Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sermons and the importance of the Divine Call

Rev. McCain over on his blog has brought up some real food for thought and his own concerns about the length and content of sermons. It is certainly something for a new pastor like myself to think about and I have been.

My thoughts on sermon length and the content are simple: it should be as long as it takes to tell your flock that they are sinners who deserve nothing more than eternal damnation from a holy and just God; God, the One Holy Trinity, has looked upon His people in mercy and has sent His only begotten Son, true God and true man, to earth to live the holy life we are unable to live, to die as a holy, perfect and complete offering for our sins, and to be raised to new life for our complete justification. This Jesus Christ is our sufficiency, our completeness and in Him we live new lives. In Him we are everything God wants us to be.

All of Scripture makes this clear, as Christ is the key to understanding all of Scripture. If you need 30-45 minutes to say this, so be it, as pastors, called and ordained servants of the Word, you know what your sheep need and how to best give it to them, even if that means a 5 minute sermon. Also as pastors it is your duty to teach the congregation. That can also be done with the good Law and Gospel sermon, but the main goal, in my mind, is not teaching, but reminding the people of who they are , what they deserve and what they have been freely given. The best time for going into greater depth on a text or the doctrines of the Church is in regular catechesis, that happens everyday, in every service, in every sermon, in every Bible Study, etc.

I think it is good to bring these issues up, however it must be done with care. Telling lay-people on a public blog that 10-15 minute sermons are"sermonic starvation" has a real danger of undermining the office of the Holy Ministry, and, although it is good for pastors and lay-people to consider, it must be emphasized that there is not a divine command from Scripture that sermons do anything other than preach Christ and Him crucified for sinners. Anything else falls within the realm of faithful pastoral ministry and Christian freedom.

So, parishioners, listen to what your pastors are saying. A lecture has its place, but it does not save sinners. A sermon, one that is truly faithful, makes the feet of the bearer beautiful, as he, through a divine call, has published salvation for a people in desperate need. Don't assume that a 15 minute sermon is not feeding the flock, for if it preaches our dear Lord and what He does for us in spite of ourselves, it truly is the Word of eternal life!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Saturday Night Experience

I always like Saturday night. It's one final time for me to get ready to serve God's people. I have a whole routine I go through. I lay out my clothes and make sure they are all pressed and looking good, I shine my shoes, I shower and trim any errant hairs, make sure my nails are clean and trimmed. I say Vespers a little earlier than usual and I always make sure to say Compline (it is just so peaceful and a great relaxation technique before bed.) I think about my sermon as I'm going to sleep and try to get 8 hours.

There is no nervousness in this routine for me. I have been told often that I should be nervous, but I'm not. I'm excited, I'm eager, but not anxious or nervous. May God send His holy angels over us that the evil foe may have no power over us this night. May He feed us well with His good gifts as He serves us with Word and Sacrament. May He soften our hearts and give us peace in the hearing of His Word of eternal life.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Commemoration Days

This summer at Good Shepherd we have been observing the commemoration days and festivals of saints in Lutheran Service Book. I have been moving the festival to the preceding Sunday. It has been nice because it breaks up the sea of green. There are some downsides and I don't think I would do it every summer. There is something lost with the continuity of the pericopal readings and there is only so much you can say about the saints: they were all sinners in need of God's forgiveness in Christ; they all lived in the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus; they all present faithful examples of lives lived in the faith.

One nice thing, from a theological point of view, is celebrating the saints during the season of the Church is a great way to emphasize what the church is; "the congregation of true saints and believers." It also brings a great opportunity to teach what Lutheranism is: holy, catholic, apostolic and confessional.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Real Church Web-site!!

I set up a google pages web-site for Good Shepherd today. It is so easy to use and really makes a nice looking web page with a lot of options. Take a look at it. It still is under construction, but I think it's a really good start!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Reason We Have Creeds

The Creed builds up in you what you ought to believe and confess in order to be saved.
--St. Augustine, Sermons for the Recent Converts, Homily 214.1.

We have begun studying the Lutheran Confessions in our men's Thursday morning Bible Study. It is so perfect and right that the Confessions begin with our catholic confession of the orthodox Christian faith in the Creeds. They truly do build us up to believe and confess as we ought.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Why Exegesis is Important

I subscribe to the weekly newsletter of Answers in Genesis. I believe that Christians must take the biblical view of a literal 6 day creation. Without this foundation the floodgates are opened to erode our faith. I found this weeks Q & A was a great example of why informed exegesis of the Biblical text is important. The following explains why the "gap theory" does not hold water.

Q: Why do some people say that there is a gap between the first two verses of Genesis 1?
A: The idea of adding a break between the first two verses of Genesis 1 is called the gap theory, and there are many different versions of this theory. But they all, in some way, try to fit the supposed billions of years of earth’s history between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
But the Hebrew grammar does not allow for such a gap.
Genesis 1:2 begins: “And the earth … .” The use of the English word “and” there is because of what’s called an explanatory use of a waw disjunctive in Hebrew, when it is connected to a noun like “earth.” In Hebrew grammar, this means this verse is a comment on the previous verse. It is not a part of the sequence of the narrative.
Now in verse 1:3, we read “And God said … .”
When the waw is connected to a verb like “said,” this is called a waw consecutive. This means this is part of the sequence of the narrative.
Thus, Genesis 1:1 actually connects directly to verse 1:3—so verse 1:2, where there is an alleged gap, is a comment or description of the earth in verse 1:1.
The bottom line is that the original Hebrew grammar does not allow for a gap between the first two verses.

Friday, August 03, 2007

More Than We Can Imagine*

Paul is absolutely correct when he says that God "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20). In contrast, our prayers tend to be weak and insignificant. Joseph didn't dare ask for what he finally received. His heart was like a bruised reed and a smolderding wick. His groaning was like smoke that rises straight to heaven. His heart was a real incencse burner! The sweet aroma that comes from a humble, groaning heart pleases God. Though Joseph may have felt like he was dying, his groaning didn't cause any real harm.

Hang on. God will remain faithful. Don't despair. Cling to the truth the psalmist proclaims: "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14). The Lord won't extinguish a smoldering wick but instead will make it glow brightly. He won't break the bruised reed but instead will strengthen it (Isaiah 42:3).

God wants to give us more than we ask for, not just fulfill our weak prayers. Joseph asked for nothing more than to be rescued, released from prison, and returned to his father. God in heaven let him pray for a long time. In effect, God was saying, "You don't know what you are asking [Matthew 20:22]. I will give you more than all you ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20]. That's why you have to wait a little longer. I want more of the smoke that rises straight to heaven." But later, Joseph received what he never could have imagined. He never would have had the confidence or courage to ask for it. We must recognize that God's wisdom, grace, mercy, and power are most certainly with us, as they were with Joseph. However, God usually doesn't give them to us in the way we ask for them.

*Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional, Martin Luther, Gen. Ed. James C. Galvin
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, copyright 2005