Monday, July 26, 2010

"The Western Rite" - Deutschlander - Part 7

(from Prof. Em. Daniel M. Deutschlander’s essay, “The Western Rite: Its Development and Rich History and Its Relevance for Our Worship Life Today.”)


The Confession of Faith is followed by the sermon hymn and the sermon. Again, because these are Propers, we will just make a couple of observations about them. The sermon hymn is such a Lutheran thing: We want to prepare and be prepared for the Word of God that we are about to hear. We want to remember and to remind the pastor before he ever gets into the pulpit that what is coming is not about him but about the One who sent him. How jarring to the senses and offensive to the souls of the faithful if, after a hymn that focuses our attention on Christ, the pastor should mount the pulpit to talk about himself or to imagine that he is there to entertain! The ambassador comes with the message of his masters; the pastor comes from the palace and shrine of the living God – from his Word; he comes with a message from the heart of God for his blood bought children and heirs. For the preacher to imagine that stories from his own life are worthy metaphors for all things sacred and profane is to betray an arrogance unworthy of the servant of the servants of God.

Having sung the hymn we enter the pulpit for the most awesome work that God has given us to do. Now in such a special sense we get to be pastor, i.e. the shepherd of God’s blood bought flock, as we lead his sheep to and through the pure waters and nourishing pastures of his Word. Personally I always found that to be an awesome thing, so awesome that my joy at the opportunity and the honor was mixed with no small amount of dread in the face of my own ignorance and limitations. The pastor needs to hold fast to the promises of God to speak through the mouths of his servants who are faithful to his Word. He needs to cling to the promise so often given that the Word faithfully proclaimed will accomplish God’s good pleasure. Luther was so fixated on that truth that he once remarked that there are many times when the pastor can confess his sins; when he leaves the pulpit should not be one of them. For the work was God’s work and so too will be its fruit.

And so we prepare for the one time in the week when we will have the greatest number of God’s people listening to us. We have before us the simple and the learned, those who listen to God’s Word every day and those who think of it rarely. We have those who have come with aching hearts and those who have become very comfortable with their sins. It is all too awesome; God should have sent angels to do it, or at least someone better than I am. But he didn’t. Through the foolishness of preaching he is pleased to accomplish his good and gracious will. And he chose me to do it here, at this time, in this place. Therefore I bow my head and beg for his mercy while I prepare. On entering the pulpit I bow it again and ask him to bless what he has given me to do and to say. My own prayer in the pulpit since my seminary days has been an ancient sacristy prayer: Veni Creator Spiritus! Pasce pastorem / duc ducem / da daturo / aperi aperturo / emittis spiritum tuum et creabuntur et renovabis faciem terrae.

Just a word about the Apostolic Greeting from Ephesians 1:2 at the beginning of the sermon and Votum from Philippians 4:7 at its conclusion: These beautifully focus attention on Christ and the grace he extends to us in his Word preached and proclaimed. Their use at the beginning and the end of the sermon is something uniquely Lutheran, again with that unique Lutheran focus on the doctrine of the means of grace as the causa efficiens of our salvation. The words themselves are means of grace, not just churchy mood creating salutations; that is, they convey what they say, God’s grace, mercy and peace. And that is what the sermon is intended to do as well. They are a fitting way to begin and end words that are intended to expound in greater detail what the whole of the service seeks to do: Show us that God who calls us to account that he may forgive, who shows us his Son that we may all the more love and trust in him, who gives us his Spirit that we may the more nearly live in him who died and rose again for us and for our salvation.


Anonymous said...

"For the preacher to imagine that stories from his own life are worthy metaphors for all things sacred and profane is to betray an arrogance unworthy of the servant of the servants of God."


Pastors, when you're in the pulpit, I don't want to hear about you, I want to hear about Jesus. Telling cute little stories about yourself doesn't make you seem relatable, it makes you seem arrogant. And if you're worried about the length of the service, don't start cutting parts of the liturgy. Start by cutting the standard five (sometimes ten) minute story with which you think you need to start every sermon. I'd much rather hear a 12 minute sermon that's about Jesus from beginning to end than a 20 minute sermon that starts and ends with stories about you.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Pastor Boehringer said...

