Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Introduction, Defining Terms - Advent Midweek 1 - December 3, 2015 - Text: Luke 24:25-27
The seasons of Advent and Lent afford a pastor times to explore topical sermon subjects. Most of you know that during the year I preach through the set reading lists known as the lectionary and the readings called pericopies. I follow through the three year cycle by preaching from the Old Testament readings through one cycle, the Epistles the next cycle and the Gospel readings the third cycle. But, during Advent and Lent I get to preach off the reading list and attempt to preach topically. Over the years I have used the seasons of Advent and Lent to preach about the characters of the season as well as the symbols of the season and once from a set of poems I wrote.
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we will be addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent. This year during the season of Advent we will address the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. For example, if I believe the Ten Commandments are God’s commands to me, then I will live my life trying to keep the Ten Commandments, even if I mess up from time to time. This year we will look at how what we believe as Lutherans shows itself in the way we educate, the way our building looks, the way we worship, how we reach out and what our relationships look like. At the same time we will incorporate this topic, these issues into our preparation and celebration of Christmas and our New Year’s Eve celebration. My hope is that this topic will be a good preface for the Lenten season in which I will attempt to show how our liturgy is grounded in and shows the history and promises from the Old Testament sacrificial system pointing to Jesus, to the fulfillment in the New Testament, but that will be for then.
We being our topic with the reminder, tongue in cheek, that where two or three are gathered there are three or four opinions. We are people in conversation in our world and yet, conversations can be difficult especially if the two people talking do not share the same language. When two people who speak two different languages attempt to communicate and converse there can be some, if not a lot of difficulties.
Yet, even if they share the same language, but have different understandings as to the meanings of the words they use there is still difficulty in carrying on a conversation. If I were to invite my friend from Australia to come over for biscuits and gravy he might look at me as if I were a bit odd, because to an Australian, a biscuit is what we would call a cookie and I would think it a bit odd as well if someone asked me to eat cookies and gravy. Even more so this happens in the Christian church and among the various denominations and even other religions as well. Many churches talk about faith and grace and gifts of God, but often have a different understanding and even meaning of those words.
At the time of Jesus birth, many people, even many of Jesus ethnic background, the Jewish people, did not understand the prophecies and promises of God given since the Garden of Eden. After Jesus resurrection, in speaking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we hear Jesus speak. “25And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27). Indeed, it was not until the sending of the Holy Spirit that this confusion was corrected and yet the confusion continues for many and in particular for those outside the Christian faith even today.
We still have this problem today in defining terms which is the reason we must start by defining our words. There are two words in particular that we need to define for the purposes of this series. The first word is the word “doctrine.” This word “doctrine” means that which we believe, teach and confess according to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. A similar word is often used as a synonym for the word doctrine and that is the word “substance.” The word “substance” indicates the vital or main part of what is meant. And so we hear about doctrine and substance where these words usually are spoken with the intent that they mean the same thing.
The second word we need to define is the word “practice.” This word “practice” means how what is believed, taught and confessed is lived out in our lives. Practice is how what we believe looks in real life. Again, a similar word that is often used as a synonym for the word practice is the word “style.” The word “style” indicates a way in which something is expressed, a form to hold the main thing. And so we hear about practice and style with these words usually intended to mean the same thing.
So, the question is “How do we practice what we believe about God and His Word? Our church year centers around the life of Jesus, beginning with Advent and our preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth. We celebrate Jesus’ birth, His circumcision, and the visit of the Magi which begins the Epiphany season. Our church year then moves to Lent which begins with Ash Wednesday and culminates in our celebration of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and our Easter resurrection celebration. Forty days after Easter we celebrate, unfortunately in not so big a celebration, Jesus’ Ascension. Ten days later we celebrate Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The ensuing Sunday we celebrate our worship of a God who shows Himself to be a triune God, on Holy Trinity Sunday and the rest of the year we grow in our faith through the Sundays after Pentecost. So, one way we practice what we believe is that we follow the church year calendar which focus us on and points us to Jesus. And because we follow the church year calendar anyone who follows our practice will understand that we believe that Jesus is important.
You see, doctrine and practice, or what is called substance and style go hand in hand. You live or practice what you believe, or as you have heard it said, “Practice what you preach,” and you believe what you are doing, that is you believe as you practice. So, if you change one, either doctrine or practice, either substance or style, the other will automatically change. During this season of Advent we will look at how this happens, has happened and continues to happen in various aspects of the Christian Church and in our own church body specifically.
Now, to pull this in to the season of Advent, we practice our belief in Holy Scripture through our Advent to Christmas season. Just as the Lord prepared His people for the coming of the Messiah, for Jesus’ birth, so we prepare ourselves to celebrate anew each year this wonderful event and we do that through the three Wednesday services building up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As we follow along through the readings on Sunday morning we hear text after text after text of the promises of a coming Messiah, a Christ. These texts point us to an indication of the birth of the Christian church promised in the Garden of Eden when God first promised a Christ. Thus all who believe the promise of a coming Christ from that day are indeed Christians.
As we prepare for and celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we do so with a grand and wonderful celebration recognizing and teaching that Jesus’ birth was important, even important enough to continue to celebrate even today. The corollary is also true. Certainly some of the secular ways of celebrating have no business in our churches, because they point to a different belief, which might and actually has caused confusion to many in our world today.
Because we believe in God’s promises to send a Christ; because we believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises, because we believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, so we point to Him and we celebrate His birth as a baby in Bethlehem. We make a big deal about this celebration so that our celebrating, our practice might bear witness of our faith so that others might see and hear and believe as well. And because of our celebrations, others see that our faith in Jesus as our Christ, as our Messiah, indeed what we believe is seen in our celebrating and in our celebrating others see what we believe. So our witness says, Jesus, His birth, life, death and resurrection are important to us. Thus our witness says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.