While still under (perpetual) construction, the Ecclesiastical Glossary [Project] has received some significant new material.
Traditionally Advent encompasses a spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. The Western Church sets the season of Advent as beginning on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through the daytime services of December 24. Christmas begins with the evening services (Vigil) on December 24th and extends through the twelve days of Christmas. The Christmas octave (eight days) includes the Nativity on December 25th; Feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr on December 26th, the day after Christmas; the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist on December 27th; and on December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents; and the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus on January 1st.
“Behold, your king is coming to you.” Matthew 21:9
Like the Lent, Advent affords the penitent a time of preparation for receiving the fulfillment of the Father’s plan of salvation in the incarnation of His Son, Jesus. Though not as ‘deep’ as the preparatory season of Lent, the Church does exercise some restraint in the Divine Service during Advent.
- In keeping with the tone of repentance, the Hymn of Praise/Gloria in Excelsis (the angel’s proclamation at the birth of Christ) is omitted from the Divine Service, even on the Sundays in Advent.
- Depending on local custom, the organ playing may be restrained before and after the service.
- In many places flowers are not used at the altar.
- Christmas hymns and carols are not sung until Christmas Eve.
Paraments. The traditional color of Advent, and that which still best fits the historic pericopes of Advent, is purple/violet, which is both the color of repentance and the royal color of the coming King—the two main themes of the One-Year series. When possible, the paraments used in Advent should be different than those used in Lent as the character of the seasons is quite different, for the only symbol common to both is the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God (Pfatteicher). Since the adoption of Vatican II reforms of the liturgy by much of the Western Church, the use of blue as the color of Advent has been adopted by many Lutheran congregations. In the Lutheran church, Advent blue is a tradition color for Advent among the Swedish Lutheran churches. Blue suggests the color of anticipation and hope, a theme that is seen in the revised readings of the Three-Year series. A congregation should be attentive to use the paraments that carry the theme of the lectionary being used.
The Advent wreath or Advent log is an arrangement of four candles, originally used in home devotions to count the weeks of Advent and symbolize the approach of the Coming One. The traditional Advent wreath featured white candles, but recently the custom of using seasonally colored candles has become common. If the church’s Advent paraments are blue, four blue candles should be used. If the paraments are purple/violet, then three purple/violet candles are used with a rose candle being lit on Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the Third Sunday in Advent in the historic lectionary. When using purple/violet candles, the rose candle is set in the Advent wreath at three o’clock and the candles are then lit from week-to-week starting with the purple candle in the nine o’clock position. With it’s colored candles the Advent wreath is better displayed in the nave than in the chancel.
The use of the Christ Candle in association with the Advent wreath is a liturgical novelty and should be discouraged in the Lutheran congregation. First, the Christ candle is an importation of the idea of the paschal candle and will only likely confuse the Christmas and Easter seasons—let the paschal candle remain associated with Easter and baptisms and funerals. Second, because the Advent wreath belongs to the season of preparation for Christmas, the wreath should no longer be on display, but removed, for services of Christmas allowing the two seasons to be well-defined and distinct.
The decoration of the church during Advent should not be to elaborate. A problem has arisen among many congregations when the cultural celebration of Christmas in the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is followed. Advent is a season of preparation for something greater. While not as austere as Lent, Advent does call for some restraint in deference to the “tidings of great joy” that will be proclaimed on the Nativity and during the season of Christmas (Maxwell). Candles as decoration should be kept to a minimum. Greenery may be hung but should remain undecorated. Banners may be hung but should be simple in style and decoration in keeping with the mood of the season. If the press of obligations makes it absolutely necessary to erect the tree before the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the lights should not be turned on until after service on the Fourth Sunday to help guide and highlight the transition from Advent to Christmas.
“The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of man might become the sons of God.” Leo the Great
The Christmas season follows as the fulfillment of the Advent expectation. The long-expected first coming (the Nativity) and birth in Bethlehem is the promise and guarantee of the second and final coming on the Last Day (see propers for the First Sunday in Advent).
Christmas is the celebration of the victory of the True Light born into the world dark in sin. God Himself visit us in our darkness. Heaven and earth are to be renewed by God’s coming (Gerhke).
The Gloria in Excelsis is the preferred Hymn of Praise. The restraint that characterized Advent is lifted. Second only to Easter, Christmas is observed in great joy and with high celebration.
Seasonal flowers and greens may decorate the area around the altar.
The color of Christmas and it’s season is white.
The Advent wreath has been removed. A crib or crèche may be set up in the nave and remains in the church through Epiphany when the Magi join in the adoration of the Christ Child.
