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Slavish, or Lavish, Liturgical Preaching?

February 23rd, 2006
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The recent post of a sermon by Pastor Cwirla elicited a criticism from a fine Lutheran pastor. You can read the comment he made by going to Pastor Cwirla’s sermon. The pastor was questioning why we it seems we must always have a "slavish" reference to the liturgy in every sermon it seems from Pastor Cwirla. Well, count me "guilty" of the same "slavishness." I can’t help but mention the means of grace when I preach, for, as Pastor Cwirla observes in a response, how can we avoid mentioning precisely how this is all "for you"? Update: The pastor who posted the "criticism" of Pastor Cwirla was in fact doing so in jest! The joke’s on me for sure. But…I think it is a good conversation to have for I do know that some among us raise this criticism from time-to-time. The issue is this: is preaching the means of grace a slavish liturgical preaching, or … is it lavish preaching of the giftts of Christ?


Pastor Cwirla dug up a quote from another Lutheran preacher who had these remarks to make when he was preaching on the healing of the Paralytic.

"It is also the evil spirit’s doing that we find ourselves dead in the water spiritually; otherwise our hearts would be joyful and comforted.  For think what it would mean if we rightly and truly believed that what Christ here says to the man sick with palsy, he is saying to you and to me every day in baptism, in absolution, and in public preaching, that I must not mistakenly think that God is angry and ungracious toward me.  Shouldn’t that cause me to stand on my head with joy?  Wouldn’t that make everything sweet as sugar, pure as gold, sheer everlasting life?  The fact that this doesn’t happen for us proves that the "old Adam" and the devil drag us away from faith and the Word."  (Martin Luther, Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Trinity) quoted from "The House Postils," Eugene Klug, tr. (Baker, 1996), vol 3, p. 82

Pastor Cwirla then observes:

Luther here makes the same point.  What Christ did for the paralyzed man, He does for us through Baptism and Absolution.  In fact, you might say that every miracle of Christ, including resurrection from the dead, is worked for us through the Word and the Sacraments.

What say you friends??? Is it possible that in an over-reaction to preachers who do in fact follow aLavish
slavish formulaic pattern of always finally making the whole point of the sermon the reception of the Lord’s Supper we are in danger of neglecting truly quality means of grace preaching? For fear of being one of those who finds the Lord’s Supper in every reference to bread in the New Testament, are we neglecting proper pointing of our folks precisely to those means by which the Holy Spirit creates faith in those whom He will, with the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, as we confess in our Augustana, Article V? Are we perhaps tempted to "de-flesh" the Word made Flesh and avoid referencing precisely where it is, and how it is, that He comes to us today with grace and mercy, through those very humble, concrete means He has given? Is that "slavish liturgical preaching"? My concern is that when we preach a "means free" sermon we are reducing the Faith to a concept, a pious wish, a fine idea, a noble truth, but not what it is: flesh and blood reality, or rather Flesh and Blood reality.

Clearly what is incorrect liturgical preaching is making the point of every sermon nothing *other* than talking about taking Holy Communion. That lack of balance is wrong. I’ve read too many sermons like that, that seem to fall over themselves, skimping on real Law and neglecting the Gospel, thinking that by speaking only of taking Communion they are somehow covering the Redemption of Christ….yes, yes…that is not good. Nor is there any place for sermons that shy away from preaching sanctifcation. I’ve said plenty there. But….we need also to guard against "means free" preaching.

Your thoughts?

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. organshoes
    February 23rd, 2006 at 20:15 | #1

    Without my pastor being a slave to the means of grace, what am I but a slave to mere attendance? What is church then, other than a pleasant habit, or a noble way of spending a Sunday morning, among likewise noble folk?
    I’ve had Communion fed me Sunday after Sunday, first in the words of my pastor, then in the real elements, and I know Christ, more than I would if Pastor were to preach to us the evils of prejudice or greed or hurting the environment, or if he were to implore us all just to try and get along and get as much good done as we can next week.
    I’ve heard those sermons too, from Lutherans and non, and I hope I never again have to figure out how to try and live off that stuff.

  2. February 23rd, 2006 at 20:36 | #2

    How did I get involved in this? I was just minding my own business over at Blogosphere!
    I think you’re on to something bigger than how a particular text is preached, Paul. This is about the centrality of the preached Word and Sacrament in the church and in the life of the Christian. You hit the nail right on the head when you cited AC V: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted.” Faith is created by and clings to the sacramental Word.
    Without the preached Word of the Gospel that says “for you” and without the Sacrament, there is no organic connection between the text of Scripture and the hearer. The same creative and redemptive Word that healed the paralytic, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead, is speaking and acting on us through the “mouthed Word” (as Luther put it in the Torgau articles).
    I see the same “sacramental disconnect” in our approach to evangelism. We speak of “bringing people to Christ” but not in terms of bringing people to the church (the body of Christ), to Baptism, Absolution, and to the Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood.

  3. February 24th, 2006 at 06:42 | #3

    I was speaking to a Lutheran Pastor last evening on this same issue. I encouraged him to continue mentioning the means of grace in sermons.
    The tradition in which I was raised taught there was no such things as means of grace. All one had was good deeds like some decision in the past upon which to place hope. Praise be to God for tangible baptism and the Supper.

  4. revcwirla
    February 24th, 2006 at 08:41 | #4

    I prefer the term “lavish” to “slavish,” though organshoes puts the best construction on everything.

  5. revcwirla
    February 24th, 2006 at 10:23 | #5

    Ah hah, we got snookered by a piece of well-crafted sarcasm. Excellent!
    This is a good illustration of how easily things are misread on blogs or email. A recent study suggests that we read these things through the lens of our immediate mood. (Feeling persecuted lately, Paul?)
    Don’t forget to use those smileys, kids! ;-)
    On the other hand, the topic is still important. One is hard pressed to read a sermon or commentary from Luther that doesn’t refer to Baptism, Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper in some concrete way.
    One has to wonder: If you haven’t preached the hearer to Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, have you preached things all the way through to their Gospel end?

  6. revquast
    March 1st, 2006 at 17:02 | #6

    Interesting discussion!
    I came up against this in my final year at seminary when I was told by a professor that it was wrong to preach about the sacraments in a sermon unless the text being used specifically mentioned them. I was aghast (and still am) to think that this kind of teaching can occur at a Lutheran seminary.
    McCain note: That is NOT a Lutheran opinion and defy that professor to show me where Luther followed this truly slavish opinion.
    Thankfully, one of the other professors had directly stated (in accordancd with the Confessions) that it is good, right, and salutary to preach the visible means of grace in a sermon at any time – for this is how the Gospel is applied to the individual. It just scares me to think of future generations of seminarians hearing that kind of garbage in the class room.

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