Good morning! Welcome to the Lord’s house, into His presence! Today we have the Open Day at St. Paul’s, or we could say the Open Day for our parish. We welcome all our guests and visitors among us, and we pray that they Lord would bless you today and would give you what you truly need!
Before we move ahead I want you to explain what are we going to do today. We’ll have our Divine service, but from time to time I will also spend brief moments explaining why do we do one ritual or another? Or, better put – what does the Triune God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit actually do for us in the Divine Service?
There are a few things I would like to say in the very beginning. We are in a holy place. This is a holy place. This is a presence of God. You are in a presence of holy God. Not because of the building, not because of the location. Not because of a pastor. But because of what is going to happen. Because of the Divine Service.
You know why we call the Divine Service the Divine Service? Not because we do something for God, but because holy God comes to us; to be among us, and to bless us. We were created to be with Him, as we can read in Genesis, and we’ll be with Him at the end, as we can read in the book of Revelation.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4)
But for now we are separated. We can’t see God. The reason is very simple, we couldn’t stand in His presence and live, we would perish. God’s holiness and our sinfulness are like fire and hay. You can’t bring them together, even if your intentions are good.
But God wants to be with you. He wants you to know Him, to experience Him as your God. Not simply as some kind of higher being, but as your God. Your God!
So God commanded the Divine Service with this purpose – so that He can come to us, to be with us and to bless us. Now, we may think – God’s presence – it must be something majestic, somethings mind-blowing, something totally not from this world. And it is, in a way.
Just all His majesty, His glory, His power and holiness are hidden under ordinary things. He comes among us, He speaks to us, He blesses us, just … all of this is done Him hiding behind ordinary things; simple rituals, simple words, simple elements.
The Divine Service is the most mysterious thing that happens in this world, right before our eyes, and we can see it once we begin to comprehend what it is. One the other hand, it is the most ordinary thing. Nothing special. Really.
When someone experiences the Divine Service not knowing what is going on, it may appear that something strange is happening here. Something that doesn’t make sense. It is true. The same would be true about any religious rituals, the same is true even when it comes to rituals in service clubs, or rituals in organizations.
What is going on is not obvious to someone who doesn’t understand it. This is our task, to explain to others what the Divine Service is, and what the holy God does in it. This is our task – to appreciate it, to cherish it, to teach others about it. What we need to be concerned is – that out of our own ignorance we don’t lose something that Christ Himself has entrusted to us, for the sake of our salvation.
And, don’t expect from the Divine Service what it does not give. It is not about entertaining us on Sunday mornings, not even about cheering us up. Not about satisfying our spiritual wants, and not about teaching how to live a good life.
It is not a gathering of moral people. It is not something we do to please God. It is not somethings that the Church, or pastor has invented. It is God’s own service to His chosen people. It is what is it – God’s presence among us. Not more, and not less. God’s presence! Welcome!
[In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!]
Why do we say it? Three things. First, following God’s own command, we invoke His presence. Second, we affirm that what we are going to do is not our invention, not our ideas about how to fill Sunday mornings, but God’s own service to us. What we do, we do according to His commands.
Third, we remind ourselves about our baptism. The Triune God put His name on you in the Holy Baptism. His name is written on you. You are His. You belong to Him. You are His child. Let’s sing.
[Song. Come, now it the time to worship.]
We could say that there are three main parts in the Divine service. (There could be others approaches as well, but this is the simplest). First is preparation to come in God’s presence. It is about the Confession and the Absolution. About confessing our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness.
Second part is the part of the Word, where God speaks to you. The third part is the Holy Communion, where Jesus Christ is sacramentally present and united with you. Now, the first, the Confession and the Absolution.
It is in a way like a little Last Day. You come before God’s throne of glory and confess what He already knows. You can’t have honest relationships, if you are not honest. If you deny what your God already knows to be true, what kind of relationships you can hope for. If you deny that your relationships with God are broken, because you have rebelled against Him and acted against His will, how can you be reconciled?!