Because of the association of light with Christmas, one of the most effective decorations of the church building is the candle. If candelabra were removed during Advent, these are returned. If extra candelabra or candle stands are available these can be placed around the altar. Candles on the window sills or candle stands lining the center aisle of the nave would be fitting.
Much could be said about decorations appropriate for use in the church, and the need to exclude anything that is gaudy or cheap. Also, it should be kept in mind when decoration the church, the altar always remains as the center of attention and focus, and anything that fights for that attention or distracts the focus should not be used.
Luther’s Small Catechism consists of the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine (Section 1): the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers (Section 2), a table of duties for Christians (Section 3), and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion (Section 4).
This is sometimes referred to as the Enchiridion. When we confess “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know if from the Small Catechism to be faithful and true” (Rite of Confirmation, LSB Agenda, p. 29), it is only to this that we are subscribing.
An explanation section has regularly accompanied editions of Luther’s Small Catechism since the early days of Lutheranism. Luther was not the author of this explanation, instead, others wrote it while commenting on Luther’s catechism. Ultimately, the root of most current forms of the “Explanation” can be traced back to the work of Johann Konrad Dietrich in his Institutiones catecheticae, published in the 17th century. That foundational work has been updated over the generations to meet the needs of Christian educators who use the “Explanation” as the basis for catechetical training. Due to the number of contributors and to the constant editing of the text over the centuries, the work cannot be attributed to one or even a few contributors. However, on page 45 of the current edition offered by Concordia Publishing House, you will find,
This explanation has been based upon and largely includes the work of Johann Konrad Dietrich (1575–1639), Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), Heinrich Christian Schwann (1819–1905), and the committee that prepared the synodical catechism of 1943.
Concordia Publishing House has updated the catechism in cooperation with the LCMS since at least 1943.
A neighborhood cat adopted our yard last week. We have a small garden fountain and he joined the squirrels and birds who drink from it on a regular basis throughout the season. He didn’t look too healthy, he was skinny and . . .reliant. I had my thoughts, which I did not share with the grandchildren, that he had picked our yard for his hospice—a comfortable place to be during his last days. He’s an orange tabby. Green eyes. Terribly thin.
It almost hurt to look at him.
After sitting by the fountain for most of the afternoon, I suffered my spouse’s scorn, and put out a small plate of cat kibble. To the children’s surprise he wasn’t much interested. They brought the dish back in and I added some milk to the dry kibble and popped it in the microwave for a few seconds. Warm milk and softened food, and our little visitor was eating. Some, but not all. And then he didn’t leave.
He’s not the only stray cat in our neighborhood. So over the next few days we have had opportunity to talk with the children about pet ownership and the responsibility we take on when we take a companion pet into the family. We talked about how it is really unfair to a cat or dog or whatever—an animal that has been meant and trained to be our companion—to take away our care and turn it out to live on it’s own, or care so little about it, that the pet has to try and live in a way it was never intended. These abandoned pets, these former companions, often don’t have the skills they need to find food, stay warm, or be safe. They may ‘survive’ for a while, but they seldom thrive.
Our visitor didn’t ever get too far from the fountain. Only one evening over the past few says did the kids not find him somewhere in the garden. Most days he took over the black Welcome mat at the back door, sunning himself most of the morning. We had fewer squirrels and birds in the yard last week. They evidently found a different place to get a drink instead of take a chance on the cat. I don’t think he had the interest the give chase, but they didn’t need to know that.
I threw an old towel down under the bush that became his favorite napping spot. He took a lot of naps, the kids tell me.
This morning the kids had been up, and after feeding our indoor cats, a bowel of milk and kibble was prepared for the visitor. When I came down after my shower, there they stood; the granddaughter even had her toddler-brother in her arms—I think more for the comfort than anything else. “Grandpa, Sandy didn’t move this morning.”
Yeah, we named him.
I knew this day was coming. I went outside and donned my leather garden gloves. There were three small faces at the back window. Their Mom and Grandma were there too. Living in the City we’re pretty ruthless when it comes to disposal of dead squirrels and birds in the yard (a couple of dumb birds tend to drown in the fountain each season). But the cat, Sandy, I knew would be different for them.
I pulled a few branches aside, “See,” I hear over my shoulder. “I tried to see if he was breathing (hands going up and down to make his point), but he’s not.” I hadn’t heard the grandson come out but I shooed him back in the house. Our visitor clearly died in his sleep. I am sure not too many strays get to do that, under a favored bush, in the yard of a family who showed him some kindness. I gently removed the stiff form from our garden and put him in the bin for the City to take care of.
