The Divine Liturgy: Benedictus

Divine LiturgyBenedictus

Summary: The Benedictus is a good example of how God “opens lips” to show forth His praise, namely, the lips of Zacharias, who sang the Benedictus.

Join us each week after Divine Service (~10:30am) for coffee, treats, and a study of the Liturgy. Join us as you are able. Children and adults welcome alike. No advance preparation is required.

We gather regularly for instruction in the Word of God, not simply to learn knowledge about God, but that our faith in Jesus Christ might be strengthened, and that we might live by that faith in our lives. We call this kind of teaching “catechesis.” Receiving our Lord’s teaching from the Holy Scriptures is a way of life for us, young and old alike, from the cradle to the grave. Our Lord is with us wherever His Word is faithfully taught and received.

“Watch, Pray, and Live” – Exaudi 2013 – John 15:26–16:4

12. May 2013
Exaudi
John 15:26–16:4

This Sunday between our Lord’s Ascension and the giving on the Holy Spirit used to be called Waiting Sunday. From the Ascension we look for his return “to judge the living and the dead.” The time of the church is between this Ascension and his coming again. The work of salvation is accomplished but the fruit of His saving continues. this is Christ’s work and He will accomplish it. We wait for its completion, having seen Him ascend and watching for Him to come again.

Today the church also cries out “Exaudi Domini” that is, “hear O Lord!” Hear us as we pray. Hear us as we struggle with our sin. Hear us as the world seeks our hurt and harm. Hear us as others profane your holy name. Hear us as our possessions and income fail us. Hear us as we doubt you are coming again. Hear us O Lord! Hide not your face from me!

We are waiting and we crying. We also live as if today is the end: attentive to our prayers, loving each other especially those closest to us, sharing all things in common, welcoming the stranger, serving all in their need. Thus today’s themes are waiting for our Lord’s return, crying out in prayer, and living in the end time. This is the life of the church between the Ascension and Christ’s return.

Last week our District President joined us for Divine Service, discussion, and a meal. The overall response was disappointment. Some expected more suggestions from him. Some wanted solutions. Others desired a heavy hand of leadership and maybe even a forceful command.

What did he offer? Was this perspective pointless? No, even though it was mostly what we already knew. We need to hear another perspective to gain the confidence we need to act. We need to know that God has preserved His church in the midst of difficult times and even despite us. President May gave wisdom from years of pastoring, counsel from his experience as district president, and encouragement to be the children God the Father made us. He followed His office of overseer and gave us perspective. He counseled us to wait, to pray, and to live as if today is the end.

President May reminded me of Jesus instructing His disciples in the upper room as they faced a difficult path. He could not promise their future would be easy. Indeed, it would not. He could not promise them clear sailing. The voyage of their life as His apostles would be rough and treacherous. He could not promise the world would listen. Their message would not be received but often rejected. For the sake of this message all but St. John would lose their lives.

He promises that He will not leave us as orphans but will come to us. We might follow our doubt and think that He has forgotten this promise. Perhaps having set His church in motion and has left us to fend for ourselves. That’s what His disciples thought after our Lord’s resurrection. They hid in the upper room or hid in their work, not quite sure if Jesus was a man of His word. They grew impatient. Their prayers faltered. Their mercy ended and the drew into their shells.

But He has not left us alone. “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). He will come and our hearts will rejoice. Apart from Christ there is no waiting but only impatience. Apart from Christ there is no cry of Christian prayer but only despair and panic. Apart from Christ there is no living but only hastily bull rushing our death. In Christ we wait with hope. In Christ we pray without ceasing. In Christ we die to sin and rise with Him and live.

Jesus said, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” The disciples were in for a difficult patch, rough sailing, indeed death at the hands of those who think they are worshiping God. And notice who in particular will cause them grief? Those who think they are serving God, from fellow believers.

This is a truth we want to ignore today. Who challenges faithful Christians to abandon the faith? Who heaps scorn and ridicule on right-believing believers? Yes, sometimes it’s the world and its unbelievers. But here Jesus wants us to to know that it is those who claim to believe who will seek our harm and ruin. The disciples will be martyred for the truth by those who think they have the truth.

Pontus Pilate asked of our Lord, “What is truth?” Today’s popular thinking has no idea. Literally. Maybe you and certainly your children don’t believe in universal truth. You have heard it said, “Truth is whatever you believe.” The “new” math is to let children decide what-and-what-equals-what. Most consider it arrogant to suppose any one person or group has a corner on what is true, real, or right.

The prophecy of Jesus and the experience of the Apostles tell us that that it not only those who claim a faith who will oppose Christianity. Even those who call themselves Christian will oppose the faithful. I read this week of a pastor and professor in another Christian denomination who was charged with false doctrine and threatened with expulsion for teaching what the Scriptures teach about Holy Baptism. This man was initially exonerated but the charges are being leveled again against him for teaching the truth. He is being threatened with loss of vocation and livelihood for teaching what Jesus teaches.

