January 20, 2018

One Final Bach Cantata: For Christ the King (+ a sermon)

• • •

Today on Christ the King Sunday (a day of the Church Year that was not commemorated in Bach’s time), we present a magnificent chorus from Cantata BWV 43, Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (God has gone up with a shout), which was written for Ascension Sunday.

Since the gospel message is “How God Became King” (N.T. Wright), it is right and fitting that we should end the Church Year and our presentation of Bach’s cantatas with this jubilant chorus of praise to our risen and ascended Messiah, Lord and King of all creation.

God goes up with jubilation
and the Lord with bright trumpets.
Sing praise, sing praise to God;
sing praise, sing praise to our King.

• • •

SERMON: Celebration (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

• • •

We conclude our sermon series from 1 Thessalonians today. We have been considering this letter from Paul, drawing out several themes that Martin Luther and the other reformers emphasized in their effort to restore the Church and bring her back to the Gospel during the Reformation. Thus far, we have considered:

  • CONVERSION: As people created anew by Christ, we are ever growing and changing by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, dying to the old life, and walking in newness of life
  • REVELATION: It is through the power of God’s Word that God creates faith, hope, and love in us. His great and precious promises in Christ sustain us in our journey of faith.
  • RESURRECTION: God’s ultimate goal for creation is that all will be made new in a world of righteousness and peace. Even we ourselves will be raised from the dead and made whole, reunited with the faithful departed. Heaven will come to earth. Death, sin, and evil will be banished, and we will be with the Lord forever.
  • EDIFICATION: In the meantime, God calls us to lives of service and pastoral care — faith working through love — reaching out to our brothers, sisters, and neighbors with Christ-like love and encouragement.
  • VOCATION: Each of us has callings from God that he graciously gives us to fulfill. As we do, God works through us to show his love and care for the world and all creation.

Today, we will talk about one final theme that came to the fore during the Reformation. We’ll call it CELEBRATION. One of Luther’s great concerns was to reform the Church’s worship services so that they would be centered around the gospel and give people opportunities to participate in celebrating Christ.

If you had gone to a worship service in Luther’s day, you might have heard a service in Latin, and not in your native language. The sermon might have been weak and legalistic. There would have been little congregational singing. When you came to take Communion, you would not have been allowed to take the cup, only the bread. The mass would have been understood as the actual sacrifice of Christ and participation in it a good work that earned salvation. Martin Luther and others sought to restore the gospel message to the worship service by focusing more on the word of the gospel and the participation of the people. He also allowed more freedom for pastors and congregations to adapt the liturgy.

But Luther didn’t change everything. Worship didn’t become a free-for-all. It still followed the same basic pattern and maintained its dignity and focus on Christ through the Word and the Table.

Our text today encourages us to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. As those who practice our faith in the Lutheran tradition, we think that our rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks is best practiced by following a certain order when we gather together for worship. We call this “liturgy,” which, in its original language refers to “the work of the people.” Liturgy is led by a minister, but it is work that we all do together. The liturgy invites us all to participate in responding to God’s grace in Christ with rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving.

The liturgy follows a certain basic pattern. It is designed to enable us to meet with God and focus my attention on Christ and the Gospel. Let me try to explain in a simple manner why we worship in the way we do.

If I were to receive an invitation to a banquet at a king’s palace, there would be a protocol, set up by the king’s staff, for guests to follow. We would enter the palace and show our respect and gratitude for being invited. We would be introduced to the king and he would address us as his citizens. We would sit down at the banquet table and he would lead us in partaking of the feast prepared for his honor and our blessing. We would be dismissed in peace to go and live as his loyal subjects.

The same pattern would hold if my wife and I were invited to the home of dear friends. When we arrived, we would be greeted at the door and as we entered we would say, “Thanks for having us over; boy, that sure smells good; I love what you’ve done with your house” — we would offer words of thanks and praise. Before dinner was served, we might sit down in the living room or out on the deck together. We would catch up with one another through conversation. Then, summoned to the table, we would sit down as guests and enjoy the meal our friends had prepared and served us. Finally, after more conversation, we would bid them goodnight, saying, “We must do this more often. We’ll be in touch.” We would go home, hearts warmed after a time of renewing a special relationship and hoping to strengthen those bonds in the days to come.

Do you see the four-fold pattern?

  • We gather.
  • We exchange words.
  • We share a meal.
  • We depart renewed.

This simple pattern that can be worked out with as much or as little fanfare as a congregation desires. It can contain any style of music, any number of creative elements, and it can fit any cultural setting.
It’s the way we meet with God. It’s the protocol of having an audience with our King. It is the pattern of enjoying table fellowship with Jesus and with one another. There is a gathering, a sharing of words, an invitation to the table, a sending back into the world and into our daily lives. Justin Martyr, one of the early church fathers, described this pattern way back in the 2nd century:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. (Justin Martyr, First Apology c. 150 AD)

And this is still the way we are meeting with God together today. I like to call it our “Sunday Dinner” together as a church family. We gather, we hear and share the Word, we come to the Table, we leave to live and serve in newness of life. Amen.

Comments

  1. Ronald Avra says:

    Enjoyed the exposition on your church’s fellowship. Today, however, it brings to mind how fluid participation has come between congregations and denominations. I am aware of families who have moved from Catholic to Baptist, and after a couple of years, back to Catholic, apparently over no more than that the Baptist minister they liked moved into retirement. Recently, I discovered that a longtime member of a Baptist congregation that I was previously affiliated with, has left for another Baptist church which necessitates him driving past his previous congregation each Sunday. I had thought he had a fairly deep network of friends at his former fellowship and was deeply invested in it. I’m not sure that I have a great deal of faith in the coherence of any given local body. It’s probably prudent to be ready and willing to fly on your own.