After I returned from the grim task of such an undignified disposal, I put away the gloves and went into the house. The granddaughter needed a hug; tears glistened in her eyes. As I held her tight for a moment, we consoled each other that while death comes to all our pets eventually, we thank God that he provides us with such wonderful companions. And tonight in our devotions we’ll say a prayer of thanks to God for Mona our Great Pyrenees, for Klondike and Merci the cats in our home, and for Bailey and Denali, Pepper and Raven, and the other several pets who have occupied our home and our hearts over the years.
There are all kinds of lessons we teach our children along the way. Some of most important lessons are unplanned. This one walked in on four paws and gave us opportunity to show kindness and care. And taught us a lesson on how to say good-bye.
Someone asked, “Why do we use the pericopes that we do; who chooses them?” An interesting question that gave me the opportunity to dig up some old notes and dig into some documents. This doesn’t go too deep, but gives a brief overview of how the Church’s lectionary developed and the choices that were made that has led to the lectionary being used by the majority of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today.
A lectionary gives the Church a framework for the most important task she has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
A lectionary is a set of appointed readings from Holy Scripture used in congregational worship. There are lectionaries appointed for use on Sundays, as well as appointed readings to be read on the major feast and festival days of the Church Year. A lectionary permits the preacher to preach through the counsel of God in an orderly manner, in a way that is both instructive and thematic. The Church Year, with its thematic structure of seasons, is central to the lectionary. Liturgical churches that use a lectionary take it totally for granted, but it comes as quite a revelation for those who know nothing about it and learn of it for the first time.
Generally, the lectionaries used today include a reading from the Holy Gospels, a reading from some other book in the New Testament, generally the Epistles, a reading from the Old Testament, and a Psalm. The Gospel reading is considered the main reading and sets the theme for the worship service. In the majority of Lutheran lectionaries, the other readings (especially the Old Testament) are intended to support the preaching on, and explanation of, the content of the Gospel reading.
Origins of the Lectionary
It is generally accepted that what we know today as the historic lectionary was first established by Jerome (lived c. A.D. 342–420). Having the name of Jerome attached to the lectionary made it influential on its own, but when it was later included in the Leonine Sacramentary, it became a standard text for the Western Church. At this time, the lectionary only provided assigned readings for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, with the rest of the year covered by optional Propers or by the choice of the local
bishop or pastor. Three hundred years later, when Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his do
main, his religious advisor, Alcuin (c. 735–804), did a revision of Jerome’s work. This standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year.
The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the thirteenth century with the establishment of Holy Trinity as a major festival in the Church. Holy Trinity soon came to dominate the second half of the Church Year, and with that came the establishment of assigned Propers for the entire year. By the end of the thirteenth century, the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the historic lectionary, though it wouldn’t be until the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that the Roman Church actually enforced and stabilized its use.
During the Reformation the question wasn’t, “Should the lectionary be changed?” only whether it should be used at all. While Zwingli and others abolished the use of lectionaries along with the observation of the Church Year, Calvin substituted a lectio continua for the lectionary, since he saw homiletical value in having some sort of assigned reading. The Lutherans judged that the lectionary did not promote false doctrine, and they retained the historic lectionary with only slight revisions—the most notable being the added Propers for Trinity 25 and 26. Additionally, they moved Transfiguration from August 6 to the last Sunday after Epiphany.
Luther prescribed the use of the historic lectionary in both the Formula Missae and Deutsche Messe (LW vol. 53 p. 23ff), and all Lutheran altar books continued in their use of it. Even the Augsburg Confession and the Apology testify to its official use in Lutheran congregations (Article XXVI and Apology XXIV.1). For the next four hundred years, Lutheran retained this common historic lectionary, along with Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It served as the basis for preaching and devotional books, hymnody and church music, and even until the mid-twentieth century was the index for every Lutheran hymnal.
There certainly is a history of other lectionaries being prepared. Even in Luther’s day, it is recorded that among the Lutherans there were different lectionaries beginning to be used. It is important and useful to note that these were not individual undertakings, but that all the churches in a district or area would be using the same “variation.” In 1896 the Eisenach Conference churches of the Prussian Union produced a lectionary, popularized in the United States by Lenski and his notes on the series. The Synodical Conference produced a series that was adopted in 1912 and included by the framers of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) as a “Second Series” available for use on Sundays (TLH p. 159ff). In 1868 the Scandinavian Lutheran Church produced a Three-Year Lectionary for their use. Most often these alternate lectionaries were produced, not to supplant the historic lectionary, but to supplement it, often adding Old Testament Readings or offering alternate texts for preaching. For the most part, the patterns and themes of the historic lectionary were maintained.
