The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

One of the liturgical terms that is often misused (simply because it is different from secular use) is the term "Verse." While you may hear a pastor or worship leader refer to hymn "stanzas" as "verses" (e.g. we will now sing hymn 555, verses 1, 2, and 5), that's not the liturgical meaning of Verse. 
The Verse comes right before the Gospel Reading. In every season except for Lent, the Verse is preceded and followed by an Alleluia. The most common Verse is this:
Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.  
These are Peter's words from John 6:68, spoken after Jesus proclaims Himself the bread of life and that everyone must eat His flesh. Everyone stops following Jesus except for the Twelve. Jesus asks if they want to leave as well. This is Peter's reply. Who else can we follow? Where else can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. 
Then we listen to Jesus' words in the Gospel Reading.
Some congregations choose to use John 6:68 throughout year (except Lent). First Lutheran typically uses the designated Verse of the Day. This is often a line taken from the Gospel reading. Sometimes it is drawn from the Epistle or another scriptural passage. It is meant to set the tone for the Gospel that is about to be read.
The Verse is a prelude. It's almost like a theme song. It lets you know what's coming. Theme songs are of course common in television. When you hear the first few notes, you know what's coming. It only takes a few notes for me to know exactly what's coming in the Parks and Rec, Cheers, or Firefly theme songs. I'm sure you have your own favorites.
But the Verse, to me, is more reminiscent of personal theme songs that we see in sports. This is common in baseball. As batters make their way to the plate, their music plays. It pumps them up I guess.  
Even better in my opinion is a professional wrestler's theme song. There are so many iconic wrestler theme songs, but none is better than Stone Cold Steve Austin's. It begins with broken glass. You don't even need to hear a note of music, you know as soon as you hear that broken glass exactly what's coming. The Texas Rattlesnake is on his way!
That's what the Alleluia and Verse are like. They are a moment of praise that grabs your attention and points you to what is coming: The words and actions of Jesus.
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.
I love to watch and read stories from the days before television, before the internet, before smart phones, before all of our new-fangled ways of communication. To me, Jane Austen exemplifies an era where communication typically only could take place in one of two ways: talking face to face or a handwritten letter. Austen's use of the letter to create turning points in her stories was genius. Persuasion in particular hinges totally and entirely on a letter. 
Some things are just better written than spoken. Some people communicate more effectively in writing than in speaking. I have often felt like I am such a person. I like to be careful with what I say. I like to edit what I communicate. I don't like needing to apologize for careless words that later need recalling.
Handwritten letters have all but disappeared from daily life. We've replaced them with emails, text messages, blog posts, and various forms of social media. Written communication is still important to us, but it has become ever more instantaneous. 
The third piece of Scripture in the worship service (second if you skip the Psalm) is the Epistle reading.
Epistle means letter. The books of the Bible that fit this category are anything from Romans to Revelation. 
Some are written to churches, others are written to individuals. The Apostle Paul wrote many of these letters. The Apostle John wrote four New Testament letters (including Revelation). The Apostle Peter wrote two letters that found their way into the New Testament. Jesus' brothers James and Jude are also the (likely) authors of one Epistle a piece. And there is the book of Hebrews of which the author is unknown.
Of the Epistles there are 3184 verses that could be covered (Give or take, sometimes the versification skips a verse in the NT. See John 5:4.) and 1692 are covered by the three-year lectionary, making 53.14%. 
Much of what gets left out is the book of Revelation, but 2 Corinthians has a lot skipped as well. 
For our purposes, the Epistle reading serves to show us how the earliest Christians talked about the most radical, ridiculous change in the course of human history - Jesus. What does Jesus' incarnation, teaching, miracles, death, resurrection, ascension, and return mean for us? For the world? For all creation?
The Epistles also reveal how the early church dealt with problems. Paul yells at the Galatians for abandoning the Gospel for the Law. He rebukes the Corinthians for turning the Lord's Supper into a time of demarcation between the rich and poor. James encourages fruitfulness in place of a lazy, fruitless faith.
The Epistles show us that people are people, and they often get confused and go running after things that are not important and get distracted by petty differences. Dare I say, this remains true today. 
I'm not writing Scripture, but I take the time every week to communicate with everyone at First Lutheran in written form through our newsletter. It's an opportunity to communicate things clearly, to give reminders, to supplement Bible studies and sermons, to encourage the congregation towards faithfulness in the midst of all of life's struggles.
Letters are definitely worth your time. Just ask Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot.
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.
If there's a piece of the Divine Service that gets skipped in any particular congregation, I'd bet on the Psalm/Gradual. 
A congregation may have already used the Psalm for the Day earlier (in which case the Gradual can be used, a brief chant or spoken response), but if they chose the Introit or Entrance Hymn for that slot, then the Psalm of the Day can be used here. 
First Lutheran has typically chosen to use the Psalm of the Day as a preservice meditation for people to read and contemplate as they gather and wait for worship to begin.
In all of my lectionary research, the information I gathered on the Psalms was the most disheartening to me. 
There are 150 Psalms. There are 156 Sundays in the three-year lectionary cycle (not to mention common feast days like Christmas and Ash Wednesday). One would think the Psalms could get solid coverage through the lectionary. 
One would think.
Of the 150 Psalms only 84 are covered in any portion. 66 Psalms are entirely absent for most congregations. If they celebrate every minor festival and feast day, they could touch upon an additional 10, making 94 of the 150 Psalms. 
There are 2461 verses in these 150 Psalms. Only 1003 are used in the lectionary. That's 40.76%. We have an entire reading dedicated to this book of Psalms and we are ignoring nearly 60% of it. 
Yet all that is insignificant to a greater problem: how few congregations even use the Psalm of the Day. I don't know how many congregations use the Psalm of the Day, but if that number reaches 50%, I'd be shocked. Truthfully, those in the LCMS shouldn't be surprised. If you look at the lectionary collection in our latest hymnal Lutheran Service Book, you'll find the Psalm of the Day isn't even a category listed.
Not using the Psalm of the Day is a dangerous choice because the creators of the lectionary expect you to use this reading. They do not include the Psalms in the rotation of the Old Testament readings. This means thousands of Lutherans have never heard a sermon on the book of Psalms. I don't want to proclaim it as the most important book in the Bible or pit it against other books, but it's definitely top 10, probably top 5, maybe top 3. Remember, 11 books of the Bible get ignored by the lectionary. If you leave out the Psalm of the Day, you're relegating the Psalms to the same fate as Haggai, 2 and 3 John, Nahum, Judges, and Ezra. These books don't deserve to be ignored. How much less the Psalms.
The Psalms have been a part of the church's life since its inception. Jesus quotes Psalm 22 and fulfills Psalm 69 from the cross. Peter quotes Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 on Pentecost. Paul quotes or alludes to more than a dozen Psalms in Romans alone. 
Psalm 23 is requested for nearly every funeral you will ever attend, yet it isn't read on Sundays unless we use the Psalm for the Day.
The Psalms are the church's prayer book and hymnal. 
Imagine if someone bought the complete works of Shakespeare and they were given a selection of weekly readings from the histories, the tragedies, the comedies, and the sonnets. Do you think they'd get a full picture of Shakespeare if they left out any of these categories? 
The Psalms can teach us how to speak to God when everything is going wrong. The Psalms can show us how to be faithful when we are in the midst of terrible suffering. The Psalms can help us confess. The Psalms always point us to Jesus.
We need to use them. We need to use more of them.

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

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