The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

Now is the point in the worship service when we open up the Scriptures. Certainly the Scriptures have been a part of the service already. The Invocation is taken from Matthew 28. The Confession and Absolution often uses phrases from 1 John. If you used the Introit or Psalm of the Day instead of the Entrance Hymn then you've already used the Scriptures verbatim. 
The Old Testament Reading dives into the Scriptures head first. 
The Old Testament reading is typically chosen to pair with the Gospel reading for the day. This choice can be made in several different ways. Sometimes the Gospel quotes the Old Testament reading. Sometimes a prophecy made in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Gospel reading. Sometimes they are thematically similar. Sometimes I struggle to understand what the connection is supposed to be.
The Old Testament reading opens our eyes further to what God is doing for His people. While the Gospel and Epistle readings can help to trace our lives of faith back to the time of Jesus, the Old Testament reading shows a tracing from thousands of years before Jesus to Jesus then to us. This reading extends our understanding of God in such a way that we see God didn't just start by sending Jesus, but rather, God had been showing mercy and compassion to His people for thousands of years before Jesus' incarnation. We are a part of a lineage that is vast and grand.
Personally, I love preaching on the Old Testament reading because there is often opportunity to unpack a lot of theological and cultural depth and meaning. 
Which section of the Old Testament gets read each week is determined by a lectionary.  Lectionaries are specific selections of readings that various church bodies choose to follow together. The Roman Catholics have their own. One used by many Protestant church bodies is the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Our church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), uses its own lectionary that is largely based on the RCL. Each of these follows a three-year cycle. The LCMS also offers a one-year lectionary that repeats each church year.
Even in the three-year cycle, it's not hard to figure out that the entire Old Testament won't get covered. Even if people attend common Feast Days like Good Friday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, there are only about 60 worship services a year that use the lectionary, so only about 180 Old Testament readings to be used. 
But wait! This number decreases as the Old Testament gives way during the Easter season to readings from the book of Acts. So we only have around 160 Old Testament readings to cover 38 Old Testament books (the Psalms get their own reading of the day).
I've run the numbers on this. If you take both the Old Testament reading and the appointed Psalm for the day, only 9.98% of the Old Testament is covered. That means just over 90% of the Old Testament will never get read in worship.
Nine Old Testament books do not appear in the lectionary (unless you plan to celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas on December 21 and the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26, then you'll get two more). 
There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and only 216 chapters are touched upon by the LCMS's three-year lectionary. If you don't use the Psalm of the Day in your worship service, then you're only getting 132 of the 929 chapters of the Old Testament.
Admittedly, this is kind of sad. 
I personally wish there were more narratives in the lectionary. We get quite a bit from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), but very little from Joshua, nothing from Judges, a few things from 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, but nothing from 1 and 2 Chronicles or Ezra, and one reading from Nehemiah. 
Narratives like 1 Kings 18-19 and Elijah's journey from defeating the prophets of Baal to fleeing for his life to Beersheba to heading down to Mount Horeb to hear God's still small voice are absolute gold, but they get split up by the lectionary to match thematically. So in each case the preacher often has to give a history lesson to provide enough context for the hearers to know what is going on. 
Overall, Isaiah gets the most coverage in the Old Testament, followed by Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. 
No matter what book the Old Testament reading draws from, preachers and teachers are tasked with showing how each book, each chapter, each reading connects forward to Jesus and His death and resurrection for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Old Testament reading shows us how in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.
The Hymn of Praise is a moment of unbridled joy. It's a time when the congregation bursts forth in loud praise of God for who He is: a God of mercy, a God of forgiveness. In one common Hymn of Praise, the congregation uses words from the book of Revelation to note how God is deserving of blessing, honor, glory, and might. God is worthy to be praised because of what He has done for us in sending the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who was slain, whose blood set us free to be God's people. The Lamb has begun His reign and we await its full and ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns.
It's hard to capture the amount of joy present in this moment. I imagine Merry and Pippin singing and dancing on tables in the pub in the first and third Lord of the Rings films. 
I imagine the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, in which Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie are trapped in a trash compactor. When it finally stops moving, they shout for joy with such vigor that C3PO thinks they're being crushed to death. 
I imagine Buddy the Elf's uncontainable excitement when he hears Santa is coming.