Already fifteen years after the production of The Lutheran Hymnal, American Lutheran church bodies were seeking a revision. In 1965 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod resolved to appoint a commission that would work with other Lutheran church bodies to produce a new common hymnal. In February 1966 representatives of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church in America met in Chicago and formed what would become the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Later, representatives of the Slovak Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) joined the Commission. Among other issues, the ILCW dealt with the Church Year calendar and proposed a multi-year lectionary, citing a “widespread restiveness with the appointed readings, a great deal of experimentation, and a desire for either reform of the pericopes or a completely new lectionary,” resulting from “a variety of influences in current theology, social-ethical involvements, developments in worship practice, and especially the influential biblical theology movement of recent decades” (Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year Calendar and Lectionary. Prepared by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973. p. 13).
One of the outcomes of Vatican II was the publication of the Ordo Lectionum Missae in 1969, the new Three-Year Series that supplanted the historic (One-Year) lectionary in the Roman Catholic Church. The next year the Protestant Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Church of Christ adopted the Ordo as a basis for new lectionaries in their churches. Having already set aside concern for loyalty to the received heritage and reverence for Western tradition, the ILCW simply followed suit when, in 1973, the ILCW published its version of the Three-Year Roman Ordo. The ILCW Three-Year Series established a lectio continua of synoptic Gospel assigned to each year: “Year A” focuses on Matthew, “Year B” on Mark, and “Year C” on Luke. John is featured in all three Series during the Sundays after Easter, and appears extensively along with Mark in Year B, especially in Advent, Christmas, and Lent. The Three-Year Series assigned a First Lesson, usually the Old Testament, to coordinate with the Gospel Reading. A lectio continua Reading of the Epistles was assigned to each year with no special effort to coordinate the Epistle with the Gospel selection.
Contemporary Lectionaries, Especially Lutheran
With the inclusion of the ILCW Three-Year Series in the LCMS’s Lutheran Worship, the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship, WELS’s Christian Worship, and the ELS’s Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, this Series quickly became popular in Lutheran circles. Even though the ILCW had offered a revision of the historic (One-Year) lectionary to be included with the Three-Year Series, within fifteen years its use had sharply fallen.
However common and widely used it was among Lutherans, the ILCW Three-Year Series become one of the most short-lived lectionary series. Two years after the formation of the ILCW, representatives of the ELCA, ELCIC, and LCMS had joined an ecumenical group called the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Composed of biblical, linguistic, and liturgical scholars from various Christian denominations, their purpose was to prepare worship texts and materials for use in North America, including lectionaries. In 1978 they sponsored a meeting in Washington DC whose purpose was to form a committee that would reconcile the differences between the various denominational uses of the Three-Year Series. Ultimately the LCMS withdrew from this group. In 1983 the remaining members published the Common Lectionary.
The biggest change in the Common Lectionary over its ILCW predecessor was the revision of Old Testament Lessons. The framers of the ILCW lectionaries had selected texts with reference to their New Testament fulfillment (typological approach). The CCT questioned the validity of imposed typology on the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, the Common Lectionary used a pattern of semi-continuous readings, which were essentially independent from the Gospel. The CCT also included an appointed Psalm in the Sunday Readings. Another notable change was the adoption of the Episcopal Church’s practice of replacing the “Sundays after Pentecost” with “Propers” keyed to the civil calendar.
The Common Lectionary was first used on a trial basis by a number of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. The first to officially adopt it for use in their congregations was the Anglican Church of Canada in 1985. Early on, the Common Lectionary received a number of criticisms. These criticisms were directed especially from Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic sources. Ultimately, and in response to those criticisms, the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) in 1992. In addition, three versions of the RLC were framed in response to the criticism of the Old Testament selections. There is a Roman Catholic version, which at times used readings from the Apocrypha for the Old Testament Lesson. And then there are two Protestant versions, one in which the typological approach to assigning the Old Testament Lesson matched to the Gospel is used, and the other where the semi-continuous Old Testament Readings of the Common Lectionary are mostly retained. The increasing influence of social issues on the selection of texts is seen in the revisions of the RCL, as more stories of women of faith are added and texts deemed to appear anti-Semitic when taken out of their cultural and religious context of the Ancient Near East are eliminated.
The RCL has become the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and ELCIC. It is the official lectionary of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.
The Lectionary for Lutheran Service Book
The LCMS did not adopt the RCL. Beginning in 1999, seventeen years after the introduction of Lutheran Worship, the LCMS Commission on Worship began work toward a new hymnal. In the 2006 Guide to Introducing Lutheran Service Book (p. 49, 50), the Commission’s Lectionary Committee summarizes the approach taken toward the lectionaries to be included in the new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book (LSB):
From the beginning of the development of LSB, the Lectionary Committee determined that both the three and one-year lectionaries would be included in LSB. Since the introduction of the three-year lectionary in the Lutheran Church in the early 1970s, the great majority of congregations have made use of it. Though the number of congregations currently using the one-year lectionary is relatively small, the committee believed it essential to retain this historic lectionary, though with some modifications.