Sometimes we like to use the label “Christian” as an excuse to avoid refuting error. We’re all Christians, right? Shouldn’t we just turn a blind eye to their confusion and get along? No! The history of the Apostolic church is rich with times where error was refuted and the truth preserved. The creeds and confessions were written to confess the truth in the face of error. Christians died because those in error “have not known the Father, nor [Jesus].” Christians died defending the truth. They died to confess the creeds. They died waiting, praying, and living in the end.

How can you claim to know the truth? How can you possibly know with certainty that you believe the truth?  Jesus tells you. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” When Jesus promised you would not face this time of the church alone, He promised to send the Paraclete, today translated the Helper. He is your Comforter and Advocate. He helps, comforts, and advocates by bringing you Jesus. He is sent from the Father to bring you Jesus’ by the Word. How has Jesus fulfilled His promise? His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, comes bearing the Word into your ears. When you hear Jesus speaking you are hearing by the Spirit. More importantly when you believe the Word of Jesus is the truth then the Spirit is doing His Spirit business. Notice the title Jesus gives Him: the Spirit of Truth. Not one truth, or some truth, but truth.

You know for certain that Jesus Christ is your savior, whose blood atoned for your sins, whose death destroyed death, and whose resurrection is your bodily resurrection. You know this is the truth for you have His Spirit, the Spirit of truth. You first received this Spirit in Holy Baptism when faith was given through was washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3). You continually receive His Spirit when your sins are declared forgiven. The Spirit preserves the true faith in your heart through the proclamation of Jesus’ Word. The Spirit joins Word to bread and wine to give you Jesus’ body and blood.

The growth of the church and her health in this place and throughout the world is not a product of our effort. We grow impatient waiting for God the Spirit to do His work. We often fail to pray for those in need, to speak of Christ to those who need to hear, to love the one who has sinned against us. But look how God the Spirit has preserved this place through discord, false teachers, and scandal. If this congregation were a result of our effort then it would have failed long ago. But we have been not left alone. We have been gathered and kept safe through the Word delivering forgiveness of sins by the Spirit through Jesus Christ.

Our lives bear witness to the overflowing grace of our Lord. We speak, live, and receive the truth here, in our families, and in our communities.. It is the Spirit who gives force to the witness of the Apostles. It is the Spirit who bears in us fruit to be faithful, charitable, and hospitable. Most of all he gives us the Word to say when truth must be spoken. He is the great defender of the truth. He raises up faithful Christians to defend the truth through word and deed before pagan, unbeliever, or hypocrite. By this Holy Spirit the church is glorified through Jesus Christ. By Him you receive Jesus.

We live knowing “the end of all things is at hand.” Having received the Holy Spirit, “you also bear witness…” How? Pray. Love one another earnestly. Cover each others’ sins with forgiveness. Be hospitable. Serve one another. Speak the Word. Hear the Word. Yes, times are difficult but you have not been left alone. By the Holy Spirit you can watch patiently for His coming, pray without ceasing, and live knowing the end is near.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

“In the Name of Jesus” – Rogate 2013 – John 16:23-30

05. May 2013
Rogate
St. John 16:23-30

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 

It was only a little while before Jesus would leave His disciples. Soon they would see Him no more. The intimate personal contact would be broken. We have seen the despair and fear of the disciples after the crucifixion. It seemed as if the bottom had fallen out of everything. The disciples had staked all on Jesus. They had given up their businesses and followed Him. Their lives had come to revolve around Him. Where Jesus went, they followed. The disciples’ lives were given to Him. But when Jesus was gone, the heart was taken out of their lives.

Jesus knows this feeling too. He was human like you and I, and He knew how far the disciples would be able to get along without Him on their own strength. So during the forty days between Easter and Ascension, He prepared them for His departure. The risen Christ did not fit back into the lives of the disciples as they had been living with Him previously. That is what Mary Magdalene wanted, but Jesus said, “Touch Me not.” Before Calvary the disciples had leaned heavily on Him. Jesus had carried them as lambs, as children. Now He wanted them to stand upright like men and go forth into all the world with brave hearts and voice, proclaiming the crucified and risen Savior. The visible presence of Christ, like spiritual hand holding, was soon to be withdrawn. Jesus was going on ahead, and He told them, “Follow Me!” Through all their lives, they were to know that Jesus was leading them forward. “I am with you.” The disciples walked in His steps. Following Christ, their journey was set from earth to heaven. They were to learn to walk by faith, not by sight.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses and promised them that He would not leave them comfortless. Down to their weakness would come the strength of the Spirit of God. By His power, the living connection with Christ would be maintained and strengthened. Although the tangible contact with the visible Jesus would be gone, a deeper, more inward contact with God was thrown open to them. The disciples were granted the renewed privilege of prayer. They had prayed before, but now they were to learn to pray so prayer would be for them a mighty, strengthening contact with God. So far they had prayed with sight, now they were to pray with faith alone. To all disciples of Christ who walk by faith and not by sight is given this same privilege and promise.

