A Circuit Meeting Taught Me Again the Importance of the Liturgy

 

“If the Divine Service is viewed primarily as our praising God, then you can do that just as well from home. In fact, once we have looked at the topic of vocation, you will see that we can serve God better in the world than in the church building. But if the service is understood as God giving us the forgiveness of sins, then you’ve got to be there. It is very possible that the low attendance at Sunday services seen in so many churches today is a reflection of how we define the service. If I am acting, then I can do it another time. If God is acting, I better be there.”  Pastor Klemet Preus, The Fire and the Staff, Kindle ed. loc 2871
“If the Divine Service is viewed primarily as our praising God, then you can do that just as well from home. In fact, once we have looked at the topic of vocation, you will see that we can serve God better in the world than in the church building. But if the service is understood as God giving us the forgiveness of sins, then you’ve got to be there. It is very possible that the low attendance at Sunday services seen in so many churches today is a reflection of how we define the service. If I am acting, then I can do it another time. If God is acting, I better be there.”
Pastor Klemet Preus, The Fire and the Staff, Kindle ed. loc 2871

Before our circuit meetings, the pastors come together for the Divine Service.  In a recent meeting, a retired pastor was the preacher.  He wore a sports jacket and tie.  He did not preach from the pulpit. He prefaced the sermon by telling us that he did not write out the sermon and further he did not really use “Law and Gospel” in preparing for it. The sermon was about praising God.

His sermon was a series of the preacher’s comments on various Bible quotes relating to his theme, the praise of God. Most of said passages were from the encouragement portions of  St. Paul’s Epistles. One Scripture was the Apostle Paul describing that we are “earthen vessels”, or as the preacher interpreted the text: “ We are all cracked pots”.  The preacher’s refrain throughout the sermon, in which he encouraged the Congregation to participate, was to the best of my recollection this:  “We are cracked pots, God wants us to praise, so let’s praise God.”  He lamented the lack of members in many a congregation, our sense of doubt and loss in life, etc.  He got the symptoms right but since there was no diagnosis of God’s Law (since the preacher did not prepare a Law/Gospel sermon)  of the root cause we only heard the symptoms. It would be like going to the doctor with physical complaints and the doctor saying, Yup, those symptoms are bad, hope you get better.

Now the preacher’s solution was his theme sentence: “The praise of God produces faith”. As he preached, I ruminated on the meaning of the theme sentence. What is the result of such a doctrinally faulty sentence?  I had better praise God, so that my praise enlivens my faith.  I thought of another Scripture passage:    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).The word of Christ makes faith and praise is the result and not the cause.  Even Jehovah Witnesses praise God but it does not result in saving faith in Jesus Christ! In the preacher’s fifteen-twenty minute ‘sermon’, I heard not one “word of Christ”. I do not think he preached once the “Name above all names” (cf. Philippians 2: 10).  He did not mention Jesus nor Christ and His work, such as, His Incarnation, the Cross, His sufferings, death, the Resurrection (during the Easter season!) the work of the Holy Spirit, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion etc.  When in the ELCA, at a meeting of pastors in an urban coalition of congregations, the director led a cheerless discussion about preaching sermons not using the Name of God as a good thing.  In both instances of the circuit and coalition gatherings, results in other claimant agendas usurping the Word in preaching…actually not preaching but a religious address.  The world, the flesh and the devil love those ‘sermons’.

The circuit meeting convenes at the same congregation.  I count the pastor as a friend.  Every time we use an order of service from the Lutheran Service Book.  At the circuit meeting under observation, it was setting one, following the rubrics.  We heard once again,

“Blessed are You, Lord of heaven and earth, for You have had mercy on those whom You created and sent your only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior.  We repentant joy we receive the salvation…”

We heard again the Words of Institution and Christ Jesus’ clear statement of His Body and Blood FOR YOU.  As the beloved Reformer taught:

Here stand the gracious and lovely words, “This is my body, given for you,” “This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, I have said, are not preached to wood or stone but to you and me; otherwise Christ might just as well have kept quiet and not instituted a sacrament. Ponder, then, and include yourself personally in the “you” so that he may not speak to you in vain. (BOC LC V 64-65) [1]

The Pastor followed the script, that is, he followed the Scripture, which is clearly the basis of the Divine Service. As the pastor so followed, so did we.  Even though the sermon was arid, the Divine Service was there so that a baptized sinner could repent and receive forgiveness.  Many times I have heard myself and others say, especially after visiting a congregation, “At least there was the liturgy…”  Even in a high papal Mass, the believer will hear Christ was crucified and rose for us so that faith may seize the promise as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of Christ.

Just before Luther’s quote above, he has a germane comment for this article:  “…for we have this obstacle and hindrance to contend with, that we concentrate more upon ourselves than upon the words that proceed from Christ’s lips”[2].  I think the crisis in the Synod is about not only the Liturgy but also the preaching and pastors not concentrating upon the words proceeding from Christ’s lips.     With all the rightly critical articles about contemporary worship, “5/2”, etc. here on BJS, and many other sources, what can be missed in this crucial discussion is the effect of such worship on the pastor and the preaching, and vice versa. Lex orandi, lex credendi, that is the rule of praying is the rule of believing, and so the way of worshiping is the way of preaching and the other way around.    In a sermon, we poor sheep need to hear, literally dying to hear the “for you” of preaching the Word of Christ, but if the service was a concocted one, woven out of ourselves and our felt needs, we would not have heard the FOR YOU at that Divine Service before  the circuit meeting.   I learned again at that circuit meeting the importance of the Liturgy and preaching as integral in the Divine Service.

 

 

 

[1] The Book of Concord (Tappert Edition), The Large Catechism, page 454:  64-65

[2] Ibid, page 454:  63

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