Three-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xiv–xix)
The committee’s work concerning the three-year lectionary centered on the extent to which it would make use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was published in 1992. The committee studied the issue carefully and, at the direction of the Commission on Worship, endeavored to bring considerable commonality with the RCL, especially during the Sundays after Pentecost. During festivals such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, however, the lectionary reflects greater commonality with the one-year lectionary.
Among some of the features of the revised three-year lectionary are the following:
- Some Old Testament readings have been changed so that they are more closely connected to the Gospel for the day.
- Most of Acts 1–2 is read consecutively every year according to the following schedule:
Ascension Day Acts 1:1–11 (First Reading)
Easter 7 Acts 1:12–26 (First Reading)
Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1–21 (Second Reading)
Holy Trinity Acts 2:14a, 22–36 (Second Reading)
- Following the original intentions of the three-year lectionary, the Psalm of the Day is not understood to be a separate reading but rather a response to the Old Testament/First Reading. With the inclusion of 107 psalms in the Pew Edition, the selections for Psalm of the Day have been completely revised. Every effort has been made to use whole psalms. When a portion of a longer psalm is appointed, the committee endeavored to make the selection of verses as straightforward as possible to avoid causing confusion for the worshiper.
As explained above, the Sundays after Pentecost follow the system that is used in the RCL. In this system, specific propers are assigned to a period of seven consecutive days, each being given the designation “Proper” with a number following. Unlike the current system in Lutheran Worship, where Sundays are skipped at the end of the church year, the new calendar places the “skip” at the beginning, right after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The designation “__________ Sunday after Pentecost” is retained as a more churchly way of identifying the Sunday, rather than by the “Proper” number. Though a bit different than our current practice, this new calendar is quite easy to use, partly because it is so logically conceived.
One-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xx–xxi)
The committee quickly determined that the historic one-year lectionary, together with its calendar, would be retained. Benefits of using this lectionary include an annual repetition of key biblical texts and the ability to consult historic resources, such as Martin Luther’s various series of sermons on the Gospels and Epistles. Among the features of the LSB one-year lectionary are the following:
- The traditional Gospels and Epistles are retained. In a few cases an alternate Gospel is provided. More frequently, an alternate Epistle is also included.
- The Old Testament readings were completely revised with the goal of providing readings that are closely related to the Holy Gospel for each day.
- The pre-Lent season, also known as the “gesima” Sundays, is retained.
- A minor adjustment from the historic calendar occurs in the weeks following Easter. Whereas the earlier calendar referred to these as the Sundays “after” Easter, the revised calendar mirrors the three-year lectionary in designating them as the Sundays “of Easter. The traditional Latin names for the Sundays have been retained, as have the appointed readings.
At the time Lutheran Service Book was being planned, the Lectionary Committee acknowledge a small but loyal following for the historic liturgy. In reality there is increasing interest in the older historic (one-year) lectionary. For the first time since The Lutheran Hymnal, there is again support for the historic lectionary, with a separate LSB One-Year Lectionary book being published.
Now, I apologize in advance if what follows sounds preachy. You will never find the perfect lectionary, yet even the worst of them is probably better than no lectionary at all. What is hugely obvious is that just as there is no such thing as a theologically neutral translation of the Scriptures, so, too, there is no such thing as a theologically neutral lectionary. The RCL lectionary(s) often display an agenda that at many points finds itself at cross-purposes with confessional Lutheranism. (So stick with the LSB lectionaries—end of plug.) While the question of which lectionary we use (or whether we use a lectionary at all, for that matter) is certainly an adiaphoran, this does not make it an unimportant matter. In choosing a lectionary for use in the Divine Service, we should remember that we are choosing a catechetical tool. A lectionary is to be more than a means to dole out little parcels of Scripture, it gives a framework for the most important task the Church has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. It sets the hearer on the path toward understanding the purpose and meaning of Holy Scripture, and serves as a guide for both pastor and congregation through the whole counsel of God. Understanding the history behind the lectionaries is important, especially for pastors called to these tasks of preaching and teaching God’s people.
It should be noted. Much of this article was first put together several years ago when several of us pastors in the circuit were keenly interested in the historic lectionary, and there was not talk yet of a new hymnal (probably 1997—1998). Back then I was involved in several listservs and while I can’t say for certain, I am fairly sure that some of this was picked up from posts and/or papers that we would circulate to start or lubricate discussion. Living in the world that I do now, I am more conscious of acknowledging sources and giving credit for seminal thoughts that have been incorporated into subsequent work. Sixteen or so years ago, when this was put together for my own use, my tracking and acknowledgement of sources was virtually none existent. This also leaves facts somewhat unverifiable. Had I meant to publish it, hopefully I would have done better at the time. Now, I have no idea how to reconstruct those sources.
