Summary: The Invocation reminds us of where we are and who we are.
How many rituals do you have? How many procedures do you follow on a regular basis? Many of you make a pot of coffee upon waking in the morning or stop at Tim Horton’s because you wouldn’t dare start your day without a caffeine hit. That’s a ritual. Brushing teeth after meals is also a ritual, as is eating turkey on Thanksgiving. When a ritual is practiced often enough, one can do it without thinking. That’s not a big deal when it comes to rituals like brushing teeth, but it is a problem when it comes to procedures that we really do need to pay attention to when we do them. Driving to work might be a ritual we repeat every day, but we’d better stay focused on the task of we’ll quickly find ourselves involved in a fender bender.
Staying focused is also important when it comes to worshiping our God. The Lutheran church often follows a pattern of worship over a thousand years old called the liturgy. It’s a good pattern to follow because it places Jesus and his Word clearly at the center of our worship. But since the liturgy is a ritual that we repeat week after week, month after month, year after year, the danger is that we can begin to do it without giving it much thought, like brushing our teeth. For the next several weeks we will take a closer look at some of the individual parts that make up our worship ritual. It is my prayer that by doing so we will all understand our worship better, will appreciate it more, and will be able to participate in our worship more thoughtfully and more meaningfully.
Our sermon today will focus on words that are usually spoken after the opening hymn: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This “Invocation,” as it’s called, is more than a churchy way of saying: “God says, ‘Hi!’ He’s glad you came to church today.” No, the Invocation reminds us of where we are, and it reminds us of who we are.
Listen to our text from Genesis 28:16, 17. “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’” Do you remember what prompted Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, to speak these words? He had received a dream in which he saw a ladder that stretched from the earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. At the top of the ladder stood God himself. Why was this dream significant? Well consider Jacob’s situation. He was running away from home because his older brother Esau had threatened to kill him. Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright when he deceived their blind father Isaac by dressing up like Esau to receive the blessing. Although it’s hardly the same, consider how you would feel if a co-worker picked up your Christmas cash bonus saying he was going to deliver it to you, but then ran off to Mexico with it.
After a hard day’s journey during which Jacob must have kept looking over his shoulder for his angry brother, he finally lay down to sleep but didn’t even have a sleeping bag. In fact he had to use a rock as a pillow. You would have expected Jacob to have nightmares of his brother chasing him and his father Isaac shaking his head in disgust at the deception. But instead Jacob received this curious dream about a ladder and angels, and best of all he saw God and heard him say: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
When Jacob awoke, he spoke the words I read earlier: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God” (Genesis 28:17). Jacob’s campsite may not have looked very impressive—just a level clearing in the wilderness with a few slabs of stone on the ground, but what a special place it was. As Jacob said, it was the house of God, for God was there. And so Jacob was in awe, absolute awe. He had been in the presence of the holy God himself!
We too this morning have come to the house of God. Yes, even in this junior high school cafeteria because we too are in the awesome presence of the holy God. The Invocation, with which we begin our worship, reminds us of that. This is the house of God, not because of what the building looks like, but because of what is taking place here: the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is speaking to us. And so Jacob’s words ought to be in our minds and in our hearts whenever we come to worship – whether in a new church building or in a school cafeteria. Any place we gather to hear God speak to us is awesome. The words of the Invocation should help us remember that. And so you can even speak the Invocation when you begin your family devotions. Wouldn’t that help you remember that even with pizza crusts on plates and crumpled napkins here and there, that the family dinner table is an awesome place whenever God’s Word is shared there?