the Third Sunday after Pentecost

the Post-Communion Prayer, Luther’s German Mass
Faith is being loved by god and, then, loving … just like god!

I think it’s been over a decade, now, that we’ve been taking the good doctor’s advice to heart. Luther recommended that pastors preach on the Small Catechism, on a regular basis. And we’ve been doing just that. On the fifth Sunday of the month. Four times a year. For, like I said, over ten years. Of course, it’s been more serendipity, than anything. More by accident than by design. Whatever caught my attention, at the moment. Whatever piqued by interest. A crumb here. A morsel there. Then Commandments. Creed. Lord’s Prayer. Baptism. Lord’s Supper. Confession/Forgiveness. Blessing, morning and evening. Blessings, before the meal and after. Last time, we, even, looked at Luther’s preface. We’ll, it’s that time, again. The fifth Sunday of the month. And according to tradition, we should be looking at another piece of the Catechism. However …

This time, I’d like to focus on something different, on something else. Something just as basic, just as fundamental. A prayer Luther wrote three years before he published the Catechism. A prayer he wrote for his German Mass that Lutherans have been saying, ever since. It was in the Common Service Book of 1917. It was in the Service Book and Hymnal – the old Red Book – of 1958. It was in the Green Book and, now, the Cranberry Book. It’s there, right after Communion, tucked away between “Now, Lord, You Let Your Servant” and the final benediction …

We give you thanks, almighty God, that you have refreshed us
through the healing power of this gift of life.
In your mercy, strengthen us through this gift,
(and here’s the important part)
in faith toward you
and in fervent love toward one another;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

“In faith toward you and in fervent love toward one another!” That, for us, is what Christianity is all about! That is, bottom line, the faith of the church! God strengthens us thought word and sacrament! God strengthens us through the gospel! God strengthens us thought Christ and Christ crucified! Strengthens us to stake our lives on god’s love! And strengthens us, then, so we can give those lives to those around us! Just! Like! God! That’s all there is to it!

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been doing my best to practice what I preach. Or at least, to do what I challenged you to do! Listen to the radio stations you, usually, avoid! Watch the channels you, normally, skip over! I’ve been trying to do just that! Watching and listening with an open mind! So I can see and hear what’s out there! And I have to tell you, it hasn’t been easy. Not for me! Especially not for Sherice! She’s had to endure not just politics, but, now, religion, as well! But I’ve noticed something. Faith – popular faith, that is, popular religion, here in the good old U.S. of A. – isn’t so much about love, as it is heaven! Getting through the pearly gates! Getting past St. Peter! After all, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? If you died, tonight, where would you spend eternity? It’s, always, an either/or! Always heaven or hell! Faith has more to do with wrath and retribution, hell and damnation, fire and brimstone, than it does with god! Life – life here, life now – according to popular religion is only a prelude to forever. Creation is passing, fleeting. Only the proving ground for eternity. Being saved means being saved from. Saved from the fire, saved from the flames. Saved from the weeping and the gnashing. But none of that – let me repeat, none of that – is in this prayer! Not in this prayer and, by the way, not in the Catechism, either!

I think that’s why we Lutherans are having such a hard time of it, here in America. People – theologically speaking – don’t know what to think of us! Once they get past the candles and the robes … Once they get beyond the service and the hymnals … we’re just not like anyone else … theologically speaking! And it’s all because of this prayer! God loves! Period! That’s all god does! Love! And god calls us! God calls us! God opens our hearts! Opens our minds! God strengthens us to believe in love! To trust it! To stake our lives on it! So that, just like god, we, too, can love! Love deeply! Love fervently! Love fanatically!

There are no threats, here! There is no fear, no ultimate! There’s only love! Charity! Grace! For us, the question isn’t where we go when we die. The question, for us, is what will we do, when we get up in the morning? Truth is, as an evangelical church, as gospel-based believers, we’re not all that passionate about getting people’s souls across the finish line. But we are passionate – very passionate – about feeding them when they’re hungry! And we’re passionate about digging wells for them – with them – about giving them something to drink, when they’re thirsty! We’re passionate about clothing them when they’re naked and making a place for them when they’re exiles and refugees and caring for them when they’r4e sick and visiting them when they’re forgotten and ignored! That’s who we’ve been, since the beginning! That’s what we’ve done, right from the start! Who we’ve been and what we’ve done, for twenty-five generations, now! And it leads not to building temples, but to planting hospitals and orphanages and nursing homes. It inspires us not to worship god, but to love people – to love creation – just like god! Instead of gazing into god’s eyes, we look where god looks and we see a world valued, a world treasured, and we, too, love!

We give you thanks, almighty God, that you have refreshed us
through the healing power of this gift of life.
In your mercy, strengthen us through this gift …

in faith toward you
and in fervent love toward one another;

… for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

No. It’s not the bible that makes us us. It’s not the songs we sing. It’s not the prayers we offer. It’s the love! It’s always been the love! The love that comes to us! And the love that comes from us! My friends, we’re not here to praise god. We’re not here to get to heaven. We’re here to be loved. And in being loved, we leave this place to go and to do the same!

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