Subsequent to the posting of this article I was contacted by the Rev. Alexander Ring. Much of the article is a condensaton and gloss of his paper The Path of Understanding:The Development of Lectionaries and their use in the Lutheran Church, presented to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod General Pastoral Conference, Bloomington, MN, January 68, 1998. It was later published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol 38, #2, 90–124. This version is now posted with Rev. Ring’s knowledge and consent.
If suddenly this morning the weather were to change, dark clouds filled the sky, thunder lightning, hailstones, and storm appeared, our reaction would probably be “What’s going on? The weatherman said we were gong to have a perfect day today.” We might be taken aback more if at the same time a large ball of fire appeared in the chancel, broke apart into small tongues of fire, and each landed on someone’s head.
Luke’s description makes it clear that something tremendous happened in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. There are some dimensions that are not ordinary, ever day occurrences. They are strange, different, unusual.
Our trouble, however, is that we today view this story as a kind of quaint museum piece—an exhibit of things that happened long ago. Certainly strange and unusual, but somehow we fail to see the connection between that event and our lives today.
Yet the early Christians were very much in tune with these events and understood their meaning. God had used these means and methods before. Throughout the Scriptures a storm or great wind is a sign of the presence of God. One of the signs of God’s presence on Mount Sinai was the thunder and lightning in the storm. The same is true of fire. We all recall the pillar of fire that went with Israel from one place to another. When these phenomena occurred in the Scriptures, instead of thinking of weathermen or fire extinguishers, the early Christians immediately thought of God. These were two signs by which God was assuring them of His presence.
As Luke records it: These early Christians were all together in one place says our text. They were gathered for worship and God appeared; He made His presence known. This first Pentecost was an experience of elemental force. Like a cloudburst that overwhelms a parched land, so the Spirit of God came to the first disciples. So while it was a wondrous experience for these early Christians, it may not have been as foreign and strange as it is to us today. Then we here “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Christian church was born.
God’s Presence Today
When we remember this, we can say that this morning, Pentecost 2013, here at Faith Lutheran, and every Sunday morning, is a similar experience for God’s people. But He doesn’t use fire and wind; He has other sign of His presence here, other means that He uses to assure us that He is here. He says, for example, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” He declares that He is present in the Word spoken in our worship. He is here in our worship service as He speaks to you in Scripture readings, the sermon, and the Absolution, He is here in and with the bread and wine to give us the body and blood of Christ, personally and individually.
It is the same kind of day. Although it is likely you will not see tongues of fire or hear the wind, He is here. Not in some sort of spooky sense, but God Himself is present because He has promised to be. Therefore when the church gathers, it is more than just a social group getting together. It’s more than just putting in an hour for some good cause, or even some good work. It is God Himself gathering you together, so that He can work on you and accomplish His good purpose in your lives. That’s what Pentecost is all about—the power of God’s Spirit at work in the lives of Spirit-filled people, building the Church of God here on Earth.
God’s Presence In Faith’s History
25 years ago a group of Spirit-filled people came together in a fledgling congregation and began to dig a basement out of a hillside on Bieker Road. Some of you are sitting here this morning; others were your fathers, your husbands, and your brothers in Christ. The foundational work they did, and all the subsequent planning and labor, stands as a demonstration of the power of God’s people on Earth. But it is not, and was not, the structure that caused the church to be and to grow. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers. Before there was a building there was a Church. Before there was a building there was right teaching and preaching of God’s Word; there were the sacraments and the forgiveness of sins.
There was all that was necessary to be Faith Lutheran, a Church of the true God. But the Holy Spirit gave the congregation abundant gifts. He gave Faith Lutheran the skill and resources to build a structure dedicated to the glory of God. But like that first Pentecost, the birth, establishment and growth of Faith Lutheran, is not only a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit working through believers, but it is a promise of even greater things in a world to come.
So this morning, on this “anniversary of the Church” while we take a deserved “time out” to reminisce about the times past, we must maintain the true course and goal of the true Church of God, we must take with glad hearts the command of our Lord to go out into the world and bring all nations to the foot of the cross. There to hear and see what God has done for all men. There to feel the healing power of God’s grace on a soul infected with sin.
Just outside the tiny town of Exira, Iowa, is a famous landmark. There is a legend that young farmer was out plowing his field when a group of Union soldiers passed by. Overwhelmed by patriotism, the young man leaned his plow against a young oak tree and left to join the Civil War—and never returned. Today, passersby stop at Plow-in-the-Oak Park to picnic by the once-young tree that grew and swallowed up the farmer’s once useful plow.