„If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1John 1:8-10)
Remember, you are in a presence of your God, He knows your heart. All your thoughts. Simply be honest and admit that you need His forgiveness.
[Song. We are sorry.]
[The Confession and the Absolution.]
[Song. We are sorry.]
Have you ever wondered, how could this be – how can a pastor say „I forgive you all your sins!” What is he? Just a man. He can do this because of the command of Jesus Christ. Because of these words.
„Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” … If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (Joh 20:21-23)
Because of this command of Jesus we can hear these words, and when we hear them, we know that all our sins are indeed forgiven. These are not words of your pastors, he simply delivers Christ’s personal message to you. “I forgive you!”
Now you are ready to listen to what follows – you know you are forgiven. When you hear about God’s will for your lives, and you will hear it, then you will realize how much you fail. But you’ll know – “I am forgiven’.
Now we move into our second part, which focuses on God’s Word. On God speaking to us in His word. We usually begin it with words of Psalm.
In doing it we are united with God’s people of both the New and the Old Testament times. By saying Psalms we return to God the very words He has spoken to us. Psalm and prayer are used to set a theme for this part of the service for each particular Sunday. Let us speak to the Lord with words of Psalm!
[Psalm & Prayer.]
How do we hear what God says to us? From His word. Very specifically, from the Bible. For this is His word, written down for us to listen to it. By the way, most of what is said in the Divine Service comes directly from the Bible.
We usually have three readings. They come from the Old Testament, from the Gospels and from the rest of the New Testament.
The Old Testament retells God’s works and His revelation to us from the very beginning until the time of the last prophets. In the Old Testament God foretells what is going to happen, what He will do for His people.
What was prophesied was fulfilled, again and again, and again… and people didn’t trust God again.. and again, and again. The Gospel retells through the words of eyewitnesses what God did for His people. For you! How He fulfilled the greatest and the most unbelievable of all promises ever made. The rest of the New Testament explains what it means for us and gives us a glimpse regarding where we are heading.
For this day we would have reading from 1 Kings 19, from Paul’s letter to Ephesians, chapter 4 and 5, and from the Gospel according John, chapter 6.
1 Kings speaks about Elijah the prophet being persecuted by the evil queen Jezebel. When Elijah wanted to die, the angel of the Lord took care of him and fed him miraculously. In John 6 we would have Jesus speaking about Him as the bread of life that comes from heaven, and gives us eternal life. He gives us His life so that we can live. That whoever believes in Him, whoever will have Him as the bread from heaven will have eternal life.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.[…] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. […] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. […] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. (John 6:44-51)
This is the Gospel of the Lord! This is what we say when we have heard the words of the Bible, we confess that we trust they are God’s own words.
In Ephesians Paul gives instruction to Christians encouraging us to speak the truth, to forgive others as we are forgiven and to be imitators of Christ as children of God; as He gave His life for us, so we are to live for others.
Now we come to the Creed. It is just a little text. A little summary of… yes, of the history of humankind, and of the history of God’s works. The most important things that every person needs to know. From the very beginning till the very end of this age and even a little bit after.
It begins with the creation. For God’s primary identity is the Creator. Besides, creation didn’t take place only in the beginning. It continues. God the Creator is continuously involved in giving you live every minute and providing for everything you need – every minute. He is actively and intimately involved providing for us every minute.
God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, came to us as a man. As one of us. To save you. He died for you. He rouse again. Now we are waiting for His return, when His Kingdom will finally be revealed.
The Holy Spirit. He is here, among us. We are His people. He has called us out of the world. He comes to us in the Divine Service, and here and nowhere else [!] He delivers the forgiveness of our sins and gives us eternal life. He does it is a very simple way, using very simple rituals, using ordinary people as pastors, speaking very ordinary words, and sharing His life giving and life changing blessings under very ordinary elements, – water, bread and wine.
You can see, that the Creed contains the most important elements of the truth that everyone needs to know. But, there is something else. When you say the Creed, you also remind yourself that all of this God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit did and does for you. He is your God. God who cares for you.