  2. senecagriggs says:

    “As the average pastor grows older in America, churches say they are struggling to find young Christians who want to become future pastors, according to a new study from Barna Research.

    Today, half of American pastors are older than 55. In 1992, less than a quarter of pastors in the U.S. (24 percent) were that old.

    Pastors 65 and older have almost tripled in the last 25 years, from 6 percent to 17 percent.

    Meanwhile, pastors 40 and younger have fallen from 33 percent in 1992 to 15 percent today.

    In 1992, the median age for a Protestant pastor in America was 44. In 2017, it has climbed 10 years to 54.

    The graying of the American pastorate did not start in the 1990s, however. More than half of all Protestant clergy (55 percent) were younger than 45 in 1968. This year, only 22 percent of pastors are under 45.

    The church has gone from a time when a majority of leaders were in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s to a time when most are in their late 50s and beyond.”
    ______________

    What does the future hold? CM has expressed his own concerns about a possible dearth of pastors in the coming years.

    • If I can resort to so hoary a cliche, the handwriting is on the wall The demographics only point one way. All this has happened before. In Europe since WWII. it just took a little longer over here that’s all. We can argue whether or not this cultural secularization is good or bad (or both) but what it is, is inevitable. The great story for the church over the next couple decades is how it responds to losing its privileged position in our culture

      As far as I’m concerned when evangelicals hitched their wagon to Trumps’ coattails (to mix me some metaphors) it was an act of utter despair. As clear an admission as possible that they have lost all the cultural arguments.

      • Stephen,
        Instead of singling out the decline in church membership as a uniquely wrong-headed evangelical problem, I suggest we look at a much broader issue. Walk into any Rotary or Kiwanis club. Or the Elks. Or most any “civic-minded” club. Look at the boards of many small local non-profits. Look at who organizes the small town festivals and parades. Every institution is aging out. Every organization is facing declining ranks. The church hasn’t cornered the backwards strategy approach on this. They are swimming up the same stream with the Rotarians, Kiwanians, Elks, etc, etc,. And some may actually say good riddance. They had their moment and it’s time to move on. However, it’s also probably a fair assumption that these societal organizations actually did accomplish some greater good for us all, at least on some level. The great question that begs asking is are we in the middle of a re-shaping of our service organizations (of which the church is one)? Or are we simply passive on-lookers in the dissolution of civic participation?

        • The problem with many institutions, including but far from limited to churches, is that a few people have made sure to be there for them, have sacrificed a whole lot to be there, but the institutions weren’t there for the same people when the need arose. Institutions are quite fickle, when it comes to the treatment of their members, even. Most young people have not only caught on, which a good number of their elders already had as well, but have also seen that they have no need to meet any social expectations that they should belong to such ungrateful institutions anyway, because those expectations no longer exist.

        • flatrocker I can’t really disagree with you. I would just point out that not all “service” organizations are created equal. A serious decline in the influence of the Church in our culture, as seems to be happening, would be significant in a way that a decline of participation in civic clubs would not. May I suggest that there is an enormous opportunity here? The first people you’ll loose are the folks who associate with the Church simply because it presents them with some sort of perceived advantage. The virtue of a minority church is that you’ll be fairly certain that the people are there only because of conviction!

      • john barry says:

        Stephen, why the attempts to steer all conversations to the election of Trump baffles me. evangelicals like other voting blocs vote on the issues that they deem important to them, why the concern that voters concerned with abortion issues, trade policies, illegal immigration , religious freedom issues, second amendment issues and national defense are easily dismissed as sore losers of the culture wars when it seems to me they voted on issues. Flatrocker comments caught the essence of the issue that our economic success has lessened the need for social and cultural engagement. The social organizations and church system that we grew up are disappearing by apathy and will be replaced by what? or will we dwindle down to the point if there if nothing material to gain for ourselves we will not be involved. People do not volunteer to any large extent in our society and there is very little serious social interactions within a group setting. For example appointments to USA military academies and many sought after college use involvement in church groups, civic groups, scouts and other volunteer endeavors to help make selections. What criteria will be used in the future if the value of participating in these endeavors are not considered worthy of consideration. Will facebook pages and followers decide who is the future leaders in our society. The observations are correct on the comment here, volunteers in almost very organization is declining. Not good for our future as a society.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          The social organizations and church system that we grew up are disappearing by apathy and will be replaced by what?

          SOcial MediA, delivered through glowing smartphone screens.

          Who needs Meat in Meatspace when you have 20,000 Facebook Friends and 30,000 Twitter Followers?

  3. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Chaplain Mike, It is with a sense of sadness that today I read your post and enjoyed the Bach Cantata.
    Thoughts expressed in your Sunday posts have been so edifying. You have given new meaning to so many aspects of the Reformation.
    As you are aware, I have looked forward to your choice of Bach Cantatas. The music has tied Sunday posts together.
    I guess next Sunday will have a whole new focus as we begin the new Church Year.
    I look will forward to that.
    Susan

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The Feast of Christ the King —
    Also the anniversary of Grinning Ed Young’s “Seven-Day Christian Sex Challenge”.

    I can’t get over the synchronicity….