Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Self-chose Service or Divine Service

Consider the following from John T. Pless:
The liturgy is Gottesdienst, divine service, the Lord's service to us through the proclamation of His Word and the giving out of His body and blood. In the theology of the Lutheran Confessions,
God is the subject not the object of liturgical action. The trajectory is from the Lord to His Church and then from the Church to her Lord. In Luke 22, just after He had established the supper of His body and blood, the Lord says, "I am among you as one who serves" (v.22). This verse embodies the Lutheran understanding of the liturgy; it is the service that Jesus renders to His church, given by grace and received by faith. Rome had reversed the flow with the insistence that the Mass is essentially a sacrifice that the church offers to God. Reformed Protestants likewise define worship as human activity, i.e. the church's obedient ascription of praise to the majesty of a sovereign God.

For confessional Lutherans, liturgy is not about human activity but about the real presence of the Lord who stoops down to put His words into our ears and His body and blood into our mouths. Liturgy, as it is divine service, delivers the forgiveness of sins. The liturgy does not exist to provide edifying entertainment, motivation for sanctified living, or therapy for psychological distresses, but the forgiveness of sins.”[1]

In the worship of Cain, we bring to God our own self-chosen service. In the worship of Abel, we believe God to receive his chosen gifts to us.
  • Contrast the directions:

            from us to God, or from God to us.
  • Contrast the activity:

            working, or believing; giving, or receiving.
  • Contrast the choosers:

            us, or God.
  • Contrast the effects:

            the forgiveness of sins is delivered, or it is not.

1.  John T. Pless, “Divine Service: Delivering Forgiveness of Sins,” ¶¶ 5-6, presented at the South Dakota District Lay/Clergy Conferences, Rapid City, SD May 6, 1995 and Sioux Falls, SD May 7, 1995, then Pastor of University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, MN.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One Big Wrong Makes Us Right

Sidney Herald religion column published August 18, 2013

As lousy moments go, it was one of the lousiest. It was during a visit to Stordahl Cemetery. Not much there. The church building is gone. Only the bell and cemetery remain. From that forlorn spot of prairie, I could see my grandfather’s homestead across the terrain and my father’s grave at my feet. We had buried him a couple weeks earlier.

Death is bad enough all by itself, but Paul speaks of its sting. “The sting of death is sin.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) “Sin is the point of the spear that kills us.” (TLSB) Who wants to think that his father died because, due to his sin, he deserved it? I hope no one.

Yet, for every one of us, it is the bitter truth. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) For us to die is not humiliation because we have earned it. Harsh? Yes. Reality? Yes. Every spiritual autopsy comes to the same answer: the cause of death is sin.

Still, there is something worse: the death of a righteous man, an innocent man. For Jesus to die is quite a different thing than it is for us to die. He had not earned death. Death was not due him. For Jesus, to die was an injustice. “In his humiliation justice was denied him.” (Acts 8:33)

Practically everyone knew it. “He went about doing good,” (Acts 10:38) Yet leaders sought testimony to put him to death. They found none. Many bore false witness, but their testimony did not agree. (Mark 14:55-56) While Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man.” (Matthew 27:19) Pilate said, “I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod. Nothing deserving death has been done by him.” (Luke 23:14-15)

But Pilate’s judgment contradicted his verdict. Jesus died under condemnation of guilt, and He was counted with transgressors “Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.” (Luke 23:32)

Judas told the authorities, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They replied, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” (Matthew 27:4)

When Jesus died, “the centurion … praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” (Luke 23:47-48) R. C. H. Lenski says, “They came to witness a show, they left with feelings of woe.”

Jesus volunteered to humiliate himself in the death we deserved. He volunteered for the injustice of it. Only because He was our substitute, justice slayed him. ”Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:8) “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56)