is a famous reluctant preacher.  Perhaps the best Old Testament example is Ezra and his associates: “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” All these Old Testament preachers were in fact Christian preachers, because they pointed forward to the coming Christ, proclaiming that one day God would fulfill his promise and send the Messiah, the Savior into our world.

The fulfillment of that promise, the coming of Jesus Christ, was announced by another preacher, John the Baptist.  He straddled two eras as the last preacher of the Old Testament and the first preacher of the New Testament.  In the New Testament the focus shifts from proclaiming that the Messiah will come to proclaiming that the Messiah has come.

The #1 preacher in the New Testament is, of course, Jesus Christ himself.  If you have a Bible with the words of Christ in red, you can see that the Gospels record several of his sermons extensively, the most famous being the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, which is depicted in our stained-glass window.

The Lord commands that preaching in his name continue among his followers and remain an essential part of Christian worship.  Paul tells Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching”; “I give you this charge: Preach the word.”

Jesus himself tells us what the content of Christian preaching is to be: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in [my] name to all nations.”  That is the two-part content of Christian preaching: The Law and the Gospel; the bad news of your sin and the Good News of your Savior; repentance and forgiveness of sins.

First comes the Law, the bad news that you are a sinner, that you are not okay, that you are not right with God, but deserving of God’s anger and wrath and punishment.  As Paul says in Romans: “For the wages of sin is death;”

But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That is the Gospel, the Good News that God forgives all your sins on account of Jesus Christ.  The Good News that God gives you the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ your Lord.

The most important thing to recognize about Christian preaching is that this message of Law and Gospel is not just meant for everyone else.  A minister has failed if his hearers leave the sermon thinking, “He really told them today.”  Because Christian preaching is not just for “them,” it’s for you: A personal message from your God to you to “repent and believe the Gospel.”

Amen.

“Living the Liturgy: Creeds”
1 Timothy
6:12-14


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service IV—March 30, 2011

We tend to have the romantic notion that the early Church in the first few centuries of Christianity must have been “pure,” with no denominations, divisions, or disagreements over doctrine.  But nothing could be further from the truth!  The phrase from the hymn, “By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,” is an apt description of Christianity during the centuries the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds were developed.  These Creeds were summary statements of Scriptural truth around which orthodox Christians rallied in defense of the true faith.

We call these the “universal” or “ecumenical” Christian Creeds because they have been accepted over the centuries by Christians of many denominations, including the Lutheran Church, as correct statements of Christian doctrine.  In my office I have quite a collection of hymnals from all sorts of denominations, and in all of them you will find the Christian Creeds.

Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” and Jesus promises, “Whoever acknowledging me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”  That’s what we’re doing in the Creeds, giving the reason for the hope that we have and acknowledging before men our faith in Jesus as our Savior.

Paul probably tells us what the first Christian creed was when he says in Romans: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  The first, simplest Christian creed was probably just those three words “Jesus is Lord,” and out of that grew the Creeds that we have today.

The Apostles’ Creed dates from about 250 A.D.  We don’t know who wrote it. It’s called the Apostles’ Creed because it’s the oldest, the closest to the time of the Apostles, although it probably was not written by the Apostles themselves.  The Apostles’ Creed is generally used at Baptisms, and it is also called the Baptismal creed because in ancient times memorizing and reciting this creed was one the requirements for adults to be baptized.

In 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council, a conference of church leaders, to settle controversies about the deity of Christ because some heretics denied that he is truly God.  This conference was held in the city of Nicea, located in modern Turkey, and so the statement of faith that resulted from it is called the “Nicene Creed.”  It is similar to the Apostles’ Creed, but with the Second Article expanded to stress the true divinity of Christ: “God of God, light of Light, Very God of Very God.”

The longest, last and least familiar Creed is the Athanasian Creed.  Like the Apostles’ Creed we don’t know who wrote it, and like the Nicene Creed it was written in response to heretics who denied the deity of Christ.  It’s named in honor of Athanasius, a 4th century bishop who was a leading defender of the true Christian faith.  There is a strong emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity in the Athanasian Creed and it is traditionally used on Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Some churches feature personal testimonies from their worshippers, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But, my personal testimony, my personal faith experience, as inspiring as it might be, can never become your testimony, your confession.  Reciting the creeds together is like a group testimony of what God has done—not just for one of us but for all of us.  And because these same Creeds are confessed by Christians of many denominations, using these creeds in our worship is actually a group testimony with fellow our brothers and sisters Christ.  In the Creeds we are doing as Psalm 105 says, “Thank the Lord and sing his praise, tell everyone what he has done.”

Amen.

“Living the Liturgy: Prayers”
Ephesians 6:18


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service IV—March 30, 2011

Of course, prayer is an essential aspect of the individual Christian’s walk with God.  Jesus himself sets the example: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed”; “He often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”; “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”   And we are told that in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, “He fell with his face to the ground and prayed.”

In addition to personal, private prayer, it is also an ancient custom for Christians to join together in prayer, as Acts reports of the first Christians: “They all joined together constantly in prayer”; “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” and prayer is such an essential, defining aspect of Christian worship that Acts describes where Christians gather for worship simply as a “place of prayer.”

The general prayer of Christian worship traditionally includes prayers relating to the Church—for fellow Christians, for ministers, and for missions—as Paul says, “Keep on praying for all the saints.”  There are also prayers relating to the world—for governmental leaders and for peace—as Paul says, “I urge, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

And there are prayers for particular concerns of the congregation and its members, such as sicknesses.  As Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”  An ancient form of the general prayer is for the minister to offer these various elements as separate petitions, after each of which minister says, “Lord, in your mercy,” and the congregation responds, “Hear our prayer.”

First John says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Jesus speaks of the power of Christians praying together, presupposing, of course, that our prayers are “according to his will”: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them.”

Amen.

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