Amen, Adam!

Instead of "timely" autobiographies in the pulpit, use the timeless biographies of the OT and NT sinner/saints. They are such a rich treasure store of warning and comfort! Consider saving the funny personal anecdotes for Bible study or the after-service coffee and donuts. But in the pulpit, consider the words of John the Baptist about His Savior: "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

Pastor Luke Boehringer

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

"Consider saving the funny personal anecdotes for Bible study...?" You contradict yourself. The Sermon is also time for "Bible study."

"Pastors, when you're in the pulpit, I don't want to hear about you, I want to hear about Jesus. Telling cute little stories about yourself doesn't make you seem relatable, it makes you seem arrogant."

Good point, but I wish I could really say what I am thinking now. It relates to those who are up on the pulpit...(dare I say vicar)- and they don't talk about themselves, but, it is as if they have no control or idea what they are even talking about. I know my pastor does. He is always prepared to speak the Word and knows with what purpose and point. He definitely is in control and he would never on purpose do anything to take away from God's Word. I don't think he could if he tried; his words have purpose and are sincere and he is always focused.

I just wish for the future pastor(s)- take control of what you are trying to convey; let the Holy Spirit do His job and trust Him.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

If at all- Pastors, keep up the good work!

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

I am just really confused about the whole "funny personal anecdotes" thing.

I think I'm missing something...seriously, I don't get it.

Pastor Boehringer said...

Dear Lisette,

"Funny personal anecdotes"

Ironically, I have to be a little personal to explain this...

Too often I have to keep my self from leading sermons off with an amusing story that casts me as Super-Pastor or Mr. Perfect Husband or World's Greatest Dad (for the record, I'm none of these things). I have to face the fact that my life isn't that interesting and that there are better life stories to relate in my sermons, to wit, Bible stories about the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and believers.

As a pastor, I need to remind my self that my flock isn't coming to hear me because I'm such a terrific guy. They aren't coming to be entertained with funny personal anecdotes. They have come to gather around the Gospel in preached Word and administered Sacrament. I, a wretched beggar, am called to be Christ's herald to God's people.

An extreme example: Should you lead off your sermon about Esau and Jacob by telling your congregation that your wife is having twins? I probably wouldn't do that... I'd be concerned that our news would distract from the center of the sermon: the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Sharing amusing stories from your life is fine, but there is a time and place for that. Tell your folks about your bundles of joy in the narthex or at the fishing hole or the ball game or the Hy-Vee or during Bible study.

"Bible study"

Let me explain what I mean because I think we are using same terms for different things. Just now and in my earlier post, I was using "Bible study" as a technical term as the Sunday morning hour of Christian Education.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

Yeah, I got that. The Bible Study, "Sunday morning hour of Christian Education"- again, there is still (in many ways) that same study within the church service... That's why I say you contradict yourself. Anecdotes wouldn't apply in the hour of Christian Education, either. Am I too strict or unclear? Oh no- that's not a good thing to say... Thanks for your explanation anyway.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to speak for Pastor Boehringer, but I think there's a distinction to be made between the sermon and Bible study. Simply put, the sermon is about proclamation while Bible study is about education. Because of this, the sermon is naturally more formal and the Bible study is naturally less formal. (Obviously there's an element of education in the sermon, but that is not its main purpose.)

This is another distinction that contemporary worship is seeking to destroy. Powerpoint screens and pastors strolling the aisle and people completing fill-in-the-blank worksheets give the impression that the sermon is nothing other than a Bible study. Thus, the sermon stops being about the proclamation of law and gospel, and starts to become about imparting information (leading to sermons on "10 Steps to Being a Better Parent", etc). Even in the WELS, there are far, far, far too many pastors preaching ABOUT law and gospel rather than actually preaching law and gospel. That's a HUGE problem.

Mr. Adam Peeler

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