• (Alleluia and) Verse

    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 theParks and Rec,Cheers, orFirefly 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.
  • Agnus Dei - Lamb of God

    In my second post of this series, on Confession, I mention the Agnus Dei for its use of the Latin phrasemiserere nobis which means "have mercy on us." 
    This portion of the liturgy is sung immediately before the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It is an interesting placement for these words considering it is inspired by John the Baptist's words immediately before he baptizes Jesus (baptism being another sacrament). 
    These final words that we vocalize before receiving forgiveness are repetitive, yet profound. We name Jesus as the Lamb of God (just as John the Baptist does). We acknowledge that He takes away the sin of the world (just as John the Baptist does). We ask for His mercy. We ask for His peace. That mercy and that peace is grounded in the reality that Jesus is the one who takes our sins away. He takes away the sin of the world on the cross. He takes away the sin of all those gathered around the altar as they partake of His body and His blood for their forgiveness.
    These final words spoken before the meal begins are like the music that is played to introduce an baseball player or a professional wrestler. These words and this music introduce Jesus as He comes down and dwells with us in bread and wine. The Agnus Dei is Jesus' entrance theme. 
    And much like Jesus, it is gentle, humble, and powerful. And it leaves us with what we ask for - His mercy peace.
  • Benediction

    While many congregations conclude the worship service with a closing hymn or song, the true end of the service is the Benediction. This makes perfect sense. We begin the service in the name of God as we speak the Invocation. And we end the service in the name of God as He blesses us in the Benediction. 
    The words of the Benediction are drawn from the Scriptures, particularly from Numbers 6:24-26. But look at the verses before and after the blessing. 
    The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
     The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
     “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” 
    This is how the priests (which Aaron is in charge of) are to bless and put God's name upon God's people. Notice LORD is in all caps here. This is God's divine name, Yahweh, being placed on the people. 
    Our lives as Christians begin in God's name in Baptism. Our worship services begin in God's name in the Invocation. Our worship services end with God's name being placed upon us in this Benediction. And our lives as Christians end in God's name too. This is one of the prayers I will pray at a burial or a funeral.
    May God the Father who created this body; may God the + Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
    The name of our God begins, blesses, ends, and brings us through all of life. From baptism to burial and beyond, God's name reigns over us.
    In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Collect/Prayer of the Day

    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.
  • Confession

    If you put together the various liturgies most used at First Lutheran, you will find a confession of sins that includes confessing to the following:

    • We are by nature sinful.
    • We are by nature unclean.
    • We have sinned against God in our thoughts.
    • We have sinned against God in our words.
    • We have sinned against God in our actions, what we've done.
    • We have sinned against God in what we have failed to do.
    • We have not loved God with our whole heart.
    • We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
    • We deserve God's punishment now and forever.
    • We are unworthy before God.
    • We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
    • We are poor.
    • We are miserable.
    • We are sinners.

    That's a lot. There's a totality to it. Thoughts, words, and actions are allsinful. What we do and what we fail to do are bothsinful. Our sin is against God andagainst neighbor, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. We deserve punishment now andforever. We are helpless. 

    We are miserable.

    Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.

    Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.

    At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person, as in Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).

    It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”

    To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in both of these ways. He is a stingy man in need of mercy, and thankfully he receives it.

    Looking at the laundry list of things listed above, we are confessing to our total depravity before God and neighbor, and I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy. 

