[1 Kings 19:1–21; Hebrews 11:32–12:3; Matthew 16:13–20]
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear saints and friends of Christ Lutheran Church, this year you have been celebrating 140 years of blessing, and with the audacious assertion that the best is yet to come! And, of course, you're right!
140 years puts us back to 1876. That was three years before my own grandfather, Chancellor Barbour Weedon, was even born! Can you for one minute even imagine trying to explain to the saints of old who founded this parish the world you now inhabit? Picture the look on your faces, if you pulled out your iPhone and began showing them what it can do! Why, it was the year that your congregation was FOUNDED that Alexander Graham Bell first patented his phone! They were still marveling at the telegraph's ability to spread messages along wires back then. Oh, and that that little device in your hand can snap their picture (cameras had made their appearance not too many years before), or record them singing a rousing Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr (Edison was just beginning to think about how to do such a thing!) and with a click or two share it with the whole world or sent it to any one of the billions plus people who now inhabit our planet? What would they think if you started playing for them your music collection? Showed them your family movies or how to google anything they might want to know? Track along in their buggies with a map app using GPS? Can you see their shock at your world?
But that would be nothing compared to the look on their face if you clicked onto some porn site and showed them living enactments of every single perversity the human mind has ever dared to dream up! They'd likely grab the thing from your hand and toss into the fire they used to cook their food!
Even more shocking, how would you even begin to try to explain to them that in this grand state of Illinois as in every state of this entire country, homosexuality is no longer a sin to repent of, to be ashamed of, but a virtue celebrated with pride and that members of the same sex are actually free to enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage anywhere in our country? That children can be created in hundreds of ways and not just in the one way God established in creation? And that children created in the old way or in any of the new ways, can simply be thrown in the trash at anytime prior to birth if the mom decides so? Oh, and as for creation, well that book by Darwin he published 16 years before that folks thought so ridiculous is now the standard view that is taught as absolute truth in the public schools of America. Only it's not that they say we evolved from apes, it's that we are just one particularly vicious species of ape. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. How utterly changed this world is today from 140 years ago in ways that, if you tried to describe them to the venerable founders of this parish, they'd find irrationally fantastical, absurd, and often enough downright evil!
Yet here you sit like your ancestors did alongside old man river, and just like the mighty Mississippi you keep rolling along. Indeed, despite the whirling vortex of change all around, you are here because you know that this a haven of the peace that this weary world so desperately needs. You go on celebrating and rejoicing in what has not and will never change, your Jesus and His Word, His Baptism, His Absolution, His Supper, His promises. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He builds His Church, and not even the gates of hell can prevail against it, as we heard in today's Gospel.
Truly, it is no little miracle that here in a world that grows ever more hostile to the Christian faith, that openly mocks your hope and dismisses you as fools, you still gather, Sunday by Sunday, week by week, as your ancestors in the faith did 140 years ago or 70 years ago and, by God's grace, as your children and their grandchildren will be doing in the next 140 years, if the Lord Jesus does not return first. It is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise: "I will build my church."
Yes, you too know Elijah-like world-weariness, when it seems like it's all been in vain. Hopeless, what's the point of going on? Fears about the future of the church, your congregation, and the future of our children and grandchildren. And then the Messenger is sent from the Lord and He comes to you with miracle food that gives you the strength to go on, to encounter God's tender care, and to be dispatched back with His assurance: I have my 7,000, I have my people, I will build my church. Don't you fear. You just go do what I have bidden you to do. Listen to my Word, live in your Baptism, feast at my Table, confess your sins and receive My forgiveness, and share this joy with all around you, and your joy and peace will stand out in the gathering darkness as a beacon for me to gather others to you.
Truly you ARE surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Witnesses to what? To God's amazing grace and faithfulness. The writer to the Hebrews listed some of the faithful of the Old Testament, and you could add to the list of those saints from Christ Jacob who have run the race faithfully and now stand in that great crowd around the throne of the Lamb. They too looked to Christ, the founder and perfecter of their faith, and now they cheer you on from His nearer presence. When you come to this altar, they join you. "Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven." You on this side, they on that. They encourage you that the struggle is worth while, that the end is blessed, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted in the race set before you and above all they invite you to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, pouring out His blood to cover all your sins, and who is now seated at the right hand of God. And who will come again, and when He does?
THAT future, people loved by God, is infinitely more mind-blowing than the reactions of your forebears would be to the world you happen to inhabit. When He comes back, the dead will be raised, and those who have been baptized into Him, who trusted in His promises, their bodies will shine with His glory and death with be toast and there will be glad homecomings and embraces in a world where there are no more goodbyes and where the joy only grows and increases, as we sing together before the Lamb once slain. You'll MEET those ancestors of yours in the faith. Alive again and never to die again. And you'll hear and rejoice in their stories of the grace of God, as they will in yours. Oh, yeah, THAT future is a lot more impressive than your iPhone. But it's a future your ancestors looked forward to also, ached for, and waited for. Just like you.
Meanwhile, you, saints of Christ Jacob, are truly like that tree planted by the streams of water, bearing your fruit in due season. You go on sinking your roots deep into the living water of His words and promises, you go on partaking the nourishment of sermon and sacrament, you go on confessing your sins and receiving His blood bought forgiveness and you go on share it lavishly with each other and the world, and your leaf it will not whither and you will indeed prosper. He promises. You can count on it.
One hundred forty years is a long time, to be sure. And though so very, very much has changed since Christus Kirche was founded, yet here a pile of forgiven sinners still faithfully gather to Him who has not and will not change and you find in Him and in His promises an anchor for your souls. May the Lord richly bless this gathering of His people, keep it faithful to His Word, and go on building here alongside this rolling river a Church that confesses that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! May the gates of hell ever tremble before Christ Jacob's mighty confession of the Savior!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen