The Use of Sacraments / Ritual

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S (Scripture): Romans 4


Happy are those whose actions outside the Law are forgiven,

        and whose sins are covered.

Happy are those whose sin isn’t counted against them by the Lord.

9 Is this state of happiness only for the circumcised or is it also for those who aren’t circumcised? We say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 So how was it credited? When he was circumcised, or when he wasn’t circumcised? In fact, it was credited while he still wasn’t circumcised, not after he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that comes from the faith he had while he still wasn’t circumcised. It happened this way so that Abraham could be the ancestor of all those people who aren’t circumcised, who have faith in God, and so are counted as righteous. 12 He could also be the ancestor of those circumcised people, who aren’t only circumcised but who also walk in the path of faith, like our ancestor Abraham did while he wasn’t circumcised.

O (Observation): Paul dissects the point at which their spiritual father (Abraham) became righteous. Was it before or after he was circumcised.

Yes, Paul is still ranting about circumcision. Why? This issue was just the most prominent of MANY issues that divided Christians that were formerly Jewish from those Christians who had no Jewish background.

Paul points out that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness BEFORE he became circumcised. In this way those who are circumcised AND those who are not have Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.

In making this point, Paul makes something else even more clear: our external responses (like circumcision) do not dictate whether or not a person can have faith in God.

Persons of faith need not throw away customs, nor do they have to adopt them, in order to respond in faith to God’s grace given to all people who wish to receive that grace.

A (Application): As Christians, we have certain external markers that declare grace to us: namely, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. I’m big fans of both. HUGE fans of both : )

These “means of grace” (as we call them in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) remind us of God’s gracious Spirit being poured out into our very beings. This Spirit joins us to the body of Christ, and gives us grace and forgiveness to live out our lives in hope.

These means of grace, however, remain external signs. Sort of like what circumcision meant for Abraham. Not exactly, but close.

Baptism remains our way of joining to Christ’s body. In baptism we are marked with the promised Holy Spirit. I wonder, though, what the non-Christian journeys through when they look at the Church? Are we using Baptism as a means of pushing others away? Or are we inviting them to consider – first – becoming a part of our community. Then, after a time of deliberation, continue to encourage these persons to consider being baptized…to show that on a particular day and time, in a faith community willing to love and support one another, that the Spirit has joined them to the body of Christ.

Personally, I see everything to gain in Baptism and Holy Communion. The old self being washed away for the new life in Christ to come forth. Yet our journeys are not all the same.

More can be said regarding Communion, but I digress.

Let us not use the Means of Grace as a means to divide us into classes (the Baptized OVER the non-Baptized; those who attend worship or commune weekly OVER those who attend worship and commune once or twice per month). Let us, instead, focus on the joy that comes from these means of grace, such that those who do not yet know of these gifts might be inspired by the Spirit to receive them gratefully. And if not, that we not disparage them, but instead, meet them where they are in their faith journey.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace, that we might share it bountifully with others. Amen.


Grace Through Ritual

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S (Scripture): Today, two of the lessons I read come together nicely to make one point: following God’s call supersedes even the most sacred of rituals.

1 Samuel 15:19 (Samuel said to Saul…) “Why didn’t you obey the Lord? You did evil in the Lord’s eyes when you tore into the plunder!”

20 “But I did obey the Lord!” Saul protested to Samuel. “I went on the mission the Lord sent me on. I captured Agag the Amalekite king, and I put the Amalekites under the ban. 21 Yes, the troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder—the very best items placed under the ban—but in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 Then Samuel replied,

“Does the Lord want entirely burned offerings and sacrifices

as much as obedience to the Lord?

Listen to this: obeying is better than sacrificing,

paying attention is better than fat from rams,


because rebellion is as bad as the sin of divination;

arrogance is like the evil of idolatry.

Because you have rejected what the Lord said,

he has rejected you as king.”


John 2:13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]

18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body.

O (Observation): In the Gospel of John, Jesus turns water into wine…but not just any water. Jesus takes the water used for ceremonial cleansing and turns THAT water into wine. Jesus points out that those jars of water will not be necessary for cleansing anymore.

And on the heals of that story, we get today’s text of Jesus overturning tables and cleansing the Temple. And Jesus promising that the Temple will be torn down and raised in 3 days. Why? The whole sacred system is about to be turned upside down, right along with those tables Jesus flipped.

Now, in Jesus, the world has its path towards forgiveness and love for God and neighbor. Rituals don’t rule – God does.

Saul, trying to honor God with animal sacrifices, moves away from the Lord’s calling. The Lord calls on Saul to destroy the Amalekite people and their livestock. Saul disobeys, thinking his plan is above God’s. I think not.

What is more important? Samuel – God’s prophet – points out that following God and God’s commands is more important than tradition or ritual…even if it means changing the whole system. Even if it makes you looks unpopular.

A (Application): Ok, ok. Take a deep breath. I don’t propose we throw out ANY rituals at this point. I personally believe that the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are chock full of God’s grace and are a means through which God speaks to us. So…ok.

As we use these rituals to point out that God is reaching us through these means of grace, we continue to embrace them. Jesus calls us to these sacred gifts, and so we call others to the waters in which we are spiritually bathed and to the tables around which we commune.

Let us never use these gifts as tools for leverage or as a means for holding power over one another. Let these gifts always point us to God, and not to ourselves. Let these gifts be blessed and let us use them as God does – for reaching out with a hand of mercy, grace, and compassion for others.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to use these means of grace well. Amen.


S (Scripture): Romans 16:17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19 For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.

O (Observation):  Paul gives a final word to his followers.   He wants them not resort to the tactics used by the world around them. Instead they are to lead with innocence and love.  Anything other than this is tainted with selfish appetite and deception.

A (Application):  Today, April 13, is Maundy Thursday. In worship, we will read the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and instituting The Great Thanksgiving.   These are ways of innocence and love.

In our congregation, we will also receive absolution, which is the forgiveness of sins with the marking of a cross (of scented oil) made on the forehead of those receiving this forgiveness.   The cross on the forehead is a physical reminder of the cross received on the person’s forehead in their baptism.

Jesus did not act against his betrayer.  He let him go to accomplish what he must.  And Jesus was arrested and died, but that was not the end of the story.  Jesus did not let selfish thoughts or ambition cloud his way.  He was redeemed.  

We are redeemed in the fact that God loves us and sent Jesus to embody wholeness and goodness and what it means to be without guile.  

May you remember this day as the beginning of The Great Three Days, the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life…leading to his Passion…and the ultimate celebration of his Resurrection!  

If you live near Murfreesboro, TN, consider joining us for worship this week:

Advent Lutheran Church, 1700 Irby Lane, Murfreesboro, TN 37127

Maundy Thursday, April 13, Noon & 7pm

Good Friday, April 14, Noon & 7pm

The Vigil of Easter, April 15, 7pm

The Resurrection of our Lord, April 16, 6:30am, 8:45am, 10:45am.  (Easter breakfast served, $5/person; proceeds to help fund our youth ministry).  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be humble.  Amen. 

Reveal Yourself, Lord 

S (Scripture): Luke 24:30 When [Jesus] had taken his place at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 At this point their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Then he vanished out of their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while he was speaking with us on the road, while he was explaining the scriptures to us?” 33 So they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and those with them gathered together 34 and saying, “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.

O (Observation): This is the tail end of the Road to Emmaus story.  The resurrected Jesus ends up walking with these two men, who are extremely disappointed that Jesus has been crucified.  Their hopes are dashed.  

Jesus starts to open up their hearts a bit.  In v. 27, we hear about what Jesus says to these men on the road: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.”

And for the final reveal, Jesus breaks bread.   In the breaking of the bread, they finally see Jesus for who he is – the Messiah! – in their very presence.  

And just as soon as they grasped this whole experience, Jesus disappears.   So they go and tell others, including the disciples.   These guys have seen Jesus. Simon (Peter) has seen Jesus. The women who went to the tomb heard from the angels that Jesus was raised.   Momentum is picking up…perhaps the Messiah is alive, after all…

A (Application): As a Lutheran, this story resonates deeply with me.  We believe that Christ is in, with, and under the bread and wine at Holy Communion.  We believe that we are close to God in those holy moments.  Jesus is revealed to us – this day – in the breaking of the bread.  

I have begun a study of Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in our adult Sunday School class.   We will discern God’s essence through the Commandments, Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments.   

In the sacraments, we believe we have a tangible representation of “God with us.”  We believe that Jesus set this meal apart to cleanse us, make us whole, and remind us that Christ is with us on the way.  

Do you ave any stories of Christ being revealed to you “on the road”?

P (Prayer):  Lord, reveal yourself to us, that we might be reminded that you are right beside us on this journey called “life.”  Amen. 

