Gather - Wednesdays in Lent
Joel 2: 15-17
Wednesday in Lent - Week 1
March 9, 2022
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In 1978, the Lutheran church was changing. Seminex, Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Exile, began a revolution, dare I say another reformation that sparked conversation around church unity. For those who do not know what I am talking about, during the 1960s, the LCMS church laity grew concerned about the direction of education at their flagship seminary, Concordia Seminary. Professors at Concordia Seminary had, in the 1950s and 1960s, begun to utilize the historical-critical method to analyze the Bible rather than the traditional historical-grammatical method. After attempts at compromise failed, the LCMS president, Jacob Preus, moved to suspend the seminary president John Tietjen, leading to a walkout of most faculty and students, and the formation of Seminex. The after effects of the controversy were vast. Before the split, the LCMS had both modernist and Evangelical wings. After Seminex, about 200 congregations split from the LCMS to form the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). The AELC was founded on the principal that they would not be in existence for a long time, but would work at bringing together multiple Lutheran denominations to form what we know today as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).”
Also happening at this time was a revolution in liturgics. It began with Vatican 2 and the church moving away from the Latin rite and putting worship into the vernacular. This move prompted Lutherans to look at their worship and many began to wonder if we could unify the whole Lutheran church around one book of worship as well as come closer to our catholic Brothers and sisters in Christ as well. The leaders were not dumb. They knew that worship could not fix all the problem in the church, but they believed it would be a start and it had a better chance at succeeding with Lutheran church bodies that were all like-minded. The ALC, LCA and AELC, aside from their piety, all shared similar if not identical theological beliefs. At the time, each Lutheran church body had their own hymnal. So, they gather church leaders from all the different Lutheran bodies that they could together, they formed a committee, and set out on the arduous task of uniting the church through worship. And they were nearly 100% successful until at the very last minute when the LCMS elders pulled out. Anyone know why? Translation of the creed. I.E. by the power of the Holy Spirit. LCMS leaders objected to the phrase and from what I understand, were simply outvoted on the panel. THE LCMS pull out and create their own hymnal which was pretty much a carbon copy of the LBW only blue instead of green. There were even some lawsuits filed over copyright infringement. Yada, yada, yada. Nonetheless, the leaders had done something that up to this point was just a dream - unity around worship.
Remember Lutherans were still physically very much divided. The LBW came out in 1978, 10 years before the ELCA was formed. And not only did we unify Lutherans, we came closer to our brothers and sisters in Rome. Much of our liturgical form in the LBW is based off the Roman order. Do you all remember before 2010, you could go to a Catholic Church as a Lutheran and pretty much know what to say? That all changed with Pope Benedict and his changes to the English version of the Mass. The LBW did the impossible. It united Lutherans around worship and while it took a few years for the hymnal to be accepted, the reforms in worship eventually led to the formation of the Elca and eventually full communion agreements with a number of other mainline, non-Lutheran church bodies. I also think it was admirable that LBW publishers left the LCMS in the acknowledgment section as soon as you open the hymnal. Even with all the problems, lawsuits, and ugliness of the last minute split, the leaders wanted to acknowledge their contribution and hope, that one day, we might finally accomplished the goal of unity through worship.
The LBW is the hymnal I grew up using. I remember when I was little learning how to set up my hymnal. Remember, we didn’t have computers in the early 90’s that could connect to our copy machines. Some churches were still using typewriters because the average computer cost about 2,000 dollars and many doubted that the PCs would really ever stay around. Writing out everything in the bulletin would have been to time consuming. So, a bulletin was used just to tell you were you could find the page number. I forgot the name of the woman who I asked for help one morning, but I do remember she lived right across the street from our parsonage in Philadelphia and I do remember her helping with all my bookmarks. As technology improved, many churches began moving away from a hymnal and to printing more and more into a bulletin. With the advent of the ELW, which is not a user-friendly hymnal, printing everything almost became a necessity. More and more people have become less and less use to holding and using a hymnal for worship. But I still think the concept of the hymnal is an important one.
For one, sometimes you get more out reading through the hymnal than you do out of my sermon. If I am ever up here preaching and you are bored out of your mind, I want you to open up your hymnal and start reading. One of the nice things about the ELW is that it has the Small Catechism. Go read the Small Catechism while you wait for me to stop droning on and on in a sermon. You can also read the rubrics and learn about the liturgy. Having a hymnal really gives you the ability to get focus on worship even when the preacher is more boring than watching paint dry.
