Lenten Midweek 5- Lord’s Prayer

This is the final sermon in the Lenten Midweek series. We reviewed the first portion of the Catechism with emphasis on the creed (MW 2,3 & 4). The Law was MW1 and this MW5 is the Lord’s Prayer. We used the third petition as the text. The arrangement of Luther’s catechism in the Word section drops leaves you at prayer, which is part of Luther’s teaching. The Christian life is a life of prayer. This sermon reflects on what prayer accomplishes and how which are the two questions Luther asks in the catechism: What does this mean? and How is this done?

Types of Thanksgiving

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  – 1 Timothy 2:1 ESV

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, officially the best American Holiday in my book.  I say that mostly for all the cliched reasons. It’s a day of hearth and home and football. It is a day that connects me with a childhood soundtrack that includes farm reports on the local AM radio and the end of harvest worries. It’s a day that doesn’t demand much.  Christmas always tries to bum rush everything before it.  Today the only thing standing in its way are the ghouls of Halloween.  I never thought I’d find myself cheering for the zombies.  Given two months run up, what is under the tree, even if it is a literal golden horde, doesn’t meet the hype. With Easter the American commercialization machine tried with the Bunny and some Cadbury Eggs to Santa Claus the Holy Day, but it just wasn’t able. The Schools moved breaks such that if you get Good Friday off you are fortunate, which I took as the cultural white flag.  Easter remains a Holy Day, not a holiday.  But that also means it isn’t really shared other than within the church. All Thanksgiving ever promised was a good meal and a pause.  A pause that you can fill with whatever wells up within you.

Thanksgiving itself is of course a completely natural expression of the faith.  If the people of God would not bring forth praise and thanksgiving, the stones would cry out.  But the American Holiday isn’t technically on the church calendar.  So every year when I think about a Thanksgiving service it is mostly about those hymns of harvest, hearth and home. But the big book of strong suggestions – that Altar Book – provides at least three modes of thanksgiving.  There are texts and prayers associated with a simple Harvest Observance. There are texts and prayers stipulated for a Day of Thanksgiving. And there are texts and prayers for a Day of Supplication and Prayer.

I take those three categories as general buckets of what wells up within us.  There is an internet invective – “Touch Grass” – that I find funny.  It is telling the too online to log off and go outside. We were made to tend a garden originally.  Even for the most city mouse imaginable, there is good in being connected to the rhythms of life.  And one of those rhythms is the harvest. Knowing that when you sow, you will also reap.  Knowing that you plant a seed and we know not how but it germinates and grows and provides a harvest – 30, 60 even 100 fold. Unless we have cut ourselves off from all things vital, a harvest celebration wells up good things.

The Day of Thanksgiving is more official.  If the harvest is bottoms up, the Day of Thanksgiving is tops down. The American Presidents have a tradition of issuing Thanksgiving Proclamations. They existed prior of course, but George Washington issued a famous one. And these are completely appropriate.  We can get wrapped up in work and play and life – like the 9 lepers – that we never stop for a second to reflect and return.  Jesus, the King himself asks “where are the other nine?” Having a leadership wise enough to say “today, stop, take stock, enjoy the blessings and return appropriate gratitude” is good and right.

It is the last category that maybe we – the children of materially fat years – pass over too quickly, that day of supplication and prayer. Satan’s tricks are many.  We don’t think about it, but the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the worldly successful one.  They were fat, dumb and happy.  It is the world before the flood.  It is Sodom knocking on Lot’s door, so attractive that his wife turned around in lament even knowing what would happen.  It is the merchants crying over Babylon in Revelation. They are no longer connected to the source of the rain that produces their prosperity.  They no longer have officials wise enough to remind them to give thanks. But the prophet Joel shows up and tells them, “Yet even now return to me with all your heart…the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave behind him a blessing, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God. (Joel 2:12-14).” Thanksgiving in prayer and supplication is a renewal of the covenant.  And the providence of God is always enough for his people.

Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,

Who wonderous things has done, in whom His world rejoices;

Who from our mother’s arms Has blest us on our way

With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

Midweek Vespers – An Explainer

If you have not been to a mid-week service for a while, or just not with me leading them, it is worth an explanation of what you might expect.  Probably the most practical thing is that I aim for the service to be between 20 and 30 minutes.  Their purpose is not a midweek Sunday.  It is a daily office.  Prayer at the close of day, but for a time during a season of preparation like Advent for communal prayer and praise.  The order of service is the canonical office of Vespers.

Now what does that string of words mean?  Canonical is a fancy word for regular. The canon of scripture is the list of regularly accepted books.  The ministers of a Cathedral church were known as the canons. The canons would lead prayer at regular intervals throughout the day.  The Didache, the first catechism coming from the 2nd century, encouraged Christians to pray three times a day.  That would have been morning, evening and at mid-day.  These canonical hours were expressions of living in community.  The canons, or the monks when monasticism grew and often replaced the canons, followed the daily office.  And the community around would join as desired.  It remains an open question to me if any of us moderns live in community.  Yes, we all live in communities, but do we know our neighbors? What do we share with them? These simple regular or canonical services were about shared burdens and joys.  They were the daily prayer and praise of living communities. But that is a deeper question of modern life.

