Why we hate Call Day sermons

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This week is the annual high feast day in the LCMS; it is the day the St. Louis and the Fort Wayne seminaries get lots of attention and lots of praise for presenting to the Church at large students that they have spent the past few years training to be first Vicars and then Pastors.

For the past 10 years or so, both services at both seminaries have been streamed online for everyone to watch; and with the advent of social media, those of us unable to attend, have been able to comment and critique the services in particular and the event in general in real time.

Perhaps the most popular critique of the services is the sermon.  To listen to some, the person preaching should be sent back to Seminary and forced to take Homiletics all over again.

Now to be fair, some sermons preached are better than others.  But to say that they are all bad, or to say that there is nothing to be gained from listening to them, is unfair.  But the critiques continue, why?

Our own most grievous fault – complaining about another’s preaching, is often a way to compensate for one’s own poor preaching.  President Harrison has called for all pastors to evaluate their own preaching and to refresh themselves on the basics, particularly Law and Gospel.  He didn’t do this as a backhanded way to improve the preaching of a few District Presidents, he did this because Synod wide, preaching is subpar, and Synod wide, we need to improve.

Third Commandment Issues – Just as the laity can sit in the pews and disregard the pastor’s sermon as an obstacle to what they really want (to go home), so to do pastor’s.  The common Call Day mantra is that the candidates (and everyone else) just want to find out where everyone is going, and so we pick apart the sermon simply because it is the thing in the way of what we really want.

We wish we were preaching – If you ever see a pastor sitting in the pew on Sunday morning, don’t be fooled; he really wishes he were preaching.  Call Day is the biggest stage in Synod, and who would not want to preach and tell young men preparing to enter the ministry their own words of wisdom?  And yet, the guy in the pulpit is not doing it the way you want, so break out the criticisms.

We hate the Law and Gospel – one of the readings for this Sunday is from Acts 2, and it says that the people were cut to the heart (convicted) after hearing Peter’s words.  Don’t be fooled, no one wants to be convicted; and certainly no one wants to admit openly that they need to hear the Gospel for the forgiveness of their sins.  Call Day sermons are to those in the pews and for those watching at home; and the Law and Gospel can pass through the internet.  Do we hate the sermon because the preacher is talking about us?

Call Day Traumatic Stress – A diagnosis that is not in the latest DSM, but perhaps should be.  Call Day brings forth a whole host of emotions for many of us; most particularly our own.  Sometimes the first call is not as rosy as one would hope, so regardless of how life is now, to hear the words of loving people and serving the Church brings forth memories of how hard it was to love and serve that church, or one’s current church; and so we bash the whole thing, with the biggest target being the sermon.

Its tradition – The seminaries break out the fancy paraments and decorations; the Council of Presidents are all there; everyone is happy; and bashing the sermon is just another part of the day that has been etched into our minds.  If we are bashing the sermon, then it surely must be Call Day.

To listen to the Call Day sermons is just like listening to any other sermon; we listen for the Law and Gospel; we listen for Jesus; we listen for how it applies to our lives.  And surprisingly, we will find that the sermon applies to far more people, then just those sitting in Kramer Chapel and the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus, dressed in black, praying for an Amen, so they can find out where they are going.

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Worthy to suffer

Easter 2 – Acts 5:29-42

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The miracle of birth

Saturday morning, while scrolling through social media, we were surprised to see various people posting that April was giving birth.

For those unaware, April is a giraffe living in New York, who has been due any day for over a month; and thanks to modern technology, a live video feed (with corporate sponsor) was available around the clock so people could keep watch.

We watched some of it, it actually took over an hour from when the first signs appeared until the newborn giraffe plopped onto the ground.  At various points, there were well over a million viewers; and countless others have since watched a condensed version of the events online.

Why is this interesting?  On the one hand, it really isn’t; April was over a month late in giving birth; no one thought it would be this long before the baby was born.  And no doubt, a million other things have been going on in the world that rate far higher in terms of importance than a random giraffe.

But there is something deeply evident in this giraffe: in a culture where we butcher babies in the womb and do everything we can to prevent having more children than what we think will provide minimal inconvenience to our lives; we are still amazed at the miracle of birth.

What April the Giraffe reveals, is our deeply human instincts that life is good.  Millions watched the birth; millions more will enter the contest to name the baby; millions more will flock to catch a glimpse of the mother and her newborn.

Which is exactly what happens when a baby is born.  We rejoice, we celebrate, we reflect back upon the births of others, and we rush from all corners of the earth to welcome this new member of the family.

Deeply rooted in each one of us, is that very word of God that He created us in His own image, and has declared us to be holy and precious in His sight; and His love is so deep, so broad and so high, that He sent His one and only Son into the world to redeem us from our sins, even the sin of hating the very life that God has declared to be precious.