A New Era

S (Scripture): Luke 22:14 Now when the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table and the apostles joined him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

O (Observation): The Passover meal/festival was an annual remembrance of when God rescued the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.  As the last of the 10 plagues God sent on Egypt, the Spirit passed over the homes of those who who sacrificed a lamb to God and then placed the blood of that lamb on the doorpost of the home.  

Now, Jesus is re-interpreting the Passover.   Eating bread and drinking wine is a reminder of who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus has done for us.  Jesus has set us free from sin, and this meal frees us from our sin and reminds us of God’s love for us.  

The covenant God established with God’s people back in Jeremiah 31 is coming to fruition.  Jesus’ death will be as the lamb sacrificed in the Exodus.  Jesus’ sacrifice will stand for us and set us free.   

A (Application):  As the football season begins, we enter a new season of life.   Kids are back in school, routines kick in.   For our family, that means football practices, choir, band, babysitting, and … repeat.  

A new season has begun…and a new era, since our oldest (13) is moving into more and more independence.  Our middle child (10) is learning more about her identity. And our youngest (4) is learning how to entertain herself.    We are constantly seeing our children mature before our very eyes.  

As God’s children, we are supported and made new.  Even though we move in many different directions as a family, we do our best to gather and focus at the start and end of each day.  And every week, God gives us a chance to remember who and whose we are.  As our children come to the altar – yes, all of them – they receive the body and blood of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  

We celebrate the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for all people.  And as we walk away from the altar, we sense a new thing happening in us.  Forgiveness.  Being washed clean.   Sharing peace with our neighbor. 

Have you received this gift lately?  If not, find a local ELCA congregation and get in on this goodness.   Check out to find a congregation near you.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, your gift to us has set us free!  For this, we give you thanks.   Amen.  

The Great Meal


S (Scripture): Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, that is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, from now on I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

O (Observation): The great sacrifice, made significant not by our participation, but by Christ’s command.   Jesus institutes a meal for ALL PEOPLE.   In this meal, faith is kindled and renewed.  Jesus establishes a new covenant so that he wouldn’t just be WITH his people.  Now, he will live IN his people.  

For the forgiveness of sins…

A (Application):  For you… for me…

P (Prayer): Lord, we are humbled by your great sacrifice…that you make us whole.  Amen.  

Why Our Holy Communion Bread is Not Leavened


S (Scripture): Exodus 12:11 This is how you are to eat [the lamb] – dressed to travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You are to eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.

12 I will pass through the land of Egypt in the same night, and I will attack all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both of humans and of animals, and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.  I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, so that when I see the blood I will pass over you, and this plague will not fall on you to destroy you when I attack the land of Egypt.

14 This day will become a memorial for you, and you will celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – you will celebrate it perpetually as a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. Surely on the first day you must put away yeast from your houses because anyone who eats bread made with yeast from the first day to the seventh day will be cut off from Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people have witnessed God’s plagues to this point and were protected the whole time.  Egypt, however, has not fared so well.   The Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. As a result, the Egyptians experienced nine plagues.  Now, God is preparing the Israelites to leave Egypt.  The tenth plague is on its way.  

God’s command for the people is to eat only unleavened bread – bread without yeast.   The reasons for it being unleavened are somewhat uncertain, except for the fact that God commanded it.  

And God not only commanded the lamb to be sacrificed and its blood to be put on the door posts, but also that unleavened bread is to be prepared and eaten as part of a perpetual commemoration of what God has done in setting the Israelites free.   

The tradition continues to this day by Jews and, in a sense, Christians.  

A (Application):  When I think of unleavened bread, I think of Holy Communion.   The congregation in which I serve has a recipe for bread that includes no yeast.   We are not beholden to this, and have used leavened bread before, but I am reminded of the original Passover every time I lift the unleavened bread above the altar in celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.    

The meal that Christ had with his disciples when he instituted Holy Communion was a Passover celebration itself.    As good Jews, they were remembering God setting God’s people free from being enslaved by Egypt.  And in that meal, Jesus is connected as the new Passover Lamb, to set us free from the bondage of our sins.   

Christians are not required to observe the Jewish festivals, but when we do see a connection, we are reminded of God’s ongoing work throughout history.  God’s saving grace, setting us free. 

What are some ways that you are reminded of God’s work throughout time?  Creation itself can be a reminder…  Holy Communion can be a reminder… Baptism… Song…

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep on reminding us of what you are doing, have done, and promise to do.  Amen.