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Running on Empty

It’s Sunday morning. You are ready to go “do church”. Kids are up. Hubby is getting things ready. Then everything falls apart. Shoes are on the wrong feet, bacon and toast have burned, “you’re not wearing your soccer outfit to church” you tell the little guy, hot water runs out and so does your patience. You think, I’ve got to get to worship service. I’ve got to be the example to my family. I’ve got to…I’ve got to…I’ve got to…

As a Christian most of us were taught that we go to church, we “do church”, we go to “worship”. Notice the focus? Us. We. I. Church becomes something we do for God. We go to praise, sing and drop an offering in the plate. We go and listen to the sermon, pray and wonder if we can make it through the service for another week. Somewhere along the line, doing church became about us.

As a new Lutheran I was in for a surprise at church on Sundays. Turns out, they call it the Divine Service because it is where the Divine, where God serves us His people. Visit a Lutheran Sunday Service and you’ll be surprised to find out their hymnal is also their order of service. The Pastor will tell you the page for the Divine Service, either one, two three or four and you’ll find that you are reading the service from the Lutheran Service Book. It all seems a bit odd…err different than a modern evangelical, or even Presbyterian/reformed Christian is accustomed to. The focus is on God serving us, not us doing church.

First Forgiveness

It begins with Confession and Absolution where together we will confess our sins and that “we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.[1]

But then comes the part most evangelicals would be shocked at. The Pastor offers Absolution of our sins. We learn that “even as keys lock and unlock, so the authority to forgive and retain sins opens and closes heaven. Jesus gives two keys to His Church; One key absolves from sin and opens heaven. The other key retains sins and closes heaven to those who are impenitent….All those who repent and ask for forgiveness of their sins are to b absolved.[2]” This is also a time of the proclamation of the Gospel. How does one know that they are sinner and in need of forgiveness? It has to be announced and this is done through the time of confession and absolution.

The pastor does not merely tell us that if we believe we are forgiven, rather, he proclaims to us that we are forgiven. He says, “Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore fogive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” To wit, we all say a hearty “Amen.” From this point onward it continues with God servicing us. He forgives us all our sins. We sing in response out of gratitude.

Fed by the Written Word

Next comes reading from God’s Word; Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings follow with chants of thanksgiving between each. God feeds us on His Written Word. Usually the chant which follows includes, “Lord , to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…[3]

Fed by the Preached Word

After that the pastor gives the sermon. Quite different from evangelical preaching which is about the law mostly. What do I mean? Most sermons in evangelical services are about what you should do now. It tends to answer the question, How shall I now live. In Reformed circles the sermon is about what Christ has done but then ends with how you should go out and live in light of that. So, they mostly go back to law at the end of the sermon.

Not in Lutheran services. While the Pastor will speak of the Law it is in such as way as you recognize that you could never keep it. The sermon ends on Gospel…always. It focuses on what Christ has done for you. The Gospel is given reminding us that we live because Christ lives. From there the Lord’s Supper is then prepared for His People.

Fed by Christ Himself

At this point we have been forgiven, fed through the written Word of God and fed by the preached Word of God. All evangelical services, except the occasional Sunday, ended here. Yet, in the Divine Service we have one more feeding, one more act of the Divine for us. Yes, it is the Lord’s Supper. “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.[4]” Here at the Table “His saving death is proclaimed an dthe fruits of His atonement are distributed for the forgiveness of our sins.[5]” God forgives us in this “great treasure” and our faith is strengthened. This “sets me free from my sinful past, in which death and the tyranny of Satan were my only future. Christ’s body and blood give me a new life and a new future every day.[6]

Fueled up for our vocations

No, you read that right. I did not write “fueled up for our vacations” but for our “vocation”. Each of us has a vocation, a task which we are to do in the Kingdom of God. Whether that is raising children, loving and obeying your husband, cleaning the home, making meals even if you do burn a few, working at an office, teaching, on the range or the farm, or in the shop, we all have work to do. We are all called to live our life in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He offers the world. Often, when I was an evangelical, the excitement of contemporary worship from Sunday began to wax and wane by Sunday night. However, when you are fed, when you are served by God Himself, through the Sacraments (confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper) He sustains your through the week. We can continually go to him each day through prayer and reading His Word knowing that He has fed us food that lasts.

Our pastor uses the analogy that we are like a car that needs re-fueling and God does the re-fueling through the Divine Service. We get gassed up and are ready to serve our neighbor so that we can live and speak the good news of forgiveness to them. We go to church, not primarily because we “have to” but rather, because we “need to.” We need to be fed. I don’t know about you but if I missed a Divine Service (which I do on occasion because of my Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis) I am hungry all through the week. I long to hear, in my ears, that my sins are forgiven and taste with my mouth the True Body (Bread) and True Blood (Wine) of my Lord and Savior who says to me, “This is for the forgiveness of your sins…go in peace.”

Friends, the Divine Service is for YOU! Go! Receive the forgiveness of your Lord and be fed on His Word and His True Body and Blood and go into the week, into your vocation, in peace!

[1] Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book: Three-year Lectionary (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2006).

[2] Concordia Publishing House, Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017).

[3] Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book.

[4] Concordia Publishing House, Luther's Small Catechism.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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