The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

The Sanctus is the immediately response to the Proper Preface.
 
In the Sanctus we repeat the words spoken in Isaiah 6 by the seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 
 
Isaiah's response is one of total fear, for he knows that he is a man of unclean lips and he has seen the Lord of hosts. Isaiah truly and honestly believes he is about to die as he hears these words of the angels.
 
And here we are, centuries later, repeating the words Isaiah heard and they no longer cause fear and trembling. They are words of joy. 
 
Of course we add on to them a bit. In many versions of the Sanctus we add words spoken on Palm Sunday by the crowds, "Hosanna (save us now) in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." 
 
Again, this may seem an odd choice. After all, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem is an entry of peace (riding on a donkey as opposed to a warhorse), but it is not the peaceful entry we expect. Jesus makes peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20).
 
The Sanctus seems to be two random pieces of Scripture taken out of context and forced together in a rather odd spot in the liturgical movement. 
 
It's like in The Lord of the Rings films when they take quotations from some characters and give them to other characters. This should fail miserably, but somehow it ends up working out just fine. People who have not read the books probably have no idea these lines were re-assigned so to speak. The films take lines from Tom Bombadil and give them to Treebeard, lines from Gandalf and give them to Grima Wormtongue, lines from Faramir and give them to Eowyn. If you watch the appendices on the extended editions of the films, the writers will justify and defend these moves, noting the importance of Tolkien's language and wanting to use it somewhere.
 
I remember going to a Zac Brown Band concert where they played Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It should not have made sense, a country band performing this 1970s rock ballad, but it was perhaps their greatest performance of the night.
 
Perhaps you really enjoy pizza with odd flavor combinations that should not make sense. I remember having one with asparagus and sausage that was pretty good.
 
In each case what doesn't seem to make sense at first glance ends up working quite well. 
 
That's sort of how I feel about the Sanctus. The creators of the liturgy in centuries past wanted to use Isaiah 6 and they wanted to use the Palm Sunday "Hosanna" language. They decided to put them together at this moment of praise in the liturgy and it shouldn't work, but it does.
 
It is fitting for us to call holy, holy, holy in the moments before approaching the altar of the Lord. It is fitting for us to call for God to save us now (Hosanna) before we receive Jesus body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  
After the offering has been taken, the congregation sings a song that seems to serve two purposes. Firstly, it expresses thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us. Secondly, it marks the transition from The Service of the Word into The Service of the Sacrament.
 
At First Lutheran and at many other Lutheran churches there are a few options for the Offertory. The first draws from Psalm 116 asking "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?" (the expression of thanksgiving). It also says, "I will take the cup of salvation" (at least a serendipitous allusion to the Lord's Supper).
 
The next option draws from Psalm 51. This gets at the preparations for the Lord's Supper as it asks God to create clean hearts within us and to renew our spirits. 
 
The next option asks God to "let the vineyards be fruitful." Such a statement asks God to make good on His promises to bless those who have poured out their full tithe (Malachi 3:10). But, like the first option, there is Lord's Supper language as we ask to "be fed with the bread of life" and for God to "grace our table" and "give us a foretaste of the feast to come."
 
In this way, the offertory serves as an interlude, a transition. We respond to God's Word and promises by offering sacrifices to Him. These are not sacrifices of bulls and sheep and goats that are supposed to atone for sin, but rather sacrifices of a different kind. Sacrifices of thanksgiving that are the first fruits of the abundance God has given us.
 
Simultaneously, we are preparing to celebrate the Lord's Supper where we recall Christ's sacrifice for us - His body and blood, given and shed, for us and our salvation.
 
The offertory is like halftime in a way. Halftime is a time to review the first half, and prepare for the second half. You review what went wrong and right in the first half. You make adjustments and go forth with a game plan into the second half.
 
In worship, the first half is the Service of the Word. The second half is the Service of the Sacrament. The offertory responds to the first half and prepares our hearts for the second half. The offertory says thank you to God's Word of Law and Gospel (what went wrong and what went right), and marches into the second half with full confidence in the victory of Christ that is passed down to us week after week.
 
