How to Listen to a Sermon

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Every Sunday, the pastor stands in front of the congregation proclaiming the Word of the Lord. There is a lot that goes into the preparation of the sermon. Study in the Word, sometimes in the Greek, Hebrew, or Latin languages. Thoughtful prayer and meditation on the texts for the week are a part of the process. The crafting of a sermon takes time, prayer, and wrestling with the right words to share the Word. If the pastor is paying attention, then an awesome fear and reverence accompanies him into the task of proclaiming the Law and Gospel of Jesus to a group of sinner saints at a Sunday service.

But what does the listener bring to the table during the sermon? How can the pastor and people work together, along with the Holy Spirit to bring ears to hear what the Lord has to say?

  • Approach the sermon with an open heart and mind to what God has to say through the called servant delivering the message. There is a prayer in the front of our Lutheran Service Book entitled “For blessing on the Word.” Pray that prayer before the beginning of service or even as the pastor is preparing to preach.
  • Read the Scriptures ahead of time, even a week before if you know what they will be. Familiarize yourself with the Word being proclaimed. Being in the Word regularly is not only good preparation for hearing a sermon, it’s also good for the building up of your faith every day.
  • Be aware of your posture and mood as the sermon begins. Are you sitting with arms crossed and face frowning or are you soft and open ready to receive the gift that God has for you?
  • Take notes or jot down passing thoughts as the sermon progresses. What are you hearing differently or perhaps for the first time? What is the new thing that God is doing?
  • Expect to see and hear Jesus in the sermon. This isn’t necessarily a content thing, though a Lutheran preacher ought to have Jesus at the center of the sermon. But simply expect, in a positive way, to see and hear Jesus in the sermon. He’s there with you in the midst of the congregation. Look for him.
  • Finally, pray for your pastor. It is no small task to deliver the message of God to His people. God has raised up and called preachers throughout time to share the Gospel. Your pastor joins the ranks of the prophets and patriarchs in proclaiming the powerful Word of Christ.

Hopefully some of these things will help you as you listen to another sermon on Sunday. Keep in mind that Jesus is there for you in the Word of his preachers. He or she who has ears, let them hear.

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Beginning and End

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A fresh start

A bitter end

The tiniest of all

New

A cry so pitiful and yet precious

A head without hair

A head without hair

Tears from a lifetime of pain

Diminished in body but not in spirit

A bitter end

A fresh start

Enjoy the Blessings of God

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This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Do you remember that Sunday School ditty? That’s what I want to do today. Rejoice and be glad in the day that God has made. It’s easy to do when it’s 70 degrees, blue sky, sun shining, green grass and trees. It’s not as easy to do when there is another winter storm warning or more snow on the way.

There’s a saying about whistling in the dark. The idea is that you find yourself in a bad situation and so you attempt to endure by singing or whistling or some other distraction. I believe that parts of God’s word are designed to do that. They are the whistlings in the dark.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His steadfast love endures forever.

Whether the day is bright and warm or dark and cold, the word of God can be whistled or sung if you prefer. You have a hymn in your heart somewhere. Dig deep and find it. Then whistle in the dark or in the day or while you work.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised!

Keep On! You Are Not Alone.

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Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Life is hard. It has been since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God even says that life is going to be hard. Nothing will come easy. But you and I are not the first people to ever live. While it may be little consolation in the midst of life’s struggles, there is nothing you are experiencing that someone has not experienced before. Yes, I know that in our individualistic culture, our experiences are completely our own and we cannot know how someone else feels and they cannot know how we feel. But let me ask a couple of pointed questions that may better get the point across.

Are you the first person to have acne? No.

Are you the first person to have cancer? No. Not even your particular type of cancer. I’m not making lite of cancer; all I’m saying is that it’s been around for a while.

Are you the first person to have trouble communicating with someone? No.

Others have had these struggles and more since Adam and Even in the Garden. That’s a lot of people. Some researchers estimate that over 108 Billion people have lived on our planet in its history. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. Paul wrote that there aren’t any temptations that are unique or not common to mankind.

The beauty of knowing this is that we have what the writer of Hebrews calls a “great cloud of witnesses.” That is to say we have an entire planet’s worth of history that has gone before us and dealt with what we are going through at any given time.

But we don’t look to our ancestors for a word from beyond. We look to their example for encouragement. Our eyes should be focused on Jesus. Our ancestors didn’t live out life perfectly, but Jesus did. And He has given us His eternal witness, His Word and His Holy Spirit. These are the witnesses that surround us every day, that encourage us to keep going, one step at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

In the meantime, we surround ourselves with fellow runners of the race. Those who are struggling along with us and who are carrying the weight that we carry are closer than you realize. Keep on running. Keep on walking. Keep on climbing. Keep your eyes on Jesus. You will make it through this.

