Here’s to the Liturgy – A Rally Day with the Lopped Off Head of John the Baptist, by Pr. Rossow

Today at Bethany Lutheran – Naperville, Illinois (pardon the construction work as we transition to a new website) we are rallying the children and adults back to Sunday School and Bible Class and celebrating with our annual church and school picnic. We have all of the standard Rally Day fare including Bibles and hymnals being given away to children, a new adult Bible class, a visit from a fire truck at the picnic, hot dogs, hamburgers and of course the decapitation of John the Baptist.

The last item is not exactly standard fare but since August 29th is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist our propers for day are drawn from it as our church picnic becomes the Feast of St. John. This is actually a better combination than one might think. Let me use this occasion to extol the liturgy, one of the BJS goals, and the vehicle that brought us these strange bedfellows.

First, the liturgy is flexible and provides a great deal of variety. I remember back in the 70’s and 80’s when everyone was clamoring for contemporary worship because the liturgy was so boring. That is just not true. The liturgy is incredibly rich and varied. Our congregation has come to appreciate the minor festivals (we celebrate them whenever they fall on a Sunday) as a way enriching our worship and getting into even more corners of the Scriptures than the wide variety already provided in the three year (or one year) cycle of readings.

While the contemporary worship congregations are chasing after all sorts of Protestant (read: lacking in a true understanding of law/gospel, the sacraments, ordination, absolution, etc.) sermon series to get variety, we simply do the liturgy and have more variety than even the most attention deficit members crave.

Secondly, speaking of Protestant sermon series, they just are not needed. Most contemporary worship pastors are using these sermon series to make the faith relevant and to increase sanctification. I’ve got to tell you, when you preach the decapitation of John the Baptist on Rally Day, there is no better way to bring about a sanctified life. My message today focuses on how combining the beheading of John on Rally Day, automatically rescues Sunday School from its Dwight Moody beginnings in which it was intended to be a moral school for the children. Instead of being a generic moral training (which will not rescue one from hell) the emphasis on the beheading casts the beginning of the Sunday School year right into the world of sin and forgiveness and the need for new life from God to survive the trials of persecution. A moralistic Sunday School training for the little child John the Baptist would not have given him the fortitude to remain faithful when facing death on account of the Gospel. Fixing his eyes on Christ on the other hand, the true training Sunday School is to provide, gives the new life needed for such strength.

It is early on Sunday morning and I need to get off to church to preach the good word of John’s fortitude of faith. I’m also looking forward to giving away a few Bibles and hymnals, eating a few hot dogs and maybe I’ll even get a ride on the fire truck, all in the context of the lopped off head of a faithful servant of Christ

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Here’s to the Liturgy – A Rally Day with the Lopped Off Head of John the Baptist, by Pr. Rossow — 15 Comments

  1. ” When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. ” Matthew 14:13
    And He subsequently fed 5,000 in one of the most memorable funeral dinners ever.
    So the church and school picnic fits right in.

  2. @Andrew Strickland #2

    Cut up on a silver platter. Sounds like a part of a caserole to me. (grin)

    In all seriousness, it sounds like a great time for food to the stomach after food for the soul.

  3. We have one service on Saturday and three on Sunday morning. It wasn’t until the last service on Sunday (11:15) that I made the connection between the silver platter and the platters for lunch, but the connection did finally strike me probably because my stomach was growling. 🙂


  4. I thought it came together quite nicely. Though the subject matter was a bit grody. 🙂 Definitely one of those weekends where I was particularly glad to hear the sermon four times.

  5. @Andrew Strickland #8
    Well then, if I am not mistaken, you are in the Prior Lake/Savage, MN area (I visited your blog), so if you make a trip up to the Cities on a Sunday ,morning, I extend an open invitation to you to visit University Lutheran Chapel ( in Minneapolis. We are a campus mission congregation that is confessional, liturgical and strong in voice, and we pay attention to the propers. You would be most welcome to join us in worship.

    We had a full sanctuary this past Sunday, and it was wonderful as we all stood for the processional and sang “Today Your Mercy Calls Us” (LSB 915).

    Bible study is at 8:45 and the Divine Service is at 10:00. I am sure you would enjoy visiting us.

