What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It? (Part 2)

 

Audio Part 1.

Audio Part 2.

Parts 3 and 4: Salutation/Collect through Creed

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The Lord be with you.” (“And with thy spirit.”) This is not, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” “Fine; you?” As the one whom you have called to carry out the responsibility before this altar, I am speaking the blessing of the Lord Jesus, His very presence, to and over you. And you, as the body of Christ in this place, speak that blessing back and—at the same time—you affirm my ordination, call, and installation. When I was installed here, you promised to honor and uphold me as your pastor, and that you would receive me, show me that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over and among you by your Lord Jesus Christ. When we speak this Salutation to one another, I am declaring the blessed Presence of Jesus among you, His people, and you are renewing my ordination, and my installation as your pastor. You are saying, “Yes, we have called you by the Holy Spirit to gather our prayers and speak them to God before this altar.” And yet, they do not cease to be your prayers. I say, and I mean, “Let us pray.” We are praying together. They are our prayers. But since God is a God of order rather than disorder, one speaks on behalf of all. And so, as I invite all who are gathered to pray, all those prayers that you and I bring here are “collected” into a single, concentrated prayer, the Collect, which sums up the Church’s focus for the day. It is the reappearance of the thread which began with the Introit, and which we will see again in the readings, gradual, and sermon. As we look at the Introit and Collect, and Gospel for today, we can begin to piece together a picture of that theme: “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant” (Psalm 119:76, ESV). “O God, you are the strength of all who trust in you, and without your aid we can do no good thing. Grant us the help of your grace that we may please you in both will and deed.” “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side….if they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:22, 31). The comfort of God’s promises in Christ comes to us by way of a Man who rises from the dead; the comfort comes to us regardless of our position or status or physical or material comfort. The poor have become rich because the Lord of all creation became poor, and died, and was raised up and exalted by the Father. By His grace, we are pleasing to Him in both will and deed, because everything good that we will and do comes from Him, who is our strength. “Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing; and in its narrow chamber keep my body safe in peaceful sleep until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me, that these mine eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, my savior and my fount of grace. Lord Jesus Christ, [our] prayer attend” (LSB 708:3).

There are two major parts of the Divine Service. The salutation actually links both parts by appearing at the beginning, middle, and end of the one Divine Service: Word and Sacrament. The first part is the Service of the Word, in which we receive from the mouths of God’s apostles and prophets His Word. Through the readings, we are slowly building, as we begin with the prophets who foretell salvation through the name of Jesus. “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). Week by week, we hear again the words of God that He spoke in those many and various ways. Following the reading from the Old Testament, we have the Gradual, the use of which is at least 1500 years old. The Gradual acts like a step as we move from the Old Testament to the New; from the shadows to the substance, which is Christ (Colossians 2:17). The Epistle, as you probably know, is always a section from a New Testament letter (which is what “epistle” means), and so we hear from both the forerunners of Jesus and those He sent out into the world. We keep moving upward, from the prophets and the apostles to the words of Jesus Himself, for which we stand in reverence in the Divine Service. “…in these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1). We hear Moses and the Prophets because we believe the One who has risen from the dead.

As I say or chant “The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, the 16th chapter” I make the sign of the cross three times, praying that God would make holy my mind, my mouth, and my heart as I speak His Word. Before and after the proclamation of the Gospel, we give glory and praise to the Jesus who is present among us. This is the Word of God in our flesh, speaking His Word to us. “[Y]ou have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word,” the Word that stands forever, “is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25, ESV). It is only by this proclaimed Word that men and women are saved, and it is only Christ by His Spirit who can open the minds and hearts of blind and dead people. Jesus says, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27, ESV). Philip does the same thing with the prophet Isaiah in the Ethiopian’s chariot: “beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). It is Christ who speaks, Christ who interprets, and Christ who enlightens hearts and minds. Let us hear Christ, and Christ alone, who has risen from the dead, whenever Moses, the Prophets, or the Apostles speak to us.

In the Name of this Christ, let us now pray as His own Body, which has no strength apart from its Head; and, as that Body, we pray for holy minds, holy hearts, and holy ears to hear the Word of God which He speaks to us.