All of this in one brief summary. The Creed. Let’s say it together with the Church at all times and in all places.
[Song. In Christ alone.]
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
These are the same words with which the apostle Paul begins his letters. Grace and peace! Grace is God’s attitude towards you. His forgiveness. Peace, from Hebrew ‘shalom’, means total, all embracing well-being which only God’s grace can give you. What a wonderful way to bless people – grace and peace to you!
What is the sermon? Remember, God has revealed Himself as God who speaks, God of conversation. He Himself speaks to you in His word, the Bible. He also commanded to teach His disciples everything that He has revealed to us. Everything!
To make His message, His teaching clear to all nations, and because there is a certain time and geographical, and also language distance involved, He uses pastors to deliver, to explain what His words say to us. This is what the sermon is – God speaking to you. Unless, of course, a pastor says something that is contrary to what the Bible actually says, or wonders is his own thoughts.
We could say that God speaks about and reveals to us two things. One is His will for His creation, His design for our lives. This is what He has created us to be. The second one is His attitude. His never changing attitude towards each of you.
In Lutheran church we call these two the Law and the Gospel. The Law teaches us what we are supposed to be and do, what is God’s good design for our lives. When we hear the Law, we can see how far from living according God’s personal will we in fact are.
Do you love God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit with your whole heart and mind and strength? Where do you look for help, what or whom do you trust when things go wrong? Do you look for God or somethings else?
What do you want to obtain the most? Your God or something else? What do you fear to lose the most? Your God or something else? Whose presence do you seek the most? God’s or someone else’s? What are you interested in the most? In news and rumours of this world, or in God’s Word? Answer these for yourself!
Do you love your neighbour as yourself? Do you think about others as more important? Do you treat your life, your health, all that you have as belonging to God and only entrusted to you so that you can serve with all these gifts to others? What about anger, jealousy, envy, despair, coveting, indifference… are you familiar with them? This is what the Law does, when it tells how things are to be, – it shows us our sin. All the countless ways we fail to live according God’s will.
What does the Gospel do? It shows God’s unchanging attitude. It shows what the true God daily does for you, how He daily cares for you. He is the Saviour. As your God He offers to take upon Himself responsibility for all the wrong things you have done, and He offers you in exchange forgiveness and good conscience.
He is the Creator and He is also your Creator. He created you, gave you live and daily provides for your needs. He is the Holy Spirit. He creates your faith. That is, He creates this trust that allows you to live in peace and joy, seeing, receiving and enjoying God’s gifts.
This is what the Gospel does. Tells about God’s attitude and what He continually does for you. The Gospel is the unique message of Christ. This is what He came to bring us. The truth about God’s love, despite of our fallen-ness, about what He has done to rescue us from eternal death and to bring us in His Kingdom of joy.
These are two ways how God speaks to us, and these are two things we need to hear in sermons. Of course, there is much more to the word of God. Remember, He does things with words. What He says, actually happens. His words make even the simple wise, they not only inform us, but also change our hearts.
This is what love does. It changes the one who receives it. You receive God’s love when you listen to Him speaking to you. It is good to hear someone say to you “I love you”. Especially if this someone is your God.
Peace of God which surpasses all human understanding may keep your minds and souls safe in Christ Jesus. Amen. Again, this was one more verse from the Bible, from Paul’s letter to Philippians. Let’s sing.
[Song. Power of your love.]
When we bring our offerings to God, this is nothing else that bringing to Him what is already His. Remember, the heavens and the earth are His and all that there is. He is the Creator. Our Creator. Your Creator.
We bring Him our thanks, and thus we acknowledge that all that we are, and all that we have are His gifts. With our offerings we show that we trust that God the Father provides for our daily bread.
It can be a challenging moment. For if we don’t trust that everything we have we have received from our Father, then it can be very difficult to give. Then it feels like we are forced to give away something that’s ours.