Calling it "Halftime" in the hymnal probably wouldn't fly, but I like it.
 
The Proper Preface, much like other elements of the Divine Service, changes with the season and specific festivals of the church year. It always begins with these words:
 
"It is truly good, right, and salutary..." 
 
And always ends with these words:
 
"...evermore praising You and saying:"
 
The Proper Preface is a time to locate the congregation's praise in the activity of the season or the day. The most common Proper Preface, used in the season of Pentecost, calls to our attention Jesus' resurrection as He overcomes death and the grave "on this day" meaning Sunday, the Lord's day. 
 
Since God's saving action in Christ is a reality that has been given to us, we therefore join the heavenly host in praising God for all that He has done for us.
 
The Proper Preface answers the basic question: "Why are we here?" The answer is not complicated. To praise God for all He has done for us. To receive His good gifts. 
 
The Proper Preface is like that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas, when everything has gone wrong for Charlie Brown and he finally asks the big question, the why question, saying, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" And of course Linus stands up and tells the Christmas story from Luke 2, answering the question as to what Christmas is all about.
 
The Proper Preface answers the big, why question. "What is this all about?" It's about Jesus overcoming death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opening for us the way of everlasting life.
 
That's the why. That's the answer to the big question.
The concept of giving an offering or a sacrifice to God or the gods in whatever religious system is shockingly common. In most religious systems, the offering is meant to please and appease the gods so that they will look with favor upon humanity and give them seasonable weather, good fortune, or whatever the humans are asking for.
 
This may seem antiquated, but how often do you hear the trope from movies, TV, or in your own life where a person is in trouble and they make a promise of an offering or a sacrifice if God or the gods get them out of the mess they are in. 
 
Legend has it this happened to Martin Luther. Traveling in the countryside through a lightning storm, he promised to become a monk if he got out of the storm. 
 
We see this in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. There's one chapter in which Tigger bounces to the top of the tree, gets stuck, refuses to try to climb or bounce or jump down, and then promises that if he ever gets out of this mess, he'll never bounce again. 
 
The attitude of Luther or Tigger in such a moment is one of desperation, one of offering to repay God or the gods by doing something in particular or by giving up something in particular, by offering or sacrificing something. Luther offers his life to service in the church. Tigger offers to give up his absolute favorite thing in the entire world. 
 
The attitude behind these offerings and sacrifices, these promises, is not the attitude of the Christian offering. As Christians, we do not view the offering this way. Such offerings are hostage negotiations that we make up in our own mind. They are cosmic contracts that God never actually agrees to.
 
When Christians come forward with their offerings, it is not to curry God's favor, but to thank God for His unwavering favor that has already been placed upon us. Christians should never give an offering with the mindset that if we give enough, God will help us win the lottery or get us that promotion at work or whatever thing we desire. Offerings are not a way to payoff God to give us what we want, but rather the Christian offering is a time to give back to God for already giving us all that we need, all that we have to support this body and life.
 
Although, there are times when God calls upon us to be more faithful in our offerings, even to put Him to the test. In Malachi 3, God challenges the people to give their full tithe, to quit robbing God by holding back from all that He has given them. 
 
There is enough biblical evidence to show that God actually does expect 10% from His people. It's not the easiest jump to make from offerings of crops to offerings of dollars, but the expectation for God's people has been to return a tithe, 10% of what God has blessed them with. 
 
What has God blessed you with? 
 
The real problem with the example of Tigger is that Tigger offers to give up what God had given him. Tigger doesn't offer to use his bouncing for good, to use the talent God had given him for the betterment of the 100-Acre Wood. Tigger had been doing that very thing when he got stuck in the tree. He was teaching Roo how to bounce. He was spreading joy through his God-given talent. It is only after Tigger gets down, and Rabbit relinquishes his hold on Tigger's promise never to bounce again, that we see Tigger go back to his vocation of spreading the joy of bouncing.
The problem with examples like Tigger is that they come from a place of fear that blinds us to the goodness of what God has blessed us with.
 