Many Christians around the world are very good at expressing joy in worship. Dancing, movement, and shouts of praise are a part of their Christian traditions. 
Other Christians are less good at expressing joy in worship. Being subdued and stoic is culturally ingrained into many people of northern European descent (myself among them). In some cultures, worship is viewed as a place of such extreme propriety and piety that joy and praise somehow don't belong. Big emotions are seen as a sign of weakness.
This is a misunderstanding of joy and praise. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is a gift given to all Christians. It is a fruit to be shared with others. It is not a reckless emotion in need of subduing. Joy is a fruit meant to be multiplied. 
The Hymn of Praise is a moment for joy to come forth. It is a moment for us Christians to bask in God's glory and our forgiveness because of Christ. 
So the next time you sing the Hymn of Praise remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
The Collect/Prayer of the Day is one of those moments in the service that gets overlooked. In some congregations this is said by the pastor/priest/minister. In other congregations, the entire congregation participates. 
The collect of the day is generally a summation of the worship service. It tries to give thematic focus to the day. The collect is kind of like the 60 second intro before the theme song for a sitcom. The early seasons of Seinfeld were great at this. Jerry would appear on stage doing stand-up comedy and his jokes were always connected to the themes the show was about to unfold over the next half-hour. This brief intro and summation reminds you what you've come to participate in. It gives you a preview of what's to come in the show. Likewise, the prayer of the day gives you a preview of what's to come in the readings and the sermon. It sets the tone as quickly as possible for the service.
Collects are made up of five parts. Not all five parts are always included in every a collect.
It begins with the address. We name who we are talking to. Examples include:
  • Lord God,
  • Almighty God, 
  • Lord Jesus Christ,
  • Heavenly Father,
  • Holy Spirit,
The second part is an acknowledgement of God's power, knowledge, or ability to do anything and everything. Examples might include:
  • You are the author of life.
  • You are the Good Shepherd.
  • You have given us every good and perfect gift.
  • By Your providence the world is sustained.
The third part is the bid or the petition. It's the thing we're actually asking for. Examples might include:
  • Grant to your people the peace that passes all understanding,
  • Protect all of the sheep of Your flock, seek those who are lost, and bind up those who are injured,
  • Strengthen us to share Your good gifts with our neighbors,
  • Help us to be good stewards of Your creation, 
The fourth part is the result we desire from the petition. Examples might include:
  • So that we may be able to serve You with pure minds.
  • So that all Your sheep from every tribe, nation, language and people will praise Your name.
  • So that they may be blessed by Your grace and generosity.
  • So that together with all creatures, we might live in peace and quietness.
And the fifth part is a conclusion that typically names the other two persons of the Trinity not being addressed. The Father is most frequently addressed, so it usually goes:
  • through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
And that's it. Can you guess what is coming in the readings based on these example prayers? Maybe, and maybe not. But hopefully if you were to go back and look at the prayer of the day after the readings and the sermon you would be able to see the common themes being drawn for the day.
In Matthew 17, Jesus comes down from the high mountain with Peter, James, and John after His transfiguration and finds the other nine disciples at the bottom of the mountain with a crowd gathered around them. A man there had a son who was possessed by a demon. The man utters to Jesus these famous words, "Lord have mercy upon my son." It is from this request, this moment of faithful begging that we get the element of the worship service called the Kyrie.
The Kyrie is a moment when we seek God's compassion, His mercy. The Kyrie has taken many forms over the centuries. Some forms are quite short, such as:
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Others examples of the Kyrie include multiple prayers attached. These often begin with:
In peace, let us pray to the Lord.
Answered by:
Lord have mercy.
These prayers go on to include prayers for peace and salvation, for the well-being of the church and the unity of all people,  for the place of worship and all who are gathered to worship, for help, comfort, and God's defense. 
While Matthew records the Kyrie's inspiration, in the same episode, Mark records another line that may encompass the tone and attitude of the Kyrie even better. The father of the demon-possessed child says to Jesus, "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Jesus responds with "If?" Or more accurately, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  
The father's response is our response, "I believe. Help my unbelief!" 
The Kyrie is a time to approach the Lord no matter how much we are struggling, to bring everything to the Lord and ask His mercy, compassion, and peace upon everything. 
Lord, have mercy. Have mercy upon our unbelief. 
It reminds me of an episode of Firefly when one character, Shepherd Book (the spaceship's unhired, unrecruited, and often unwelcome chaplain) says this line, "I believe. I just...I think I'm on the wrong ship."
Lord, have mercy when we feel like we are in the wrong place, when we have made poor decisions, when we are overwhelmed by the challenges of life. 
Lord, have mercy when we need help with our doubt and unbelief. Have compassion and help us.
Lord. Kyrie. 