Goals are like that. If we set them aside for a time, we’re apt to find them swallowed up in the changing scene and rapidly growing world. Good goals should never be put aside, but pursued until, with the grace of God, they are achieved. We must continue to be about the building of the Church of God here on Earth and here in Washington, Missouri.
God’s Presence In Spirit-Filled People
That Pentecost recorded by Luke was a one-time event. But the world today still needs Spirit-filled people, swift as the wind, to take the word of God to people in languages that they can understand. The world today still needs Spirit-filled people, strong as the wind, to run up and down the streets and lanes of Washington, Missouri proclaiming the Good News to a world incredibly depressed and grim, lonely and gloomy—the Good News of a Savior crucified and risen again. The Good News of a Savior who cares.
Brothers and sisters, members of Faith Lutheran Church, I contend that you have been and are still God’s Spirit-filled people.
Spirit-Filled People Care And Show It In Their Lives. They control their fears and overcome their flaws. They keep their sharp tongues and flaming tempers in check, They say with the apostle Paul: In the midst of life’s hardships and cruelties, we have found more than victory through Him who loved us. They triumph even over the final enemy, which is Death. They see their resurrected Lord come out of that dismal garden at the crack of the first Easter dawn, and they know the power of the Spirit He promised. They have no reason to go around any longer hanging sad and sorrowful. Instead, they go forth laughing and leaping, shouting and singing.
Spirit-Filled People Are Changed. Change is not all bad. If nobody could be changed were would we be? People are often rigidly inflexible, stubbornly bullheaded, and arrogantly right about everything. In almost every case, people like that are dead wrong. Spirit-filled people have to be ready for change, prepared to accept change—even change in themselves.
Spirit-Filled People See God At Work. Jesus Christ himself said that the Spirit is like the wind. you can see the results, even though you can’t see the wind. The Spirit is like the wind. It blows were it chooses He said. That’s the way the Spirit is. None of us can tell the Spirit what to do. We have to accept Him and His work. We have to recognize His power. We have to admit the changes He produces in ourselves and in others.
Spirit-Filled People Are “On The Go.” They are not the most consistent people in the world. The only thing consistent about them is that the Spirit moves them. Otherwise, you can never predict exactly what they are going to do. They will love when others are hateful. They will forgive when others are intent on getting even. They are ready to move when others are standing still. They are where the action is, not looking for the safe comfortable seats.
Spirit-Filled People Are Fiery. When God’s Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost, split tongues of fire sat on their heads. What happened? They were aglow with the Spirit and ablaze with God. They were fervent and fired up, “enthusiastic” in the first meaning of that word—filled with God. Spirit-filled people today are energetic and passionately committed to Jesus Christ. They spend their lives doing things for other people in the name of Jesus.
You might think that in a world of hate, strife, violence and war, who needs fiery and aggressive people who are angry and hot-tempered, making life a constant battle? Certainly, nobody needs them. But the world does need Spirit-filled people on fire for God, given to love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience and self-control. Those are gifts of the Spirit. The lives of Spirit-filled people embody them.
The world needs people on fire with faith graciously given them as a gift from God—on fire with love, on fire with the power of the Spirit, The world needs people who have left behind those former days of apathy and lukewarm commitment. It needs people who are revved up for Christ, turned on for God, fiery and fervent followers of Christ: dreaming impossible dreams, bearing impossible loads, fighting unbeatable foes, and “marching into hell itself,” with a heavenly cause.
The fire of the Spirit crackles with life. That’s the way it is with Spirit-filled people. They are alive. They are energetic. They are active. They are vibrant. They are on the move and on the go for God. They are not out to hurt people, but to help them. They know the task is monumental and the time is short. The Spirit moves them to be God’s people with confidence and a zest to touch the lives of others with the Good News.
Spirit-Filled People Are Alive. They don’t go around with long faces and set lips. They are not always shaking their heads and saying “no.” Their greatest word is “yes.”
Spirit-Filled People Have A New Language. There are fewer foul, filthy, sharp, profane, vicious, wounding words. Spirit-filled people are empowered and moved to speak words that heal and gladden and soothe and reconcile; building people up instead of tearing them down. People are attracted to them because they have compassion and love.
The Spirit of the Lord fills the world. He is here and He is busy. He is doing exactly what Christ said He would do. When the counselor comes…the Spirit of Truth, …He will bear witness to me. That’s what the Spirit is doing: Telling people the Good News of God as you have it in Jesus Christ.