  6. Intrestingly enough, Andrew, all four congregations of which I have been an adult member observe the minor festivals when they fall on an appropriate Sunday. Two in Texas; two in Illinois. It’s a fairly common practice.

    Sure, it is not “the norm”, but it is more common than you think. And certainly the norm in other churches IS to “pay attention to the propers”. They would just have opted for The Xth Sunday after Pentecost this past Sunday, which is certainly an valid option.

  7. @Phillip Magness #10

    We did do the xth Sunday after Pentecost, but it is nice to hear about things like the lopped off head of John the Baptist. I have been to quite a few churches who do neither.

    @OYoung #9
    Thank you for the information.

  8. Interesting idea. I love activities or elements that make people think and explore. Good work. Great way to engage people in faith.

    I would question the comment that liturgy has variety.(?) When LSB was being assembled CPH sent out a cd with various options for the Divine Service being considered. When I played the different kyries, sanctus’s, and hymns of praise for my people they were fairly unanimous in their reaction that “It’s the same thing.”

    It seems that those in the confessional camp refuse to acknowledge that people are as different and varied as music is. To say that the liturgy is the only way to worship is quite parochial. Once more the author takes the opportunity to bash alternative forms of worship.

    Unity? God bless Rev. Harrison and his intentions. I totally respect any and every church that chooses to use the traditional liturgy, but I’m not going to demean churches that don’t. (Assuming they are Biblically sound and doctrinally correct.)

  9. Bo,

    I just copied and pasted the comments in an blog article written by ? at the website of Intrepid Lutherans. It underscores the reason behind worship: Proclaiming the Gospel via Word and Sacrament. The worship isn’t meant to please (although it sure is wonderful hearing the truth of forgiveness in Christ) us but to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. Here is the last part of 26 August blog:

    The goal of Lutheran worship is certainly not to be unlikeable, but neither is the goal of Lutheran worship to be likeable. Historic, liturgical, Lutheran worship has always emphasized the sameness among human beings rather than their differences, and the sameness of how God deals with sinners, no matter what their culture, no matter what their background or preferences. Even when Christians have been divided by a language barrier, they have found the liturgy to be just as relevant in any language and on every continent, because the liturgy does not seek to satisfy the preference of anyone, but merely to convey the Means of Grace that transcends both culture and preference, using art forms that are intended to serve the message rather than art forms that are intended to please the people.

    Sectarian worship starts with a false premise – that the presentation of the Gospel can or must be molded to personal taste in order for the Holy Spirit to attract a person or get through to a person. In effect, this divides the people of God into sects. In essence, this is nothing but the idolatry of self.

    Great article!

  10. There is a great little book about the liturgy and how it’s historical and contemporary at the same time. It’s called “Living the Liturgy – A Guide to Lutheran Worship.” It was given to me by my pastor at our LCMS church on Long Island when I was 13 and in confirmation class and I still have it. The author is Edgar S. Brown, Jr. He was the executive director of the Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church in America. Though the LCA was “liberal” by LCMS standards, it was still very much a confessional synod before it got caught up in the 70s and 80s prior to its merger w/ the ALC.

    The book was written in 1960 and published in 1961. It’s interesting in how it promotes the historical liturgy in the face of a fast paced, rapidly changing, modern world (this is 1961: Kennedy, young and energetic, just took office; first men in space, The Green Revolution; the Beat Generation; etc) and how quick modern society throws away “old” words and substitutes new ones because it’s so modern and relates to the individual to try to make it more relevant, not realizing that the words God has given us to respond to Him is very real and modern, no matter how “old” it is. Sounds familiar, 50 years later, doesn’t it? God’s message for us doesn’t change, so it’s contemporary and historical. It helps us to understand how the liturgy has been our chief act of response to God in the passive sense of the word.

    The book explains each part of the liturgy: the propers, confession and absolution, introit, collect, etc. The book points out that “there is a high regard for worship in the Lutheran Church and that the liturgy demonstrates continuity with the church throughout the ages. Hymns are chosen for their soundness of theology, beauty, and adaptability to the American scene”. This shows how great the liturgy fits with the “modern world”; you don’t have to change it or reinvent it to make it “contemporary”. It is timeless and fits with any age.

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