Much ridicule is nowadays heaped on Christian prayer. They say, “Do you suppose that a puny individual like you can change the laws that govern the universe? Can you, who are so sadly shoved around by others, influence the course of this world or interrupt the chain of gigantic events? If there is a God, do you suppose that He is going to pay any attention to you?” Before the barrage of such contempt, Christians have sometimes weakened and backed down. They qualify and weaken the Lord’s promise to match their own prayer experience so lacking in faith.

But this talk about unchangeable laws isn’t nearly so impressive as it once seemed. The scientists aren’t at all as sure about their unchangeable laws. The speed of light may not be constant after all. Thus, it isn’t by our own power that we seek to achieve anything. If we stood alone in our own puny weakness, then we must certainly shudder at the thought of God and hide our faces before Him. In us there is no hope, and if in heaven there is no Father, then we certainly cannot pray. If we cannot pray, it is all up to us. But our Gospel text does not just speak of God. It speaks of the Father. That makes all the difference in the world, all the difference between life and death.

It is only because God has come to be our Father that we can pray to Him. Only because Christ has taken our sins on Himself and wiped them out by His victorious death can we stand before God, forgiven, His children in Christ. Only as we are bound to Christ in Holy Baptism like little Esther, can we come before God as His children. In Baptism God sees us in Christ, wearing the garment of Christ’s righteousness. This is the key to a living connection with God our Father. All contact, all prayer with Him must be in Christ, in the name of Jesus, that is, with faith in Him.

Prayer can only rise from faith in Christ. Apart from Christ and His atoning, redeeming work, God is no one’s Father. It is delusive sentimentality to talk of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man without Christ. Only in the acceptance, the clinging to, the giving of ourselves over to Christ is God our Father or anyone our true brother or sister. Faith in Christ is rejection of self and all we have to offer. “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling” (The Lutheran Hymnal, 376:3). Not I, but Christ. We come as beggars before God and have no right to ask anything. “We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

The perfect example of humble, selfless prayer is that sinner who, not venturing to go right into God’s temple, bowed his head, beat on his breast and sighed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” There was room for God in his empty heart. In the Pharisee there was no room. He felt no lack. He was making such a beautiful job of his life. His prayer was a summons to God to admire him. The publican went down to his house with a glad peace in his heart, justified. Jesus says so, as He does with the absolution, He bestows on penitent sinners by His use of the mouth that He has put there to speak, His forgiving words in His name. Our Amen speaks the prayer of faith in Jesus’ name.

Praying “in Jesus’ name” means to pray in the spirit, manner, and character of Jesus. Our prayers must be of the Jesus kind. Just as faith is created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, so by the Word we are given guidance and example in the art of prayer. There we find our Lord in His life so rich in prayer. As we come to know Him better and are drawn closer to Him, our prayers will take on more of His character. We often take on the manners and speech of those with whom we associate. Traveling closer with Jesus, our prayers will be more and more pulled into the purposes for which Jesus gave Himself. In the name of Jesus is in the name of Him who is our Savior. Therefore, in the name of Jesus, we can ask nothing that is contrary to our salvation. Whatever would harm us or draw us away from our Savior is not in the name of Jesus.

Can we always know what is good or not good for building us up in stature for our salvation? Of course not. The confession that our heavenly Father knows better than we is basic to all rightful prayer. If you ask Christians, “Are you wiser than God?” they will, of course, say no, but if each of us will examine our prayer life, we will surely see how often we speak to God as if we know better than He. We become impatient and grumble when God doesn’t jump to it and do as we tell Him. But someone will object, “Hasn’t God promised to hear our prayer and give us everything for which we ask?” That is true, so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name. As we might say, that is the catch. Is that just a loophole for God? Not so! God would not be our loving heavenly Father if He gave us everything that we wanted, just as those are pretty poor parents who give their children everything they want.