So what has God blessed you with? Do you have an income? God blessed you with that. Do you have a passion or some skill set? God has blessed you with that. Do you have relationships and a sphere of influence? God has blessed you with those. Don't hide those things. Don't ignore those things. Don't hoard those things to yourself. Don't try to give up on those things like Tigger did in fear and desperation, but rather put them to use in the kingdom of God. 
 
Make the best use of what God has given to you. And if you don't know what that looks like, talk to somebody with more experience in this world of being a good steward of God's gifts.
As we turn toward the Service of the Sacrament, we re-begin in a way with words of greeting as the pastor says:
The Lord be with you.
And the congregation responds:
And also with you.
Or...
And with thy spirit.
These words stand as a foreshadowing of what is about to happen. The Lord is coming down to be with us. The Lord is coming down to be truly present in bread and wine. The Lord is coming down to forgive our sins in His holy Supper.
 
Of course, the Star Wars franchise has stolen this sentiment as people are always saying, "The Force be with you." But notice it is said almost entirely as a goodbye in that world. It is a blessing, a benediction. 
 
As we say "The Lord be with you" we are not offering a mere wish, some superstitious expression of protection. We are saying something very real. We are speaking to a personal God on behalf of other people, asking this personal God to be with and dwell with others. 
 
The impersonal Force of Star Wars is nothing compared to the personal God who came down from heaven and was incarnate for us. He lived among us, healed us, proclaimed good news to us. He suffered and died for us. And He is risen from the dead and ascended on high for us. He promised after His resurrection and before His ascension to always be with us. Our proclamation of "The Lord be with you" is not a wish. It is a reminder that this is reality. The Lord is with you. And soon within the service He will come to be with you in a real and tangible way as we eat His body and drink His blood.
The prayers are a time when the congregation brings its burdens before the Lord, and often before each other. Prayers are shared for the sick and dying, the grieving, the hopeless and the helpless. These are the prayers most often requested in my experience. Prayers about an upcoming surgery, recovery from illness, the death of a loved one. 
 
But prayers are also made in thanksgiving. People often request prayers as they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions. They give thanks when healing has occurred, when jobs are found, when life is good.
 
Prayers are made for leaders in the world and the church. Prayers are offered that relate to the Scripture readings for the day.
 
The prayers I hear the least, and the prayers I pray the least, are when life is neither good nor bad, when life is humming along at the status quo filled with stress and exhaustion, but lacking in crisis situations. People often don't request prayers to feel more rested, to have more energy, to have more satisfaction with their work, or to have a crisis situation come up so that they will appreciate the routine and status quo more.
 
Yet, if you think about the Lord's Prayer, what is it other than a prayer for an ordinary day. Give us this day our daily bread. Give us what we need to survive another day of the status quo. 
 
One of the biggest lies the world tells us is that we are missing out, that we deserve more and better, that we won't be satisfied until we upgrade everything. 
 
But this is a never ending striving after the wind. It depletes our satisfaction far more than enhances it. Such tireless striving robs us of the ability to enjoy what we have, to notice and appreciate, and pray for the mundane, for daily bread.
 
I'd love to see more mundane requests. Because, let's face it, what we consider mundane are some of the greatest blessings we have. Thank you God for my ordinary, mundane car. Thank you God for the technology to communicate with my friends around the globe. Thank you God for my health (even when I'm not taking the best care of my body). 
 
Thank you God for roads and grocery stores and books and air conditioning and fingernail clippers and indoor plumbing and sunsets and music and stories and flowers and coffee. 
 
You see, our prayers of thanks for and dissatisfaction with the mundane reveal the total and entire point of prayer: all things are dependent upon God. 
 
Comedian Kathleen Madigan once joked about the USA's deficit and debt, saying that she'd be more likely to act if the deficit wasn't some astronomical number beyond her comprehension, but was something ordinary...like mashed potatoes. Ordinary things are taken for granted until they are taken away. Then, we don't know how to handle it.
 
So let us thank God today for mashed potatoes. Let us thank God for the ordinary. Because let's face it, ordinary just means things we have gotten used to, and every ordinary thing is an absolute marvel.
 
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