Sure, God doesn’t need our gifts, this is why He returns them back to us. To continue to support the Great Commission that Jesus entrusted His Church, that He entrusted you – to share the Good News about God’s love and forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ.
This is how God works. Even the little that we give Him, He returns back to us. For our sake.
The apostle Peter in his first letter called all Christians „You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” (1Pe 2:9) This is who you are. This is why we have this privilege to be able to access holy God and to bring our prayers before Him.
Only because you are baptised, because you are made a member of Jesus family. This is why you can call God Our Father. This is why we can pray Him for our needs and for the needs of others. Let’s do this.
[The Prayer of the Church.]
The Lord’s Prayer. This is so unique that we can say the Lord’s Prayer. This was, actually, Jesus’s own prayer. He gave us His prayer, He invited us into His family, He made you a child of the Father and now you can pray it together with all children of God.
When we pray it, we pray it for all children of God. When others pray it, they do it for you as well. Think about it, every moment there is someone praying the Lord’s Prayer and when they do it, they do it for you as well. Let us pray!
[The Lord’s Prayer.]
At this point we would have the highest point of the Divine Service, the third big part of the service, we could say the heart of the Divine Service, the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. That is, the most precious of all things that holy God shares with us in the Divine Service.
This is the main reason to attend the Divine Service. Since the early church the Holy Communion was called the medicine of the resurrection. Why? Because in the Holy Communion Jesus Christ, true God and true man is present and shares with us His holiness and life through bread and wine.
How is this possible? How is this done? We have no idea. This is what the Bible calls mystery. Something we can partly understand, but never fully comprehend. As if we could comprehend anything about the holy God. We simply trust His word and His promises.
What do we receive? These are things that we receive in the Lord’s Supper: forgiveness of our sins and good conscience, purification from our sins, and sins that others has done to us, transformation of our hearts, life and wellbeing, shalom, salvation, eternal life and God’s holiness, protection from the evil one and the power to resist sin, and we could continue this list.
How do we receive it? The Holy Communion is not something that is between me as individual and God, something that I am entitled to as individual. Not at all. It is not given to individuals. It is Christ’s gift to the Church, and it is shared through the Church and according to Christ’s own instructions.
That’s His meal. His medicine and He Himself sets the rules how we are supposed to receive His gifts. God’s presence, His holiness is like a fire, it can bring you warmth and light, and it can easily destroy you.
It is like a medicine. When properly applied, it brings healing and restoration, if applied improperly or misused, the same medicine may cause great harm. This is what the Bible warns us about. We need to be careful about how we approach to the Holy Communion.
Coming in His presence as beggars, with repentant hearts, desiring God’s forgiveness, and coming to receive it in unity of faith. When you come to the Communion, this is when you truly confess your faith.
This is where you say that you believe that the church where you receive the Communion teaches the truth, that it’s teaching is in accord with the word of God. That you are in unity of faith with other communicants.
This is why Lutheran church, following the example of the apostles, together with the Roman Catholic church and Orthodox churches, is very mindful about how to share this God’s gift properly.
It is our responsibility to see that God’s holiness brings blessings and life to those who receive it. We are called to love our neighbours, not to be indifferent to them. The Holy Communion is where this love is manifested within the Divine Service.
When the Divine Service is over, we say the words of blessing which have been used to bless people already for more than 35 centuries. These are the words that God Himself commanded His servants to use blessing His chosen people.
He promised that when we do this according to His word, He Himself will bless us.
Let’s receive what He gives to us.
[Song. Peace be with you.]
Be realistic, we can’t remember much hearing things just once. We need to be reminded of them again and again.
This is a holy place. This is a presence of God, where He comes to be among you to bless you. This is His service to you. He does it for your sake. He invites you and He commands you to be here, to come and to receive His blessings.
There is no other place on the earth where you can receive what Christ earned for you on the Cross. There is no other place where God comes to you as your God.
Brothers and Sisters, please, treat God’s favour to you and His gifts is the way they deserve it.
With this we conclude our Open Day service.
Go in peace!