The office of Vespers is the office that was originally sung after the day’s work had been accomplished, but usually before the evening meal.  Compline, meaning completion, was the prayer before bed.  But much of that was dependent upon the sun.  Vespers consists typically of a Psalm, a reading, a homily, prayer and a couple of hymns.  It is the type of thing that one could do alone (minus the homily) or within a family grouping.  This was often the encouragement of the Reformation which saw the extended family as the lived community and the father as the liturgical head of that community.

The one great distinction of the office of Vespers is its use of the Magnificat or Mary’s Song.  This is the song Mary sang carrying Jesus when greeted by Elizabeth carrying John the Baptist. You can find the biblical version and that story in Luke 1.  That song throughout the ages has inspired many different musical settings and translations.  Our hymnbook contains a beautiful chant version that is probably a bridge too far.  Maybe at some future time I will see if I can get the choir to prepare it for us to hear it.  Instead, what I have planned for these services is a tour of the hymn versions of the Magnificat that our hymnbook contains.  Mary’s profound words deserve such a place of honor in our prayer and praise.

So, what can you expect? Hopefully a short encouraging gathering of a community of prayer and praise.  A turning or returning to God in faith and hope and then toward one another in love in a season of preparation.

Wrestling with God

Biblical Text: Luke 18:1-8, Genesis32:22-30

This sermon starts out with a comparison of the metaphors of the hymnwriters for prayer and the strongest biblical metaphors. Our opening hymn of the day was LSB 772 In Holy Conversation (It’s a newer hymn so of course it is under copyright. The link isn’t as helpful as it would be, but it is a start.) The metaphor for a prayer life for the hymnwriters is gentle conversation. The metaphors in use in our texts are wrestling and petitioning an unjust judge. Big difference. The sermon explores the difference and hopefully encourages you toward an intentional prayer life.

Prayer, Transfiguration, Exodus

Biblical Text: Luke 9: 28-36

Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is interesting. You have to pay close attention to how he tells it to pick it up, but I believe if you do you get rewarded for it. This sermon meditates on three of those interesting differences. Luke’s transfiguration takes place during prayer. What does that mean for the role of prayer? It’s the transfiguration, which is the latin term. The Greek is metamorphosis, which Luke leaves out. Jesus is not metamorphosized, but his glory is revealed. Which in the context of a Greco-Roman religious world is meaningful. As pagan practices start finding their way back into our world, Luke’s avoidance of the term is a meaningful warning. The last is Luke’s use of the word Exodus. How are we included in the Exodus of Jesus? How do Moses and Elijah help us? And how might we see better our own exodus? (On a personal note, I like this sermon, but I willing to think of it as too personal parochial happenings.)

Coming Down the Mountain

Biblical Text: Mark 9:14-29

The Gospel text assigned for today is the second half of a pair that occurs in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matt, Mark and Luke). The first part is the transfiguration, when Peter, James and John are taken up the mountain and see Jesus transfigured in glory. The second part is this story of arguments, crowds, fathers, sons and evil. It is a story of the confusion that reigns here on the plain, here at the bottom of the mount. And since they are always juxtaposed the text invites us to ponder, what is the difference between the mountaintop experience and life down below. The big difference is the role of faith. The mountaintop is not about faith, because you see. You might have trouble comprehending what you see. Integrating what you see might be tough. But you don’t have to have faith in it. Life on the plain is about faith. This sermon ponders that difference and the meaning of a prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief”, and prayer in general (“This kind only comes out by prayer”) in the life of faith lived here on the plain.

Grace Upon Grace

Biblical Text: John 17: 9-19

The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.

I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.

I Chose You

Biblical Text: John 15:9-17

The core assertion in the text is that you did not choose Christ, but Christ chose you. And there are three things that flow from that election: joy, love and friendship. Joy in that we have been given both the victory and a vocation. Love in that we are to emulate Christ’s love for us toward our neighbor. And friendship in that we have been invited into a deep union with God. We are no not slaves of the law, but we are friends in the gospel. We have been made children of the royal household who do not need to seek an audience with the law giver, but merely need to ask our dear Father.

A City on a Hill

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:13-20

There was an ancient tradition, probably coming over from the synagogues, where visitors would share news of what was taking place in the church where they were from. Maybe the salutation (“The Lord be with you”) at the start of the service is the ritual placeholder for that. We welcome you, please share. To which the response would have been to share and end with “and also with you”. The welcome has been given and accepted. This sermon is a bit like that. When you read something that is so profound it humbles you, you really need to share it. I could not come up with a better illustration of “a city on a hill” than the response of this pastor from Wuhan.

Pester God? No, Trust Him!

Biblical Text: Luke 18:1-8, 18:1-8 KJV

This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.