Sermon for November 30, 2008
Sermon for November 30, 2008
Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:34-37
Today is the first Sunday of the Advent Season, the time of preparation for the coming of God. The theme of Advent is getting ready.
All of the lessons today speak about getting ready for the coming of God at the end of time. Isaiah speaks of a day when the heavens come down, the mountains quake and waters boil: a coming day of judgment. Ephesians speaks of a coming day of the Lord. The Matthew story is about a coming day of judgment. These first Christians felt that this day of the Lord’s return was coming very soon.
Even if we think the world will not come to an end soon, we are called by the lessons to prepare ourselves for God entering our world. God’s coming into our lives in different ways may be sooner and closer than we think.
When we think about how God enters our lives, we may focus on how we will experience the end. God enters our lives through endings and struggles, as the lessons say. Perhaps we should think more about how God is present in endings or struggles or even our own end through death.
God’s coming day might be about Christmas. This is the time of the year when we remember that God came in the form of a child. Perhaps in the midst of Christmas clutter, we should consider how God comes into our world in the form of the humanity around us.
Or when we think about how God enters our lives, we may focus on how God enters our hearts at times of joy and fear. Perhaps the lessons call us to remember those times when God feels especially close.
When we think about how God enters our lives, we may also think about the presence of God we experience each week. Worship is a time when God comes close to us and when God approaches. In some ways, each Sunday is a day of the Lord. God enters our world as one week dies and another rises. If not the world at least the week has come to an end. Today, I would like to focus our attention on worship, what we do on this thing we call the day of the Lord.
As we begin a fresh church year with a fresh season, Advent, and a new liturgy, Setting Five of ELW, it is fitting for us to reflect on worship as God draws close to us.
The presence of God is felt in the elements of worship. Worship involves repentance and confession. Worship involves prayer for us and others, and prayers that center our hearts on the themes for the day. Worship involves music and song, bringing together voices and instruments in expressions of tensions that lead to joy.
Worship involves simple elements: bread, wine, and water, by which the ordinary is treasured, and all creation participates. God’s coming presence is found in confession, baptismal remembrance, song, prayer, and the simple elements of the earth.
The presence of God is felt in the shape of worship as these things are assembled. Worship begins with a time of preparation. As we start, we prepare our hearts, and then open with song and prayer. We move to a time of reflection on lessons, (where we are now in the service) and response to those lessons with a statement of faith and prayers for the world. Then we move to the meal in which we say God has come to be with us in the bread and wine. And then we depart. This flow, week after week reminds us of the coming presence of God.
The presence of God is further felt in the details of worship. Baptismal remembrance, said at the font of the congregation, reminds us that we are part of one community. This community is imperfect and yet holy and is on a journey of faith.
The opening song opens not only our worship, but also our hearts to the coming celebration.
The greeting between the pastor and people clears the air between us all. It is easy to let little things build up, but in this simple greeting, we come into God’s presence wishing each other well.
Setting Five is plainsong, and some of you who have been familiar with old brown books and black books in the Lutheran tradition will know these melodies. They are ancient songs that were used in the Middle Ages when public address systems and microphones were not available. They were designed to help project the human voice in large group settings.
The plainsong Kyrie is an ancient Greek word for Lord, the first word of the phrase, “Lord Have Mercy.” Ancient Christians used a Kyrie in worship to set the stage for prayer and reflection. Kyrie’s come in many forms. All ten settings in the hymnal have different Kyrie’s, and hymns 151-158 are additional settings for this ancient prayer.
Each week, the prayer of the day is highly honed to fit the themes of the upcoming lessons. Some of these prayers are over fifteen hundred years old. If you ever wonder what these lessons are about, just re-read the prayer of the day, and you will be on the right track (usually). In Advent the prayers of the day are about preparation for the coming presence of God.
The lessons are read from the three year cycle of lessons known as the common lectionary. The three year outline is found starting on page 18 of your hymnal.
The sermon is hopefully relevant, focused on the lessons that have been read. One of my favorite quotations regarding sermons comes from a twelfth century monk who said, “If the sermon is not going well, then it should be short.”
Responses to the word include a statement of faith. The two creeds we use are very old. The Apostles’ Creed is a baptismal creed from the 8 th century. The Nicene Creed dates from the 4 th century. Both speak of God as creator, redeemer, and the one who abides with us.
The prayers of the church focus our attention on the needs of those around us in the church, our community, and world. Time is given for individuals to pray silently or with words for those they know who are in need of prayers. The prayers are entrusted to God for resolution not our own designs.
The meal begins with a sharing of the peace and an offering of our gifts with the bread and wine. The peace exchanged by the pastor and the assisting minister marks the good will between clergy and laity in this congregation and the larger church in our common and equal mission. The peace shared among all is not so much a morning greeting as a genuine act of love and forgiveness.
Plainsong chant again sets the mood. A prayer of thanksgiving creates table memories. The simple words of Jesus are spoken with the bread and wine, giving rise to the presence of God with us.
The Lord’s Prayer offers four major themes of the life of faith. Although we know God intimately as Abba or Father through Jesus, we will still revere and respect God above all. Then, we strive to do the will of God and bring the kingdom of God to bear on earth as in heaven. We next ask God to watch over us in our physical and spiritual needs. Finally, we ask God to help us through the times of crisis.
The meal is shared with the mutual feeding of all congregational members as a sign of our being feed by God and offering sustenance to those around us.
The blessings are received, the table is cleared with song and prayer, and we are quickly dismissed to return to the world in which we live.
Through these details, these patterns, these elements, at the end of each week, if not the end of the world, we find ourselves again in the presence of God. Advent is a time to prepare to meet the God who comes to us, at the end of each week and at the end of the world.