Liturgy in the Local Congregation VIII

The Sermon Hymn, or Hymn of the Day (p. 22)
This hymn is perhaps the most important hymn of the service, as it relates both to the theme of the day and to the theme of the sermon. It prepares us for the message of the sermon and reminds us again of the church season and of the particular season, if one is celebrated (i.e., Christmas, Easter, Pentecost).

The Sermon (p. 22)
After the abuses of the Church in the Middle Ages, in which Masses were conducted often purely for the sake of doing them and for money, Luther was adamant that Scripture not be heard without explanation and interpretation. Prior to Luther, sermons had become infrequent at best and absent altogether at worst. Following the example of the early Church (“the apostles’ teaching,” Acts 2:42), and the example of Luther, this congregation places a high emphasis on the preaching of God’s Word. Along with the Sacrament of Holy Communion, preaching is indispensable in a Christian church. Thus, you will often hear reference to “Word and Sacrament,” which is shorthand for what is most important to Lutheran Christians.

The sermon is not disconnected from either the rest of the service, or the Church year. Usually the sermon will focus on the Gospel Lesson, as this contains the direct words of Jesus; but occasionally, the Old Testament or Epistle lessons are the basis for the sermon. Even if they are not the text for the sermon, they are often used or referred to in the sermon.

While the sermon may contain instruction, exhortation, and interpretation, none of these are the essence of the sermon. It is not a true sermon if God’s Law and God’s Gospel are not preached. When these are present and “rightly handled” (1 Timothy 2:15), the Holy Spirit has promised to bring the Word of God to the hearers, bringing them from death to life (1 Samuel 2:6). In Isaiah 55:10-11, God promises: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The preaching of God’s Word is, along with Baptism and Holy Communion, one of the greatest gifts God has given to the Church (Romans 10:13-17).

The Augsburg Confession puts it this way: “To obtain such faith [“reckoned as righteousness”] God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit and produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC, Art. V, Kolb/Wengert Ed.).


Liturgy in the Local Congregation VII

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The Creed (p. 22)
The Creed (First Lutheran uses the Nicene Creed on Communion Sundays and the Apostles’ Creed on non-Communion Sundays) is a condensed summary of salvation. It contains the basic pieces of Christian belief, and all Christians confess what is contained in these creeds. When we speak these words, we are joining our voices with the Church of all times and all places in a confession of the faith that has been handed down from Jesus to the Apostles and all the way to our own time.

The Apostles’ Creed, or the basic parts of it, was originally used as a baptismal creed. When someone was baptized, they would answer the questions, “Do you believe in God the Father?” “Do you believe in God the Son?” “Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” with the words we now use in the creed. The Nicene Creed, while similar in wording, contains aspects that were formed in the heat of controversy with heretics such as Arius, who claimed that Jesus was less than God the Father.

When people became members of the Church, the Creed was “handed over” and memorized by the one seeking to become a member (catechumen), and when it came time to be received into the Church, the catechumen would recite it back to the bishop. While we do not keep the Creed a secret anymore, memorizing the Creed is still basic to becoming a member of Christ’s Church. It contains the essence of the “all” that Jesus directed His disciples to teach (Matthew 28:20).

The Children’s Message
This part of the service is not used in every congregation, and it was only added very recently, perhaps in the last twenty to thirty years. While it is possible that a separate message for children could encourage the mistaken idea that the rest of the service is “not for children,” it does not have to be that way. The children’s message is possibly harder to prepare than the regular sermon, because it is very easy to merely “moralize” at children (i.e., be a better child, son, daughter, student, etc.). But children, no less than adults, need to hear that they, too, have a Savior who loves them and died for them. It is no accident that Jesus was born as a baby and grew and learned as any other child does (Luke 2:52). His redemption is redemption also for children (Acts 2:39).

It is clear that Jesus is a friend to children. They are often His example of what godly faith looks like (Matthew 11:25; 18:3-4; 19:14; 21:16; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17), and He welcomes them into His arms and blesses them (Mark 9:36, 10:16). Following Jesus’ example, we welcome children to gather at the front of the church, not as the only part of the service that applies to them, but as a part that applies specifically to them. Often this will take the form of simply repeating the love of Christ in ways that are straightforward and understandable to young children. What they most need is to become familiar with the stories about Jesus and what He has done for them.