Faithful Friday – September 1st

Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:9

Dear Disciple of Christ,

I’ve done it only a couple of times in more than forty years as a pastor. It was a “series” for preaching that spanned a number or even a month of Sundays. I suppose you know that we Lutheran pastors do not choose the lessons on a Sunday. There are denominations where the pastors do that, but not so among us. We “receive” the lessons of the day from the Revised Common Lectionary. It was a revision of the original “Common” lectionary which means it was agreed upon by representatives from some major denominations. In fact, there was an original three-year set of lessons (“lectionary” means that listing of lessons) based on the church year that came from the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council in 1969. The Consultation on Church Union (COCU) produced a lectionary in 1974 which was followed by the Common Lectionary in 1983. That was revised in 1994. 

I’ve been particularly blessed since I was in study for ministry during the work of Vatican II, was ordained in 1975 just after the COCU lectionary was produced, and have had all of my years in ministry preaching on texts provided to me. Why was that a blessing? It helps in avoiding isagetical preaching. Isagesis? That’s basically when a preacher develops a theme and then searches for lessons that “back up” their ideas.  I’m sure you can see how dangerous that would be and how there can be much more of the preacher preaching their own ideas rather than the Word of God being expounded (exegetically – where the lesson speaks for itself and the preacher listens first to the Word and then shares those insights with the hearers. Christian history (sadly) is replete with that approach to preaching with leaders convincing their followers of their own ideas being backed up by Scripture (check out Jim Jones or David Koresh as modern horrendous examples.

What brings all this up for me? First of all, it’s the Lord’s Prayer above. That was the subject of that month-long series I did in Brooklyn. What caused that divergence from the lectionary listings? My family and I had gone on a summer vacation in Maine (where Lutheran Churches are few and far between) and we attended an Episcopal church for worship on Sunday. The Lord’s Prayer was the gospel lesson for the day. Most times I would not have enough room to quote a pastor’s entire sermon, but I can this time. It really did go something like this. 

Some of you have been upset by the changed translation of the Lord’s prayer. I understand it is different from the one you grew up with. But I did want to share that the Bible was not originally written in English but Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and various translations are possible going into English. Does anyone have anything else to say about the Lord’s Prayer? No? We then continue with the hymn of the day.”

When the preacher asked if anyone had anything else to say about the Lord’s prayer, my thigh muscles tightened as I automatically started to stand. Without preparation I knew enough about the Lord’s prayer to proclaim some more of its significance. Before I could rise, though, my wife’s hand (and nails) were grasping my thigh preventing my rising. Wisely, I suppose, she gently “whispered – suggested” that was not the place for me to preach. I submitted to her advice, but when we returned from vacation, to fill the void in that part of Christendom (even if it was in Brooklyn), I preached for the month on that Prayer of prayers. 

Have you ever had that kind of feeling, that perhaps there was more that could be said about the lesson (or lessons) that were listed for the day? Most pastors feel the same way, that there is much more left on the “cutting room floor” than made its way into the sermon. That is why most pastors I know pray before preaching, praying with all their heart that the good Lord would use them to provide the depth and richness of the Word He first spoke or provided for His disciples. I know there are times you may have felt that the preacher (me or another) had spent too much time providing that Word. I wonder if that pastor in Maine had some of those comments and so that week decided to just accede to their demands (or comments) and make it “short and sweet”. It does take some commitment to the Word for the preacher to keep trying and trying to get just the right length with the right content and pray that the Lord would open the ears and hearts of the worshipers that day.

Someone asked me recently what I thought a “good” sermon was. I guess I would say that the good (sufficient) proclamation of the Word begins with the preacher hearing the Word of God themselves. Upon hearing that Word, with great joy and excitement, they would invite all of us into the Lord’s throne room where the Lord sits in power and grace. We work to place ourselves at the feet of the Almighty and Merciful God, listening to His Word, listening to the Word made flesh, sitting at the right hand of the Father. As Biblical preachers, it is always our hope that hearers will join us at His feet.

Peace and Power,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings For Friday, September 1, 2023

Psalm 26:1-8; Jeremiah 15:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12