For as wretched a culture as we are, we still cannot hide the fact, that life is good.

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Jesus is enough

The Resurrection of Our Lord – St. Matthew 28:1-10

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Holy Saturday devotion

Holy Saturday – 1 Peter 4:1-8

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The last curtain

Good Friday – St. Matthew 27:51

What was the Old Testament lesson on the First Sunday in Lent?  Adam and Eve falling into sin, and being cast out of the Garden of Eden, thus being separated from God, with whom prior they had a close, personal, face to face relationship with.

With that in mind, what is the repeating mantra of Lent?  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  You have sinned, you have fallen short of God’s glory, therefore, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, you too are separated from God.

Lent is a continual reminder of our separation from God, for we are separated by our failure to keep the law; separated by our continual breaking of the Ten Commandments; separated by God’s demand that we be holy in thought, word and deed, and our failure to do so.

This separation from God shows itself in a very real and physical form in the Old Testament temple.  For where is God?  He is behind the curtain; He is found in the most holy place, where you cannot enter; where you cannot go, save for once a year, when the high priest goes in and sprinkles the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement on behalf of all the people.

Your whole life, you stand on one side of the curtain, separated from God by your sins.

On the surface, that curtain is in fact nothing more than a piece of cloth; most likely a heavy cloth, but a piece of cloth none the less.  Does it move one way or the other when a breeze blows through?  Does it ever get put out of place so that you can gaze through and catch a glimpse of what is on the other side?  Or is it as thick and as immovable as a wall made of concrete?

In many senses it is the equivalent of a velvet rope or a plastic strip of police tape; it can hardly hold you back on its own, but it is the power that stands behind it that truly prevents you from crossing over.

And so it is with the curtain in the temple.  Could you go behind it?  Sure; after all, it is just a piece of fabric.  But you never would, for that curtain separates you, the lowly sinner, from the presence of the powerful and most holy God.

For 1500 years, from the time of the Exodus to today, in Jerusalem in 33AD that curtain hangs, separating the people from God; in fact, protecting the people from God, for who can gaze upon the face of God and hope to live?

Surely not you or I.  For we have indeed sinned in thought, word and deed and fallen short of the glory of God; there is no way that you or I could approach God and expect to live.

But you and I are not the only ones separated from God, and it is not just ancient Israel either; today Jesus Himself finds that He too is separated from God the Father.

For as Jesus hangs upon the cross, God the Father abandons Him; He turns His back on Him; He stuffs up His ears so as to not hear His pleas for mercy.  God the Father truly sets up a wall of separation between Himself and His one and only Son, who though innocent, now hangs upon a cross, sentenced to death.

And Jesus does die.  He is dead.  That is the punishment pronounced upon sinners who are unworthy to pass through the curtain and see the glory of God.  That is the punishment for breaking the Law, for disregarding the Ten Commandments, for refusing to be holy and perfect.

But upon His death, Matthew, Mark and Luke each record the tearing of the curtain in the temple from top to bottom.

For Jesus death is no ordinary death; He was innocent; He broke no law; He kept all of the Commandments; He lived a holy and perfect life.

Jesus did not die because He was guilty; rather Jesus died because you were guilty.  Jesus died for your sins, for your lack of holiness; for your imperfections.

But Jesus is not a random sheep that is slaughtered so that its blood may be sprinkled upon the altar thus atoning for a sin that has been committed.  Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God, whose blood is shed not just to atone for one or two sins committed along the way; rather His death is to forgive all sins and to restore the relationship between God and His people once and for all.

The death of Jesus is about bringing you and your Father in heaven back into a right relationship with each other.  So that your Father in heaven will no longer look upon you in anger or in hatred, but that He might look upon you in love and grace and mercy; and you can gaze upon your Father in heaven, and live.

And with that, there is no longer a need for a curtain to separate you from your Father in heaven.  You no longer need to approach in fear and trepidation; there is no longer a veil to protect you from the glory of God.  Rather you can cast your gaze upon Him and know that by His Word, by Christ’s own suffering and death; by His gifts given and shed for you, you are His beloved child, and you will now live with Him in His kingdom forever.

For the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God, that close, personal relationship that was lost in the Garden of Eden, is once more.  For God the Father has called you by name in Holy Baptism to be His own; He invites you forward to feast on the body and blood of Jesus; He hears your prayers; He daily provides all that you need to support this body and life.

The barrier between earth and heaven, the barrier between God and His people, the barrier between you and your Father in heaven, is no more.  It has been removed by the holy and precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Christ.

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Good Friday devotion

Good Friday – Hebrews 5:14-16, 5:7-9

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