    And He has given us mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

  • Creed

    After the sermon comes one of the three creeds. Creed is a term derived from the Latin for "I believe." So it is no surprise that the two most common creeds we use begin with  "I believe..." These are the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. The third and least used of the three creeds is the Athanasian Creed.
    In some congregations, the Nicene Creed is used on Sundays when the Lord's Supper is celebrated. The Apostles' Creed is used on Sundays when the Lord's Supper is not celebrated. And the Athanasian Creed is used for Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost). 
    A somewhat recent movement to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday has made the above a bit obsolete. Some congregations have adapted by simply alternating every other week between the Apostles' and Nicene Creed. Others use the Nicene Creed for the festival portion of the year (from Advent to Pentecost) and the Apostles' Creed for the Sundays after Pentecost.
    The Nicene Creed was formed over the course of more than 50 years. Beginning in 325 at the ecumenical Council of Nicea, the church sought to articulate a confession to provide clarity against heresies that had arisen. The Creed wasn't completed until 381 at the Council of Constantinople. 
    The Apostles' Creed is steeped in a bit more mystery. It was long held that each of the 12 Apostles constructed one line of this confession and it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. From what I can tell, the Apostles' Creed began as part of the baptism rite in one corner of the early church. It was morphed and edited along the way. Its earliest construction (we'll call it a rough draft) was probably in the second century, but its current form wasn't settled upon until the eighth century.
    Much like the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed is aimed at articulating the faith in the face of heresies. The main concern in this case was the Trinity. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not parts or modes of the same God. All three persons are God. They are distinct from one another, yet united. 
    Within the worship service, the Creed stands as a moment of unity. Together the congregation confesses their faith in this Triune God. Christians throughout the world, in dozens of countries and thousands of languages confess their faith each week in one of these creeds. Despite denominational division, the Creed anchors us to unity. After all, it is in the Nicene Creed that we confess we believe in "one, holy, Christian/catholic, and Apostolic church." One. Not thousands. One.
    To me, the Creed is a moment to reflect upon one of my favorite moments in Scripture. In Mark 9, when a man brings his demon-possessed child to Jesus, eventually this man confesses, "I believe! Help my unbelief." 
    I believe each line of each of these creeds. I ascent to them with my mind, my heart, my soul. But I don't always live like I believe. Oftentimes I live in disbelief, in unbelief, even in anti-belief.
    Sometimes I act as if God's creation didn't matter. Sometimes I act as if Jesus' incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and return were nothing more than monotone facts of history, rather than the most important events to ever occur in the galaxy. Sometimes I act as if the Holy Spirit were nothing, and I seek to take credit for all of the ideas the Holy Spirit has given me.
    The Creed is a time to say "Jesus is Lord," even if it is spoken in monotone. It is a time to remember that God is God, and I am not. 
  • Distribution

    We finally come to it, the distribution of the Lord's body and blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Some would say that the entire service up to this point has been leading up to and preparing us for this moment of reception.
    The Lord's Supper is properly called a meal, a banquet, a feast. It is the moment of eating of eating and drinking we have been looking forward to. 
    Imagine preparing a Thanksgiving meal for your whole family. You've sent the invitations. You've gotten the RSVPs back. You've planned out the meal and looked up the recipes. You ordered more place mats, plates, and forks. You got a special gravy boat for the occasion. You've bought the food. You've cooked the food. It's on the table. It has been blessed by prayer. The food is on your plate, on your fork, on your tongue, and it is delicious. It's what you've been waiting for.
    One of the things I love about the architecture of most church buildings is that their communion space is often a semi-circle or semi-rectangle (if that's a thing). There is an insinuation that the space for those we commune with extends beyond the borders of our buildings. The Lord's Supper is a celebration that extends beyond time and space. As we commune with each other, we commune with those throughout the world and throughout time that have received Christ's body and blood just as we are receiving Him. It is a boundless fellowship, a limitless communion.
    It reminds me of the Pixar filmCoco. In this film, a family is celebrating Dia de Muertos orThe Day of the Dead. Part of the celebration of this holiday includes putting out the favorite foods of those ancestors who have passed away. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene in which the audience can see both the living and the dead dining together. 
    This picture of dining in a great banquet with the saints who have gone before us is reflective of the Lord's Supper. 
    As we partake of this meal, as we participate in the body and blood of Christ, we do so in the same way that our parents, grandparents, and ancestors for centuries have done. We do so as our children, grandchildren, and descendants for centuries will do. Time and space are transcended in this meal as Jesus' once for all forgiveness is given to us again and again.
    So the next time you receive Christ's body and blood for your forgiveness, look up to the cross, look around to your neighbors, look at the wall and remember the dear, departed saints who have gone before us and participate in this banquet's fare alongside us.
  • Epistle Reading

    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.Persuasionin 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.
  • Gospel Reading

