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Lebanon, Missouri
I am Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Lebanon, MO for 12 years. I'm married to Cheryl and have been blessed with 5 children.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Church of Low Self-Esteem No More!

Is your congregation suffering from self-esteem issues?  Are you wondering if using a hymnal with its liturgy is an anachronism?   Should your church drop the lectionary and have the pastor focus on sermon series with hip and relevant messages?  Is the church calendar just too constricting?

It is easy to see the weaknesses in our congregations, but let’s not do a Mitt Romney.   What’s a Mitt Romney?  It’s being embarrassed over that for which you should be thankful.  You know Governor Romney was at first shy about the fact he has been a success in business.  We don’t need to go down that route.

As we approach Lent, it is good, right, and salutary for us to see the great blessing liturgical churches have in the (1) lectionary and in the (2) church year calendar.  No apologies necessary

1.  The lectionary is a blessing.  For hundreds of years many Christians used a one year set of readings that repeated each year.  This developed gradually starting well over 1,000 years ago.  The most popular lectionary today, however, is a three cycles of readings. 

Each cycle (year A, B, C) has an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading for each Sunday.  During the Easter season the Old Testament readings are dropped for texts from the book of Acts.  There are also texts for various holy days that fall in the middle of the week as well as readings from the Psalms.

Consider that the lectionary is a blessing because it gives us a broad sweep of the Bible instead of letting the preacher focus on his own pet topics and texts.  Indeed the Pastor and congregation are forced to consider portions of Scripture that they might otherwise ignore.    Perhaps a text of Scripture seems hard for people of a certain culture and a certain time to digest.  The Lectionary doesn’t let us focus on only those portions of Scripture that seem comfortable and soft to us. Nonetheless, the lectionary, as adapted in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, certainly is designed so that the Goodnews of Christ is held high.

Take note that each year has its own emphasis.  Year “A” focuses on the Gospel of Matthew, year “B” on Mark, and year “C” on Luke.  The Gospel of John is scattered throughout each year.

The Gospel reading is king and so the Old Testament reading is tied in some way to the Gospel text.  The Epistle very often stands alone so that Christians can hear larger portions of them, but even here, they will  conform to the season of the church year especially during Advent and Lent.  Let’s move onto the church year because the lectionary happens in the context of a regular calendar.

2.  The church year is a blessing.  This is so because it faithfully delivers Christ to His people.  It also gives us a wonderful rhythm to our life together in Christ.  Rhythm is all around us.  God put rhythm in nature as we enjoy winter, spring, summer, and fall (unless you live in a place like Phoenix where the rhythm is simply sweltering hot and not as hot).  The Jews had a rhythm in their life together as God gave them a cycle of various feasts and observances.

The church year is broken up into two major sections.  The first half focuses on an orderly account of the life of Christ.  The second half is known at the “time of the church” which is much more diverse in that it doesn’t have a long running theme.

The first half starts in the last Sunday of November with Advent.  In Advent we consider the first and the second coming of Christ.  Then we move onto Christmas.  The season of Epiphany is next.  It begins January 6 with the coming of the Magi.  Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation.”  In this season Jesus manifests His true glory in miracles, casting out of demons, and the calling of the disciples.  We see the greatness of the Babe born in Bethlehem shine through in Epiphany.

Then the church moves on to Lent which is a 40 day preparation for Easter.  It is a time when the church focuses especially on repentance and even fasting.  Dr. Timothy Maschke notes that the 40 days does not count Sundays since this is the day in which our Lord rose.  The 40 days recalls 40 days of fasting of our Lord and 40 years of wilderness wandering for the Hebrews. 

He also notes that, “In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicea recorded the first reference to the specific number of days in Lent” (Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, p. 56).  This is an ancient season indeed.  Easter is next.  The emphasis is joy, victory, salvation we have in Christ’s resurrection.  It is the churches oldest celebration.  It ends with Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.  With the day of Pentecost we move into the “time of the church.”

The church calendar helps the body of Christ remain relevant in its worship because it runs us through the life of Christ each year.  The Gospel is the news of salvation that each lost soul needs to hear.  It is the message that continues to strengthen each believer and keep them in Christ.  The Church is the body of Christ, and so the church keeps Him as the central focus  in its worship, readings, and church year.

Think of the gimmicks so common in the American church – 30 day sex challenges, secular cover bands, success driven sermon series, and pandering to people’s various felt needs.  These gimmicks diminish Christ.  They herald His importance not as Savior but as life coach.

These gimmicks make churches temples of profanity.   Augustine criticized the immoral, pagan worship of his day and wrote, “If these are sacred rites, what is sacrilege?  If this is purification, what is pollution?” (The City of God, Book II, section 4).  The same could be asked of many congregations in our own day.

We Lutherans need never apologize for the lectionary and the church year.  These are great blessings because they bring us to Christ!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sermon, 3d Epiphany, Mark 1:14-20, MP3

(Click Here)

"This is an historiated capital O, an initial in the The San Domenico Missal. Fra Angelico made the illustrations in that missal while working in the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole, near Florence.

Depicted is the moment Jesus calls the fishermen Peter and Andrew. The shoreline and the lake that vanish into the horizon behind them help to create a strong suggestion of depth in this tiny picture."

Art created c. 1430

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sermon on John 1:43-51 (MP3)

Do our expectations get in the way of following Jesus?  Do we expect something more or better from God than what He is offering?  Click on the link below as we hear about Jesus of Nazareth.  He comes from a town least likely to be the home of the Messiah, and He calls Nathanael to "follow Me."

Click here for Sermon:

(The shield of Nathanael.  The knife recalls the tradition that says Nathanael was flayed alive.)

Quote from the Church Fathers - Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome:

"And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Clement of Rome was a Bishop of the church of Rome in the first century. Origen (born in the late 2d century) attests that he was the Clement mentioned in Philippians 4:3. The quote below is from Clement's epistle. Even as late as the 4th century Clement's epistle was actually read in many churches.

It is a wonderful confession of the evangelical faith though one should remember he is writing well before the controversies over justification in the Reformation period.

(Roberts, A.., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 (13). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Does Jesus Destroy Religion? (click here)

I'm tired of people hitting on "religion" as if it is a bad thing. Religion is the worship of the Almighty. It is gathering together as His people and hearing His Word. There is nothing wrong with the concept of religion. The problem is false religion. True religion flows from the Father in the Son through the Spirit. It is receiving God's grace in Word and Sacrament. Christian, if you have been hitting on religion, stop it! It's nothing but pandering to a jaded society that loves to criticize the church.

Check out the link to Pastor Jonathan Fisk's You Tube video and see his response to another You Tube video that knocks religion.

Fisk's video is below. Either click the heading for this post or click the *heading* on the You Tube picture below. The original video he responds to is at:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nolan's Funeral Sermon (click here)

Click on the link above to hear the sermon for Nolan's funeral. IT takes an Epiphany theme as it was the Day of Epiphany when the funeral was held.

Hooray for the Supreme Court! (click here)

Our liberties have always been protected by men willing to fight for them. The fight happens both with the force of arms and in the power of great ideas (e.g.: "all men are created equal"). Pen, protestor, and sword defend liberty.

Yet, those liberties can stand or fall with the opinion of 9 people on the Supreme Court. It isn't the constitution that guarantees or freedom as much as it is the men who interpret and enforce it.

Hooray for the Supreme Court that unanimously (9-0) protected the liberty of Christian churches (and of all religions). Click on the heading above and read the post on Cranach blog about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod before the Supreme Court.