God loves us too much to give us everything we want. He draws a boundary around the things that He promises to give us in answer to our prayer. That boundary is His love. So often God’s curse is His letting people have just what they want. That is the way people get to hell. God says, “Well, if you insist on cutting yourself off from Me and going full speed to hell, you shall have it your way.” If we deliberately shut God out of our life, God finally says, “All right, you shall have it as you want it.” Because God is our loving heavenly Father, He restricts His promise to those things that are for our good, which draw us close to our Savior, in whose name alone we pray properly. As our mind and wishes come more and more into line with our Father’s mind and wishes, we shall more fully pray in the name of Jesus. If we learn to pray in the manner of Christ, we shall learn of Him to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Yet even when our Father, out of love, refuses to give us that particular thing for which we may be foolishly asking, our prayer is not unanswered. The heart of our prayer is always granted us. Take the old example of little William asking Mother for a sharp knife. The heart of the child’s request is that he may have fun playing with the knife. Mother refuses to give little William the knife, yet by doing that, she grants the heart of little William’s prayer. Young William thought he would be happier playing with the knife. Mother knew he would be happier not playing with it. The happiness of William has been granted, though he may pout for an hour and think his mother most hard and unloving. So also our Father in heaven deals with us as His children, who so often ask for foolish and hurtful things.

It does not follow from this that we ought not to ask for particular things. We should have no desire about which we are ashamed to tell our Father. He is pleased with us when we speak to Him as dear children speak to their dear Father, even if it is about a new pair of shoes or the tomato plants, but always with the confession, “Lord, You know only too well what a foolish person I am and how apt I am to ask for hurtful and selfish things. To me it would seem that these things would be good for me and my neighbor, but I will leave it all up to You.” Not my will, but Thine be done. We will learn to pray, “Lord, teach me to serve Thee with all I am and have” instead of a prayer that goes no further than “Lord, give me more money.” In the perfect prayer our Savior taught us, there is only one petition for earthly things. We need them for a while and are glad and grateful for them, but the whole weight of prayer is in the things that last for good, that work our salvation, the things our Savior came to accomplish.

For these we can ask without condition. God has to grant them to us. He has promised, and God is faithful. Claiming Jesus’ blood and merit, God has to forgive us our sins. That certainty is “in Jesus’ name.” We can hold God to His promise. That, however, means that we trust His promise. We may never complain of our prayer not being heard if we pray with a hit-or-miss attitude that says, “I don’t know whether it will do any good, but I don’t suppose it can do any harm either, so I may as well give it a go.” This is insulting to God because not taking God at His word entertains the possibility that God is a liar. Thus all our prayers must be with confidence. We must take God at His word: “Not one word has failed of all His good promise” (1 Kings 8:56). When we pray for our salvation for Jesus’ sake, God has to give it to us. When we pray for earthly things, we tell our Father what we would like and are confident that He will give it to us. If it is for our good and He does not grant it just when and how we like, we know that He gives us what is better for us. The heart of our prayer, our sure good, is always granted. We confess, “Lord, You know what best, and we trust Your promise to hear our prayer.”

When prayers seem unanswered, let us not first blame God but begin closer to home. Let us examine our prayers and see if we are not, perhaps, trying to order God around, telling Him just how and when He is supposed to do what we tell Him. Let us ask ourselves whether Jesus and all He stands for and wants to accomplish in us are at the heart of our prayer. If there is no Jesus in our prayer, then it is no prayer and we have no Father to hear us. How beautiful are our Collects that end “through Jesus Christ our Lord” in their recognition of this fact that without Jesus it is no prayer. Yet not in words mechanically added on for a prayer, but only in heart-filling faith and reliance in Christ do we pray properly in the name of Jesus.

Scripture abounds in examples of answered prayer, but there are also examples of what we would sometimes be tempted to call unanswered prayers. A Gentile Samaritan woman prayed to Jesus for her daughter. Jesus said it wasn’t fit to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. Her prayer’s answer came later to that conquering, humble faith that clutched Jesus’ words and cried, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). Mary begged Jesus to do something for the embarrassed host when the wine gave out at Cana’s wedding. Jesus replied that He had His own good time. “When Lazarus lay dying, his distressed sisters sent to their best friend for help. Jesus tarried and Lazarus died. St. Paul was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh and prayed three times to be cured of it. God did not take away that thorn, but He built Paul up to bear it. Monica prayed forty years for her son gone to the dogs. Ambrose comforted her that a son of so many prayers could not be lost. And her son was finally gripped by Christ and became the great man of God, Augustine.

If God seems to tarry, let faith cling fast. We are given the example of the widow who kept troubling the godless judge until he gave her justice just to get rid of her pestering. Jesus says we can surely expect better treatment than that from our Father in heaven.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Today we have only considered prayer as asking, but it is infinitely more. Prayer is, first, an act of worship. We open ourselves to God. Guided by His Word, we point ourselves in His direction. Prayer is an answer to God’s word of saving, life-giving love in Christ. In prayer we make reply to Him, giving Him back our love, our adoration, our praise, our loyalty, our lives. As we pray we are in contact with God our Father through Christ, and therein we are made strong as His children. The more we pray, the stronger we are. We can only breathe out as often as we breathe in. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. As we are alive in Christ, we pray. AMEN.

Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Norman Nagel preached in London in 1957.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana