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Volume 21-3 of this journal (two issues ago; it may still be freshly on your desk as this one is arriving in the mail) included two sermons for observing 9/11/11, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. At the time that issue went to press, the alleged mastermind of the plot, Osama bin Laden, was still at large. But on May 2, a United States operation into Pakistan found and killed him.
My guess is that sermons that were actually preached on September 11—including those that were based on the excellent materials written for us by Nolan Astley and Steve Albers—incorporated this “closing of the book” on the tragedy. I wonder what they said. What should they have said? And rather than just second-guessing, what should we learn for future preaching about notorious evil or evildoers?
We all realize, certainly, that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). It’s always a reason for grieving when any unbeliever’s time of grace comes to an end and he is consigned to an eternity in hell. We realize, too, that if bin Laden is indeed now in hell, it’s not because his wickedness in plotting 9/11 was any more deserving of damnation than my impatience with Claire and the kids. He is indeed, we fear, in eternal suffering because (although we weren’t given a look into his heart at the moment of his death) it appears he relied for his salvation on a religion that does not trust in Christ Jesus. All of this should cause us true sadness.
On the other hand, we yet also understand that it is God himself who gives governments the power to enforce justice, even to the point of executing criminals. “[The one who is in authority] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13:4). Even without a trial, surely the evidence—particularly his own claims—demonstrates that bin Laden fell under this stricture of Scripture.
What we might not remember is that there’s a whole biblical genre specifically devoted to this sort of discussion. Nobody’s best known and probably nobody’s favorite. It’s the so-called imprecatory psalms. Psalms such as 35, 69, 109, and 137 offer such dainties as that the evildoer’s “children be fatherless . . . wander about and beg” and that he be “blessed . . . who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”
Dean Wenthe doesn’t specifically address the imprecatory psalms in his article, “The Psalms as Homiletical Resource” (p. 3), but to our conversation he adds this: “The imprecatory psalms are concerned with the integrity of God’s character. Every power or person who denies God’s being invites judgment, for the nature of God is pure, holy, and the basis of all reality. To pray the imprecatory psalms is to say: ‘Let God be God.’ ”
Less than pleasant. God’s alien, not his proper, work. But letting God be God.
Not exactly the first texts or topic we look to preach as we enter Christmastide. But a powerful reminder of the fallen world into which Christ came and which Christ came to redeem!
Carl C. Fickenscher II
• Editor: Carl C. Fickenscher II
• Managing Editor: Scot A. Kinnaman
• Designer: Chris Johnson
• Advisory Board
Parish Pastors: Nolan Astley (LCC), Dean W. Nadasdy, Henry A. Simon
Seminary Professors: Paul J. Grime, Glenn A. Nielsen, John T. Pless, David R. Schmitt
Council of Presidents: Herbert C. Mueller Jr.
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Published by Concordia Publishing House of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Volume 22, Part 1, Series B
November 27, 2011–February 19, 2012
The Psalms as Homiletical Resource—Dean O. Wenthe
Children’s Messages: One Pastor’s Story about Telling Stories for Children—
Mark D. Barz
From the Editor
Ideas for Illustrating
Advent 1, 1 Corinthians 1:3–9
Ready and Waiting . . . Waiting and Ready—Mark D. Barz
Advent 2, 2 Peter 3:8–14
Advent Patience, Perish, Passing,
Advent People, Promise, Peace—
Mark D. Barz
Advent 3, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24
Dos, Don’ts, and Done—Robert F. Rossow
Advent 4, Romans 16:25–27
Soli Deo Gloria —Robert F. Rossow
Christmas Day, John 1:1–14 (15–18)
The Great Surprise: The Word among Us—Peter F. Gregory
Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21
Beginning with Bloodshed—Peter F. Gregory
Epiphany 1: The Baptism of Our Lord, Romans 6:1–11
The New Life of the Baptized—Jeffrey E. Sippy
Epiphany 2, 1 Corinthians 6:12–20
What Will You Do with the Body?—John T. Pless
Epiphany 3, Mark 1:14–20
The Decisive Time for Turning—Glenn A. Nielsen
Epiphany 4, Mark 1:21–28
An Unexpected Salvation—James G. Bushur
Epiphany 5, Mark 1:29–39
Out of the Desolate Places Comes
Our Eternal Destiny—Glenn A. Nielsen
Epiphany 6, Mark 1:40–45
When Jesus Touches You, Jesus Heals You—Jeffrey E. Sippy
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2 Kings 2:1–12
Enter Jesus—Reginald C. Quirk
Advent Midweek Series
Wait, Pray, and Live by Faith: Waiting with the Old Testament Church—Timothy C. J. Quill
1. Advent Midweek 1: Waiting with Prayer
2. Advent Midweek 2: Waiting with Comfort
3. Advent Midweek 3: Waiting with Joy
Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11
4. Advent Midweek 4: Waiting with Worship
2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16
First Sunday in Advent:
A Sermon Celebrating the Faith of Jan Kilian
in the 200th Year of His Birth, Isaiah 64:1–9
We Are All Your People!—David Zersen
Christmas Eve, Isaiah 7:14
God with Us—Reginald C. Quirk
New Year’s Eve, Romans 8:31b–39
What’s Your Resolution?—Thomas R. Johnson
The Epiphany of Our Lord, Matthew 2:1–12
Epiphany Melodrama—Reginald C. Quirk
Third Sunday after the Epiphany:
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jonah 3
Our Relenting God—James I. Lamb
A Christmas Wedding Sermon, Isaiah 61:10
A Beautiful Illustration—Carl C. Fickenscher II
Advent 1–2—Mark D. Barz
Advent 3–4, Epiphany 2, 4—Ruth Geisler
Christmas Eve—Carl C. Fickenscher II
Christmas Day, New Year’s Day—Peter F. Gregory
Epiphany 1, 6—Jeffrey E. Sippy
Epiphany 3, 5—Glenn A. Nielsen
Transfiguration—Reginald C. Quirk
Your Responses to Practical Preaching Questions
Q: Besides Law and Gospel, what else have you noticed that’s distinctive about Lutheran preaching?
A: Certainly Law and Gospel are distinctive elements of Lutheran preaching. The Law condemns; the Gospel forgives. The Law tells us what man must do; the Gospel tells us what Christ has done. Law and Gospel give us the framework and dynamic structure of the sermon, which, of course, may actually be played out in many different forms, not just a two-part, Law-then-Gospel outline. (This dynamic structure might be thought of as “Law and Gospel,” as in the three words describing one singular concept.)
However, the most important distinctive of Lutheran preaching is the content. As St. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). The content of all Law-Gospel preaching is the cross of Christ. Because of our failure and sin, Jesus died on the cross; and yet because of his great love for us, Jesus died on the cross. To preach “Jesus died for you” is a statement of both Law and Gospel at the same time, all centered in the cross of Christ. (That is to say, the matter of content is also “Law and Gospel,” but here we might think of the two, “Law” and “Gospel,” as two separate elements always to be preached in conjunction.)
Another important distinctive of Lutheran preaching is its application. It is performative; it does something. Lutheran preaching is not merely self-help advice. Just as the words of the Absolution actually deliver forgiveness of sins, so, too, the words of the sermon deliver forgiveness and strengthening of faith by declaring God’s love for you through the cross of Christ. I love to switch from third person pronouns to second person to emphasize and apply the Gospel of Christ crucified for you.
Rather than simply telling you how to be a better Christian (which is all Law, empty of the cross, and neglects strengthening one in faith), Lutheran preaching points to the Gospel—Christ crucified for you.
Rev. Martin Measel, pastor
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, Stevensville, Michigan
A: I grew up in an LCMS parsonage and for years heard no kind of sermon other than Lutheran. When I was in college, I was so bored I decided to visit a number of other Christian churches that were not Lutheran, thinking I might find something more interesting. After two months of trying a different congregation each Sunday, I came back to my Lutheran congregation and found out what a great blessing we have in Lutheran homiletics.
Beside the intentional use and proper distinction of Law and Gospel, I learned that a key element that is not always heard in sermons of those other denominations is a clear focus on what the Gospel itself actually is: God’s grace.
It is easy for sermons to lean so heavily on what the listeners should be doing in response to God’s Word that it leaves the hearers feeling the frustration of sin’s effect in their lives, burdening their consciences. The sincere listener tries hard to do what God wants—and regularly comes up short of the perfection demanded. So when he or she then hears a sermon emphasizing that we should try harder, the guilty conscience becomes burdened even more.
When a sermon has properly used the balance of Law and Gospel—so that God’s grace is the predominant focus—the undeserved love of God in Jesus is brought to the attention of the hearer clearly, so that the forgiveness of sin God offers lifts the burden, refreshing the hearer’s faith in Jesus. This gift of God’s grace is the encouragement the hearer needs—the relief of knowing God has not simply said, “Go and sin no more!” but has also said, “I am with you.”
This, I was glad to discover, is a distinctive of Lutheran preaching and must continue to be heard clearly to the glory of God. Without it, the sermon is just another motivational speech.
Rev. Joel Holls, pastor
Angelica Lutheran Church, Allen Park, Michigan
22-2: Why do you use the pulpit when you preach . . . or why do you not? (Thank you for your responses.)
22-3: What’s your absolute favorite, original-with-you sermon illustration? (Submit by December 1, 2011.)
22-4: What have you learned about or for preaching from Martin Luther? (Submit by March 1, 2012.)
23-1: What’s the least helpful tip you received in a hom class at the sem? (Go ahead. We can take it!) (Submit by June 1, 2012.)
Let us hear from you! Responses should be a maximum of 250 words and may be sent to Editor, Concordia Pulpit Resources, 3558 S. Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, MO 63118-3875 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also invite suggestions for future topics.
The Psalms as Homiletical Resource
Rev. Dean O. Wenthe, PhD, professor, president emeritus, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
The Psalms present the pastor with a rich and distinctive spectrum of texts for expounding and preaching God’s gracious character in Christ for God’s people and their lives.
The Psalms uniquely offer prayers, laments, and hymns by inspired poets. Here we know that sentiments and situations are neither confusing nor obscuring the relationship of God with humanity. Whether it is a hymn of praise or a lament, the Psalms rightly portray God’s character and human character as they interact in the diverse situations of life. Such portrayals offer the pastor Sacred Scripture that describes sentiments easily recognized by his listeners.
Human emotion—such a wonderful part of human nature—if left to lead and define us, can slip into confusion and become a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows with the overall trend downward. But the Psalms bring God’s definition and discipline to our emotions, while fully recognizing them as central components of every human.
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