Like most Christians, we sit like rocket ships on the launching pad, ready for orbit but never used. We are like Christmas trees never sold, or beautiful paintings never hung; or a CD unplayed. We spend a lifetime seemingly studying God’s Word, listening to His commands, and fellowshipping in His Church; but seldom do we do what God has called each and every one of us to—to take His Word to all people, to witness to the atoning work of Christ Jesus. But Spirit-filled people are different. They hear God speaking and they respond.
God’s Presence In Us As Spirit-Filled People
There is forgiveness from God for you. Jesus Christ died for you. That’s the Spirit talking to you today. If it were not for the Spirit of God, the message would have long since died. There is new life from God for you in Jesus Christ. It comes by faith, and it acts by love. That mission would long since have died if the Spirit of God were not active. The message and the mission are yours to take with you each day, and, as true believers, the Spirit of God seeks to talk through you, to further the message and mission thorough you, each day.
There have always been people like those at the first Pentecost who have asked, “what does this mean?” It is a good question. This means exactly what the rest of the book of Acts tells us: repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ happen all the time through the power of God’s Spirit. The wind is blowing and the fire is burning. Jesus has gone to the place of His lordship, and His Spirit has taken His place here on Earth. It is just as Jesus said, If I do not go away the Spirit cannot come.
Jesus went to His cross, to His grave, and then to His glory—to His Father. Returning to Heaven and picked up the mantel of power and authority which was His before time, and which He had set aside to humble himself to become man. By going to Calvary, by lying in that garden grave, and then triumphantly rising from the dead, and by returning to His seat of power in Heaven, God’s Spirit comes, richly and fully, to enliven the lives of ordinary people, people like you and like me, and to bring us to Jesus. As people redeemed by God have just got to be filled with His Spirit. Otherwise, you would not be trusting in God, hoping in God. You are alive. You are forgiven and forgiving. You are loved and loving. You are Spirit-filled.
The Spirit of the Lord speaks Word of God. Listen to Him and renew your belief in Jesus your Savior every day. The Spirit of God lights your fire today and fans the flames with the wind of His power. Use the gifts He has given you to build and strengthen the Church on Earth and bring souls to the family of God. Believe, hope and trust in God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer for you is that the grace of our Father Almighty, the love of the Son who redeemed you, the power of the Spirit who brought you to the one true faith, and the peace of God which passes all understanding, be and abide with you. Amen.
Acknowledgement and thanks to Rev. Oswald Hoffman for the inspiration of Spirit-filled people from a sermon heard in 1990 by a young impressionable seminarian.
From Concordia Academic blog.
Martin Luther’s preaching during Eastertide in 1544 and 1545 provided his listeners with four sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of St. Paul. “It would be better,” Luther wrote, “to give this season its due and, between Easter and Pentecost, for the instruction and comfort of the people, to give a thorough exposition of the article concerning both Christ’s resurrection and our own—that is, the resurrection of all the dead—on the basis of the preaching of the apostles, such as the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, all of which deals with the resurrection of the dead” [WA 21:349–50]. The sermons emphasized the assurance of the general resurrection; the ways in which Christians can “read” nature and be assured of God’s miraculous power to bring life out of death; and the unity of Christ’s resurrection with the resurrection of Christians, which means Christ’s victory over death also belongs to Christians.
For your Eastertide reflection, the following is a condensed version of the third sermon, on 1 Cor. 15:51–53. Here Luther contrasts the “bearable” divine speech in the present preaching of the Word with the unbearable sounds of the Last Day: the shout of the angel and the trumpet of God. The Christian should always keep the Last Day in mind, Luther says, as they fulfill their vocations in the world faithfully, remembering the last trumpet while enjoying the “eating, drinking, good cheer, and happiness” that God grants as a benevolent Father—but not mocking God and the last judgment with security amid unrepentant sin.
The complete text of this sermon and the other three sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, including the detailed annotations not included here, are available in LW 58: Selected Sermons V. Click Luther’s Works for information on becoming a subscriber to the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.
On the Last Trumpet of God
[1 Corinthians 15:51–53]
Translated by Mark E. DeGarmeaux
…It is fitting in this time after the Easter festival to preach and deal with the article concerning the resurrection, not only the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead for all our sakes, just as He also died for all our sakes, but also our own resurrection, so that we may be firmly grounded in faith and completely certain that our own body will come forth again and live. For the resurrection of Christ is of no use to us at all if we, for whose sake Christ rose again, do not follow after Him and rise again from the dead just as He did. But we will not be able to follow after Him and rise to life with Him unless we believe that His resurrection happened for our good. Neither will we believe it unless we preach about it continually and proclaim this article without ceasing, so that it may take root in our hearts. Continue reading. . .