The LBW changed how we see and experience worship. For years, the thing that united Lutherans was the Book of Concord—and that still remains the case. Now though, we have another feather in our cap. Fast forward 40 years, the unity which began with the LBW began to be strained. Catholic and Lutheran relations somewhat stalled in many parts of our country while our relationship with the episcopal church grew stronger. The demographics also began to shift and leaders in our church realized it would be wise and prudent that hymnal should not just focus on our German heritage but on the heritage of others. The ELW was created and, I think, succeeded in making our hymnody more diverse and inclusive. However, I think the ELW failed at being useful as a worship book. It tried to do too much and was organized in such a way that it is confusing unless you use it every week. Perhaps it was the sign of the times—more and more churches were printing the whole service in the bulletin…we didn’t need a hymnal to be a worship book. But I feel like we lost something with this change. I also feel like we have given up on worship as something that we can unite around. The LBW was created to unify Lutherans as well as strengthen our ecumenical relationships. I feel like we gave up on using worship to unify the church with the ELW. Call me an eternal optimist, but this is just something I still feel can happen today.
I mean it happens every week. That is point of the Gathering portion of our worship. God calls together all us through the Holy Spirit. We form a community that is fulfilling and different each time it happens. In the Lutheran Liturgy and most Mainline Christian denominations, the liturgy is divided into four different sections: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. I think the ELW is hypersensitive to this…almost as a detriment but that is an another sermon for another night. The gathering is not just you and God gathering, it is not just a human gathering—“The gathering section is the threshold, the thing that prepares us for the word and meal that await us” later on in liturgy.
We gather around Confession and Forgiveness. Even though this is technically outside the worship service, it is good to be reminded that at the very start of the service, we acknowledge that we are all first and foremost, sinners. That we are a broken community. We are not perfect and that is why we are here—we have no place left to turn. We gather around praise and prayer. During covid, we have tried to limit our corporate time together for safety reasons, but as we come out of pandemic life, we are also bring back things like the Kyrie and Hymn of Praise. The Kyrie is the only Greek in the entire Latin version of the mass. Sometimes the Kyrie is short…“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” which is important to hear and say because we need to be reminded that what we deserve is justice—punishment for ignoring and breaking the Law of God—but God chooses to share mercy with us us instead.
Back when we were having Thomas, I asked Bishop Riegel to fill in for me on Easter Sunday. I sent him the bulletin and he sent it back to me with a note… “You forgot the Kyrie.” I called him and up and said, “It is Easter Sunday. We just spent all week praying. Can’t we just skip it?” His reply to me, “Is there peace in all world? Has our salvation been made fully known to each of us? Is the wellbeing of the church secured here on earth? Are people no longer crying out, “Help, save, comfort and defend us gracious Lord?” I of course said, “Well, no.” And he said, “Well, I guess we should pray the Kryie on Easter Sunday just like we do every week.”
Every time we gather, we should remember the prayers we make and say during Kyrie ask for God to have mercy on us at all times. And at the conclusion of those prayers, we sing praise to God either using the words from the angels announcing the birth of Christ or the words form John of Pathmos—this is the feast. Both hymns of praise were not dreamed up in a musician’s studio. Rather, they have been sang by the church for thousands of years—based off of Scripture. The tune might be modern, but the words go back to the first days of the church following Pentecost.
The gathering portion of our liturgy is concluded in the prayer of the day. This should only be led by the presiding minister as a way of unifying us together. Sometimes the prayer of the day is also referred to as a Collect as it is a prayer that collects us together before God and turns us towards the scripture readings we are about to hear. The presiding minister’s role is to speak for the entire gathering of Christians, to help focus on the important task that lies ahead—hearing the word of God and responding accordingly.
We come from all walks of life, from different generations, from different economic political, and social circles. Yet, despite all our differences, these differences are put aside for a short moment week after week so that we might be able to gather together to sing praise to God, to offer up prayers for mercy that are timeless in nature, and be prepared with joy to hear the story of how God saved the world. What we do is not perfect but we gather through the Holy Spirit and though the differences that divide are not erased, for a moment, (END) we experience a foretaste of the future God has prepared for us by simply gathering together.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.