Let’s pray,

God of comfort, we all struggle as human beings in this rough and tumble world. Lift up and strengthen those who are weak and in need. Send Your holy angels to surround and protect the tempted and the recovering. Empower Your church to be a place of healing and comfort and hope in Jesus. We pray in His name, amen.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

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Original Latin text attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153; German text from Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676, translated for the 1941 The Lutheran Hymnal.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee
And flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish
That once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished
Their color, once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished
The splendor that was there.
Grim Death, with cruel rigor,
Hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor,
Thy strength, in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion,
Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression
Which brought this woe on thee.
I cast me down before Thee,
Wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee;
Redeemer, spurn me not!

My Shepherd, now receive me;
My Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me,
O Source of gifts divine!
Thy lips have often fed me
With words of truth and love,
Thy Spirit oft hath led me
To heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee,
From Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me!
When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish
In death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish,
Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me
When death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me,
Forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish,
Oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish
By virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my Consolation,
My Shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy Passion
When my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfold Thee.
Who dieth thus dies well!

 

 

What is Taking So Long?

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Exodus 5:22-23 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I cam to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

What is taking so long? The light stays red for what seems like an eternity. The checkout line is moving so slowly. The six lane traffic jam is backed up for miles. The wait in the exam room has gone on forever. What is taking so long?

We are an impatient people. Not just those of us who are reading this, but all people of all time in all places. Human beings are impatient. Our fast-paced world has exacerbated this problem and when things lag, we get frustrated and annoyed. A watched pot never boils but we sit staring at each little bubble trying to will it to boil faster.

Moses had become impatient with God from the word “go.” He seemed to expect that all he would need to do would be to tell Pharaoh that God said to let the people go. Pharaoh would just shrug his shoulders and say, “O.K.” But God’s plan was much bigger and would take more time and effort. Moses was not ok with that. He was impatient.

We are no different. Churches are no different. The world is no different. We expect change to happen in the blink of an eye and on our command. We expect the church to grow spontaneously just because we prayed for it to do just that. We expect the new leader to come in and make miracles happen and flood the church with all sorts of new people. We expect new technology, new music, new something to make all things better, right now. I’ll tell you a secret. The leaders (or pastors) expect that too. We all get impatient with God.

But just like Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, and the LORD, the plan is much bigger than we can see. There are more things the LORD wants to do before we see it come to a boil (or boils if you ask the Egyptians). Thankfully, the Lord is much more patient than we are. He is patient with our impatience. He knows his plan is much bigger and better than the one we would have. His timing is perfect even when it doesn’t fit with our scheme. Things were just beginning with Moses & Pharaoh. Maybe, even now, things are just beginning for you and for me.

Let’s pray

Lord of heaven and earth, great is your patience and pitiful is mine. Stir up your Holy Spirit, so that in all of our impatience, we would not lose sight of your plan for your church, your people, your world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘Tis the Season

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Mark 13:28 Jesus said, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.”

God’s creation tells us the story. The change of seasons happens everywhere in various ways. We would do well to pay attention to the created world as so much of what God has done for us and His continued love and care is told there. Jesus is talking about his eventual return at the conclusion of all things. He said that there are signs and wonders all around that we can see. The thing we won’t know is when.

People have tried to predict the return of Christ since he ascended. They’ve tried to find codes and patterns in the Scriptures. They’ve tried to calculate based on historical and political events. They’ve prepared for the end only to be left standing in the cave as the time passes by. The day and time are not for us to know and rather than waste time trying to predict them, our time would be better spent living today and telling others of Jesus.

When the green leaves break through the soil, you know spring is coming. Sometimes those green shoots come right through the snow, reaching for the warmth of the sun. Those signs are there to give us hope. Those little green hints of greater things to come show us that life always comes around. It can be hard to make it through the winter sometimes and even the spring seems to take forever to pass. But pass it will, just as it always has. Soon the warmth of the summer sun will green up the world around us.

There are days when life itself seems to be taking forever. Yes, the days pass by quickly, but life seems to move at a snail’s pace. Time is spent waiting for the flower to bloom, for the blossom to spring out, or for the snow to melt. Jesus’ words to his disciples can encourage us to keep watching, keep waiting, keep hoping because hope does not disappoint. “Hope springs eternal,” wrote Alexander Pope in his poem, An Essay on Man in 1733.

‘Tis the season for hope. On the cusp of spring and summer, we hold on to the hope of warmer days and greener pastures. As Christians, we hold on to the hope and promise of the return of Jesus. Hope is what we have right now. No prediction will be accurate. No sign or wonder can be that specific. We hold on to hope of a life eternal.

Let’s pray.

God of Hope and Glory, strengthen us in the days ahead as we hold on to the hope of a promise fulfilled in the return of Jesus, Your Son. Amen.