  

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. We have heard the Word of God, beloved, and so we speak back to God His promises. We have nothing which we have not first received (1 Corinthians 4:7). All our confession, all our prayer, all our theology, is (or should be) a speaking back to God the gifts and promises that He has given to us in His Word. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word for “I believe,” credo. We have two creeds which we use regularly, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, which we will use today, is a baptismal creed. We find in it the basic confession of the baptized Christian, which is why a candidate for baptism speaks the Apostles’ Creed. The one who is going to be baptized answers questions that have been asked nearly from the beginning of the Christian congregation: Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit? In the answers to these questions is the essence of our Faith, and the beginning of the Creed. And our answers are not some abstract thoughts about God. The confession you and I make as we speak the Apostles’ Creed is a personal one. This is the story of your salvation. You are saying, “I believe that God has created me and all creatures.” “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” “I believe that the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith.” As the Church speaks this Creed century after century, each new generation of Christians finds itself in the midst of the great cloud of witnesses, among whom were those early Christians who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). As we hold up the Creed as the summary banner of what it means to be a believer in Christ, we, too, are devoting ourselves to the teaching of the apostles, after whom the Creed is named.

The Nicene Creed is similar in many ways to the Apostles’, but it has always been used as a Eucharistic creed, used when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. And it, like the Athanasian Creed, was forged in the heat of controversy with the enemies of Christ. At that time, as today, there were those asking the questions: what does it mean that Jesus is truly God? What does it mean that He is truly man? Who is the Holy Spirit? Not only were people asking those questions, but there were also some who denied that Jesus is fully God, or fully Man, or that the Holy Spirit is God. So, in the face of those questions and those challenges, the Church searched the Scriptures for answers, and the Creed we have today is the result of that searching. Christians take this Creed, like the Apostles’, not as the testimony of a single group of people in the fourth century, but as the unanimous confession of the Christian Church, which bears witness to the Faith of the Scriptures. People have died, and still die today, for the Faith that the Creeds confess, so we should not speak the words lightly. As the Church speaks, it is unavoidable that this confession, like any other confession, does not only gather Christians together, but excludes any contrary confession. Any time we confess one thing, we deny its opposite. So a confession that denies that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not a Christian confession. A confession that denies that Jesus is fully God is not a Christian one. A confession that denies “one Baptism for the remission of sins” or the resurrection of the dead at the end of time is not a Christian confession. This exclusivity is the necessary consequence of confessing the Scriptural Faith.

But we do not confess it in order to exclude people for whom Christ died, but so that those who do not confess it might hear the Word of God and have their eyes opened by the Lord of the Scriptures. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). This is the promise given to the Church, by which disciples are made: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV). Baptism and teaching; teaching and baptism: they always go together. God has given us no other way and no other means by which He promises to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The promise is for you, who were once far off. But the promise is also for your children. And it is, first of all, the responsibility of parents to teach the promises of God to their children. Those who do not are breaking the promise they made at their children’s baptism, and they are endangering the faith that was given at baptism. This is why Luther says that it is no joke to take action against the devil by baptizing a child. Baptism hangs a mighty, lifelong enemy around the child’s neck. It is a fearful responsibility to be a parent. The Faith of the Scriptures, which we confess in the Creeds, demands that we pass it on to our children; but it also promises that the Lord will bless His Word as we give to them what was first given to us. Pray for the strength and the grace to hand these great gifts down to your children, and pray for all Christian parents. One easy way to nurture the faith given in baptism is simply to repeat the words of the parts of the catechism when you say good-night to your children. Say the Ten Commandments, say the Apostles’ Creed, say the Lord’s Prayer; learn from the catechism about baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, and then you can repeat those great promises to the children God has entrusted to your care. This promise is for you, and this promise is for your children.

Having spoken the Creeds so many times, you may need to engage your bodies as you speak them once again. In both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, you can make the sign of Jesus’ cross at “the life of the world to come,” reminding yourself that you have life in this world and the next only because Jesus gave up His life for and to you from the cross. In both Creeds, you can bow your head at the Name of Jesus, which we talked about last week. Finally, during the Nicene Creed, you may see me “genuflect,” or bow on one knee, at these words: “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” To bow our heads, to bow our bodies, is to recognize that the mystery of the Son being made man in the womb of the Virgin is so far beyond our understanding that all we can do is worship Him for His great goodness. We have the sort of God who would become a man to save us, and be born of a Jewish virgin in Bethlehem of Judea! It is incomprehensible to our limited minds, which is proven by the many attempts to solve the mystery and make it logical and understandable. We forget that the Incarnation, that the Son became a Man is, by definition, “logical” because it was the Word, the logos, who became flesh for us. It is our logic that is off; our reason and understanding that are crooked. And so we bow, because the Word-made-flesh is for worshiping, not explaining. Understanding the Incarnation is beyond us. But the Incarnation itself is not beyond us, because it means “God with us,” Immanuel. Therefore: “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:13-14, ESV).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/20/16

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