    The readings that take place during a worship service differ greatly in regard to genre, setting, and theme. Some readings from the Old Testament are narrative, others prophetic, others poetry, others apocalyptic. They span more than a thousand years of Israel's history. They are penned by nearly three dozen different authors.
    The Epistle readings are all letters written to specific people or communities addressing specific issues that were problematic. They span a 50-70 year period of the early church.
    But the Gospels record a narrow time frame, a narrow geographic range, and focus in on one person: Jesus. The four Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus. Matthew and Luke include Jesus conception and birth in their story-telling. Luke throws in a story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy. But the vast majority of these four books is spent in a three year period that records Jesus' baptism, temptation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.
    The Gospels record the story of the most important character in God's salvation narrative. Every other scriptural writing up to this point had been pointing to this character. Every other scriptural writing after this point will be pointing back to this character. Everything hinges on the Gospels. Everything hinges on Jesus. 
    In the three-year lectionary system, about 68% of the the Gospels get covered. Most of what doesn't get covered are sections that are repeated by multiple authors. (So you'll get Luke's version of a particular healing rather than Mark's on occasion.) Only two chapters are entirely passed over in the lectionary, Matthew 8 and Matthew 12. 
    The lectionary follows a three-year cycle, which tends to follow one Gospel writer throughout the church year. Year A is Matthew. Year B is Mark. Year C is Luke. John fills in the gaps along the way and we actually hear more from John's Gospel than Matthew and Luke. 
    Many people have a Gospel author that they tend to prefer. They each bring their own style and their own stories. Without Matthew we wouldn't know about the Magi or Wise Men from the East bringing their gifts to the infant/toddler Jesus nor the great commission of Matthew 28. Without Mark, we wouldn't have some of the details of Jesus' arrest and trial that we hold dear. Without Luke we wouldn't have the infancy narrative of Jesus, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the thief on the cross, and much more. Without John, we wouldn't have the raising of Lazarus, the foot-washing, the proclamation of Jesus as the light of the world, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the bread of life. Without John we wouldn't hear "It is finished" from the cross. We wouldn't have Thomas's story of missing out on Jesus' appearance. 
    Each Gospel author has been vital to our understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. 
    It goes without saying, but I highly recommend reading and/or listening to the Gospels. And I highly recommend doing so multiple times in a short period of time. If you can manage to read Mark once a week for ten weeks in a row, you'll begin to notice things in the eighth and ninth reading that you missed on the first several reads. 
    We need to treat the Gospels like a child treats their favorite Disney film. We need to consume them over and over and over again so that they are so embedded in our memory that when we return to them years later, we still know them by heart, we still remember the nuance and the detail, and we still see Jesus saving His people.
  • Hymn of Praise

    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.
  • Hymn of the Day

    After theGospel Reading, the congregation sings a hymn to focus their attention on the themes for the day: the Hymn of the Day. 
    The Hymn of the Day is pre-selected. Usually it is the same hymn for all three years of the lectionary cycle. This makes sense for about half of the year when the readings follow a feast day pattern. Lent 1 always utilizes the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the Hymn of the Day is always "A Mighty Fortress." Easter 4 is "Good Shepherd Sunday" so the classic Psalm 23 paraphrase: "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" gets the call all three years of the lectionary cycle. 
    For the other half of the year though, the Hymn of the Day has a danger of not connecting well. There is nothing really connecting series A, B, and C in the season of Pentecost (or "Ordinary Time" in some traditions). 
    The Hymn of the Day is meant to be thematic. It is the good news and story of the day set to music. It's like that one song in a musical or Disney movie that utilizes the name of the show the most. (My mind goes to "Tale as old as time..." from Beauty and the Beast.)
    The Hymn of the Day should not be confused with the "Office Hymn" which is used in other liturgies such as Matins, Vespers, Compline, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. The term "office" here refers to the time of the day. Monasteries often had seven specified times of prayer. That's where Matins, Vespers, and Compline come from. They are three of the seven offices. So the Office Hymn for Matins should be a morning hymn. The Office Hymn for Compline should be a hymn to fall to sleep to.
    There is also a...trend we'll call it...of not using the Hymn of the Day specifically, but simply selecting something for this slot called the "Sermon Hymn." If the Hymn of the Day doesn't fit the direction of the sermon, this can be a useful change.
    A different trend that I think is worth exploring is moving the Hymn of the Day or Sermon Hymn to after the sermon. 
    This seems to find roots in the African American tradition of preaching. The goal of many sermons in traditionally African American churches is for the hearers to praise God. (For more see Richard Eslinger's book,The Web of Preaching.) This is a most biblical idea. After God does something saving and amazing, the response in the Scriptures is often singing. In Exodus 15, after the Israelites escape Egypt and cross the Red Sea, they break into song. After Deborah and Barak defeat the king of Hazor in Judges 4, they break into song in Judges 5. After Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper, He and the disciples sing a hymn as they go to Gethsemane. 
    We'll get to the sermon next time, but the goal of the sermon could very well affect the order of the worship service. One approach to sermon goals is to have a balance of "faith goals" and "life goals." 
    Life goals involve specific actions steps. A preacher may write a life goal out like this:
    • That the hearers would invite a neighbor to church. 
    • That the hearers would be more generous with their tithes and offerings. 
    • That the hearers would read the Scriptures more often. 
    These are all attached to tangible, often measurable actions.
    Faith goals often involve things that are more cognitive and affective. They involve the heart and mind more than the hands and feet. Things like being persuaded to trust, hope, and love more deeply. A faith goal might be written like this:
    • That the hearers would find security in their baptismal identity. 
    • That the hearers would see the return of Jesus and resurrection of the dead as their ultimate hope.
    • That the hearers would keep their eyes fixed on Jesus as they persevere through the struggles of life.
    Faith and life goals don't always have solid delineations, and sometimes sermons have more than one goal. In general, Lutherans are often heavy on the faith goals which makes our movement from sermon to Creed, where we confess our faith, a logical one. Other traditions are heavy on life goals, so the movement from sermon to singing and praise is a logical progression. 
    The best reason to use the pre-selected Hymn of the Day is pretty simple: many other churches in your tradition are using it (along with the readings,Collect,Introit, etc.) and often the Hymn of the Day is a classic piece to your tradition that your congregation should know. The best reason to not use it is if it doesn't fit into the direction and themes of the service.  
  • Indoor Worship Resumes November 1