Dear members and friends of First Lutheran Church and Preschool,

Greetings in the name of Jesus! On Tuesday, October 6, the elders and I met to make a variety of
decisions regarding indoor worship as we head into the winter months. Below are the decisions we
came to a consensus on.

We will begin indoor worship on Sunday, November 1. We will continue with our outdoor services for
through the end of October. We will continue to have an online option into the foreseeable future for
those who are unable to join us for in-person worship.

Many of the precautions we have put in place for the outdoor services will remain in place for indoor
services. Masks, temperature checks, and social distancing will be required.

Current state and county guidelines limit us to 25% of our capacity indoors. Our capacity in the
sanctuary is 280, which means we will be limited to 70 people in the sanctuary for the time being. In our
outdoor services we’ve typically had 40-50 people, so we do not anticipate that limit being an issue.
We will clearly mark off the pews to indicate where people are to sit to remain socially distanced. We
will have 36 different spots where each family unit can be seated, scattered through the sanctuary.

One concern we have heard is regarding singing. The county and state’s recommendations for singing
include singing less often and more quietly. We will be singing, but we will begin by only singing the
closing hymn. We will look for other ways to involve music in our worship and praise.

Some additional precautions we are taking include a robust cleaning schedule, opening all doors and
windows in the sanctuary during our service to improve ventilation (you may need a coat in the winter
months), and having a clear system for entering and exiting the sanctuary. Over the next few weeks we
will be ironing out the logistics for these plans.

We understand that some people will not be comfortable worshiping in-person due to their risk factors
for Covid-19. This is entirely understandable. Each week 30-40 people have gathered to worship with us
online, and I hope you all will continue to do this. I hope to continue to provide pastoral care to you all,
especially in the form of bringing you the Lord’s Supper as frequently as possible.

We will continue to follow state and county guidelines both as a way to respect authority and to take
precautions for the safety of our community. The state may tighten restrictions again, and we will abide
by those decisions.

Through all of this, I pray that we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. I pray that you will continue to
receive God’s gifts of His Word and Sacraments whether in-person or online. I pray that you would
continue in prayer for myself, our congregation, our preschool, and our community. And I pray that we
would all continue to run the race of faith that has been set before us together. Clearly there have been
several hurdles and some rocky terrain in our race of faith this year, but as we keep our eyes fixed on
Jesus, we pray that He will lead us in His grace and mercy.

May the God of peace be with you all!

Pastor Andy Jones, along with elders: Bob Dottery, Kent Campbell, Kevin Meyer

These three options - the Introit, Psalm, or Entrance Hymn - fit into one specific space in the worship service that is often overlooked, even skipped in some liturgical congregations. Yet it occupies an important space in the movement of the liturgy. 
Introit is Latin for "entrance." The Introit is the time we enter God's presence and this typically occurs after we have been made ready for such a movement by the grand transformation of forgiveness. 
The introit or entrance hymn reminds me of the Disney classic Aladdin. There is a moment when Aladdin comes into the city of Agrabah with a grand processional. But Aladdin cannot make such a grand entrance until he is made worthy, until he is transformed into a prince, which is of course his first wish from Genie. Absolution is our moment of being made worthy, our moment of transformation.
Not that long ago (only 100-150 years ago), confession and absolution was rarely done corporately as part of the worship service. It was done privately (yes even in Protestant circles) on Saturdays before the Lord's Supper was served on Sunday mornings. This was admittedly a different time. The Lord's Supper was not served every week, not even every other week. In many cases the Lord's Supper was served quarterly at best, so a quarterly Saturday confession and absolution was part of the routine. 
Since confession and absolution were not a part of the Sunday morning service, often the first thing after the invocation was the introit, which is typically composed of verses from the Psalms. You can use the appointed introit for the day or the appointed psalm of the day (these are different) or an appropriate entrance hymn. Many congregations will use a hymn here if they don't use an opening hymn before the confession and absolution. At First Lutheran we use the Entrance Hymn option.
Even with the addition of confession and absolution to Sunday morning, you still see this entrance movement in many twenty-first century liturgical congregations, including First Lutheran. Until the absolution is pronounced, the pastor will not move into the altar area. The invocation, confession, and absolution, are done outside the altar area. 
This movement into the presence of the altar, the presence of the elements of wine and bread that will become Christ's body and blood within the hour, echoes the movement of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies in the temple. In former days our approach into God's presence was excessively limited, once a year by one person. But now, thousands, millions perhaps, approach every week and the enter by the blood of Jesus. 
This is why waiting until the absolution is pronounced is ritually significant. We enter as forgiven sinners by the blood of Jesus. 
This is also why when I enter the altar area during the entrance hymn, I look for the line in that hymn that speaks most clearly about Jesus' death for the sins of the world. I enter during that line to subtly communicate that my entrance is only possible because of the blood of Jesus.
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