What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It? (part 3)

 

Part V (Offertory through the Prayer of the Church)

Audio here.

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

“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Psalm 51:12; LSB 193). With what has the joy of the Lord’s salvation been replaced in your heart and mind? Is it the presence of something else, the joy of some other thing, which makes Christian joy seem to pale in comparison? Or is it more like the absence of something, a general malaise and indifference? All your colors have been dulled by the blows of the world, and you’re not sure you would recognize joy anyway. As the Holy Spirit applies the Law of God to your heart, you begin to feel your lack of joy. You recognize that your heart is not clean, that the spirit within you is not right. In the Offertory, we highlight our lack of the very things for which we pray. Things have gone wrong inside you and you can’t make them right. Things are going wrong all around you and you have no control over any of it. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10; LSB 192-193). This song, which we call the Offertory, comes from the response of David, after the prophet Nathan had confronted him with his adultery and murder. After hearing Nathan’s sermon about a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb, David, like we often do, applied its meaning to others: “As [Yahweh] lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6, ESV). And Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7, ESV). Suddenly, Nathan’s sermon was not about someone else, but about David. Likewise, I should always hear in the preached Word of God my sin, my unclean heart, my wrong spirit. Before God, you may not look at others, but only at yourself. I may preach to and for you, but if it has not hit home for me, it is likely not quite true.

The Offertory was originally the time when the members of the congregation would bring all their gifts forward and put them before the altar. They would bring things for the poor and needy, as well as the bread and wine for the Lord’s Supper. By the time of the Reformation, the focus had begun to be more and more on the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass. So the Lutheran Reformers removed the prayers that referred to the Mass as our sacrifice, and substituted Psalm 51. Now, as we sing the Offertory and then gather the offering, we still offer our gifts for use by the Lord, understanding that we offer to God only what He has first given to us. We echo the words of David in 1 Chronicles 29:14: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own we have given you.” As I receive the gifts, I normally pray something like this: “O God, multiply these gifts for the work of Your Kingdom, here and around the world, for Jesus’ sake.”

In the Offertory and the Prayer of the Church there is a bridge from the Service of the Word to the Service of the Sacrament. In the Service of the Word, everything points to the the preaching of God’s Word. Prior to the sermon, the liturgy is opening our ears, making us ready to hear God’s Word; after the sermon, we respond to what we have heard. And all of this prepares us, baptized and believing, for that moment when heaven meets earth, as the eternal Son of God give us His crucified Body to eat and His shed Blood to drink.

In our prayers, too, we can see the bridge between the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. We pray that the Word would take root and that, by that Word, the Spirit would produce abundant fruit in our lives; we pray also that we would receive the great blessing of the Lord’s Supper for forgiveness, and the strengthening of faith toward God and love toward other people. As with the Collect, the Prayer of the Church is exactly that: the Church’s prayer. And this prayer does what the Church should always do: pray for all sorts of people and for all sorts of needs. We, the Body of Christ in this place, have been added to the priesthood of all the baptized by Jesus, our High Priest. We have been given the privilege of offering our prayers to the Father through Jesus. Since no one comes to the Father except through Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we always offer our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” whether or not we actually say those words. In the name of Jesus, we offer “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people,” as Paul encouraged Timothy, the pastor of the church at Ephesus, to do. Further, Paul said, prayer should be offered “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV). And the promise of Jesus is trustworthy: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14, ESV).

Since the Prayer of the Church flows by faith out of Jesus’ words, it will always be in Jesus’ name. As we speak back to Him His own promises, we know that He will answer and do what He has promised. All these prayers in Jesus’ name are your prayers, which you pray individually, and which I pray in public on your behalf. We pray together, so I normally end each petition with, “Lord, in your mercy,” and you respond, “hear our prayer.” At other times we use the other major form of the prayer of the faithful, when I end each petition with, “Let us pray to the Lord” and the congregation actually prays the prayer by saying, “Lord, have mercy.” As Daniel prayed, “we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9:18, ESV).

We tend to think of our prayers and our worship in the Divine Service as the outgrowth of our own private devotion. In other words, what we do individually determines what happens when we come together. In reality, it is the corporate Divine Service that should begin to form our private devotion, so that our private devotion is never really private; so that our prayers and our reading of the Scriptures are like streams that flow out of the public well we call the liturgy. We are not autonomous individuals, but members of the one Body of Christ. The liturgy puts things in their proper order: God gives and we receive, and then we respond. The liturgy gives form and content to our devotion, and takes us out of our sinfully natural selfishness into love for God and love for other people.

Are your prayers dry and repetitive, maybe even non-existent? Learn from the liturgy how to pray: in confession, thanksgiving, intercession on behalf of all people, and adoration of God for what He has done, what He delivers to us in Christ Himself. Learn from the liturgy that the very language of prayer always flows out of the hearing of the Scriptures. Is your reading of the Scriptures aimless and seemingly hollow? Know first of all that the Scriptures are never empty or hollow, because the Spirit will use them in spite of our lack of discipline. But learn from the liturgy that Jesus Christ, with His Word and His Sacraments, is at the center of everything. Learn to read the Scriptures with the mercy and forgiveness of God in Jesus as the beginning, middle, and end. In the liturgy, you are never far from forgiveness in concrete, physical forms. Learn from the liturgy how the Scriptures function, as the words of a really present God who is here in mercy and love for the baptized brothers and sisters of His Son. The liturgy, what goes on in this place week after week, should become the very cycle and rhythm of your life. Sin and forgiveness, repentance and absolution, death and life, change and permanency, passive and active, gift and given to—all bound up in the life of Jesus poured out for you on the cross. Confession and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ are at the heart of the liturgy, as they are at the heart of your life as a Christian. Here is real life that makes everything else you do meaningful, not the other way around. And if, God forbid, I should ever fail to preach the Gospel purely and clearly, the Divine Service of Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ Supper gives exactly that pure Gospel, which is why it is a very bad idea to get rid of it.

We hear God’s Word proclaimed to us, we offer to God for His use what He has first given us, and then we join our holy vocation as members of the baptized priesthood, offering sacrifices of praise and prayer, interceding for all manner of people and their needs. And as we join with the Church of all times and all places in the liturgy of the Divine Service, the Father accepts our gifts and our prayers for the sake of His Son, and He will use them for His saving purposes. By each and every word, by the gifts that He graciously gives us for both body and soul, above all in Christ Himself, He restores to us the joy of His salvation. God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.

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

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/28/16

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