    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

  • Introit, Psalm, or Entrance Hymn

    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.
  • Invocation

    In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
    This is how worship services begin in our congregation: in the name of the Triune God without commas, with the sign of the cross.
    This is also the way Christian life begins as we are baptized into the name of that same Triune God without commas, with water and the Word of God.
    Some pastors, priests, or ministers add the words "We begin..." to this invocation. Personally, I choose not to do that. "We begin..." is not how you invoke a name. 
    In the days when kings and queens, emperors and pharaohs ruled the world, their names were invoked to show the authority by which a task was done.
    One place we see a true invocation in our contemporary culture is in George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Here are the words Ned Stark uses to execute the Night's Watch deserter, Will.
    "In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, I, Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, sentence you to die."  
    As we come before the Lord of the universe in worship, we do so by His own authority and in His own name, a Triune name without commas. It is an official act, a formal act, a solemn act. It does not require the words "we begin..." for the words themselves are a beginning, a notice. They move us into a new time, a new act. 
    In this name many official acts occur. We are baptized in this name. We are forgiven in this name. We are blessed in this name. We are confirmed in this name. We are married in this name. We are sent on new adventures in this name. We are installed in various roles in our congregations in this name. We are commended to the Lord for death in this name. We are buried in this name.
    From first to last, beginning to end, the name of the Triune God is placed upon us again and again without commas but with authority. 
  • Kyrie

    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. 
  • Offering

    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 inThe 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.
  • Offertory

    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.
  • Old Testament Reading

    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. TheInvocation is taken from Matthew 28. TheConfession andAbsolution often uses phrases from 1 John. If you used theIntroit 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.
  • Post-Communion Canticle

    After we receive the Lord's Supper, we sing in response to this wonderful gift of God. Such singing is reflective of the song Moses and the Israelites compose and sing in Exodus 15 after they are saved from the Egyptians, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. Such singing is reflective of the song Deborah and Barak sing in Judges 5 after they defeat Jabin and Sisera.
    And such singing is reflective of one of the options for the post-communion canticle, the words of Simeon after he meets baby Jesus in the temple. Simeon says, and we often sing:
     "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).
    After Simeon sees Jesus, all is well. After we receive the Lord's Supper, all is well. 
    It is a moment of intense relief and joy. A burden (all our sin) is lifted from us that is so freeing, we feel like we can finally breathe again. It reminds me of that moment in The Lord of the Rings when the ring is finally destroyed, and Frodo says, "It's gone! It's done!"
    Our songs in response to God's marvelous actions continue to echo Moses, Deborah, and Simeon. 
    As another version of the Post-Communion Canticle puts it:
    "Thank the Lord and sing His praise; tell everyone what He has done."
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving

    The Prayer of Thanksgiving immediately precedes the Words of Institution (or Lord's Prayer, depending on which setting of the Divine Service you are using). This is a prayer that prepares the congregation for the reception of the Lord's Supper. In this prayer, the congregation prays for forgiveness, renewal, and strength.
    This prayer is essentially a mealtime prayer on steroids. It's a moment of being gathered together, a moment of recognizing God's mercy and grace, a moment of preparation for the gift we are about to receive.
    I imagine the Prayer of Thanksgiving to be like that moment on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning as you sit ready to open the first present. The air is filled with excitement and anticipation. You are more prepared than you ever been to receive this gift in front of you.
    Of course the Christmas gifts we receive may be glorious or disappointing. But we are never disappointed by our Lord. His gift of the Lord's Supper always delivers forgiveness, life, salvation, renewal, strength. It is a gift we can always count on and be thankful for. 
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