08 October 2017

Homily for Anniversary of a Congregation - 2017

"Hope for Years to Come"
1 Kings 8:22-30; Revelation 21:1-5; Luke 19:1-10

Listen here.

Last year, President Matthew Harrison preached from this pulpit, leading up to our 100th Anniversary festivities. He said, “Happy Birthday. You don’t look bad for a hundred.” Now here we are a year later. Let me say, “You don’t look bad for boldly entering your second century.” And what a time to turn 101 as a congregation and be gaining steam as God’s dearly loved children who bear witness to Him and His works of salvation!
It was on this date, October 8, in 1916 that Hope Lutheran Church was founded—smack dab in the middle of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” Well, we know that did not happen. Human hopes of creating a perfect world, however grandiose or modest, just cannot change our fallen human nature or a world ravaged by human sin and ego.

Then, in a most counter-cultural move, our forebears actually spent good money to build this beautiful building just as the Great Depression was bearing down on the land. Receiving God’s gifts and singing His praises always takes precedence over what’s happening in this worrisome world.

And then there was the post-World War II era. War had struck again; austerity measures were fresh in mind; the fog and chaos of war had impacted many. Hope congregation, though, served as a place of solace for a growing number. I still remember a letter from a former choir director of Hope at that time. Several years later, he wrote back saying how the Gospel in sermon and song gave order and solace, even hope and healing, to many in those years.

And so it goes. God graciously gathers a people. He binds them together into His body, the Church, and in local congregations thereof. He continually comes to visit and restore, to forgive and give hope. How does He do that? Through the message and the means that He puts in those congregations—through the message of Christ crucified for sinners and raised for our justification, the message of a new Jerusalem awaiting all who come to faith through that Word, and through the Sacraments that actually deliver His eternal mercy. This is how our gracious God brings hope in a world given to despair.

It’s what King Solomon prayed for as he dedicated the temple that he built over 900 years before Jesus. Solomon confessed that the highest heavens cannot contain God. Then he asked if God would actually dwell on earth. The answer, of course, was—and still is—“Yes!” And God puts His name in and on the place where He dwells, so that His people have a place to pray and a place to listen to Him. As Solomon prayed, so God always promises: “And when You hear, forgive.” That’s what God does in the specific places of congregations. You see, we need specific places where God’s forgiveness reigns supreme. It’s that very forgiveness in Christ crucified and risen that brings healing and hope in our worrisome, fallen world.

It’s what happened to Zacchaeus when the Lord of the universe just had to stay at his house that day. It’s a divine “must” that Jesus had to carry out. You see, that is God’s nature, God’s character, God’s “M.O.”—His way of operating. When Jesus stepped into that house, salvation entered and reigned supreme. And Zacchaeus was a changed man. Changed by Jesus from a greedy, self-serving tax collector into a charitable soul who would serve others and even make reparations to those whom he had cheated. Jesus changed Zacchaeus and made him a man of hope, a child who could look forward to the age to come. That’s also what Jesus does when He enters specific places such as this. When He comes to visit with His grace and forgiveness, salvation enters this house. And we are changed—forgiven, given hope. And people we bring with us are changed. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He gives the hope. He IS our hope, even in this world of despair. “Our hope is in the Lord.”

This is no mere hope for a better life now, in this world broken in despair and reeling with evil. We hope for much more than an end to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. We long for much more than simply no more mass shootings or disruptive demonstrations or painful racial tensions. We eagerly await much more than a medication or a therapy that can take away whatever disease or injury we may suffer, be it arthritis or cancer or paralysis or chronic pain. Yes, we certainly hope for a time when all of these maladies, and many more, will be a distant memory. But we also have to admit and confess that we human beings are not—and cannot be—the ones to make that happen. Sure, we can help others, we can give aid, we can improve, in some modest ways. We can even lessen and alleviate some of the symptoms of the things we suffer in this worrisome, fallen world. But we mere mortals cannot overcome the evil. We are powerless to fix the real brokenness.

So let’s be cautious—let’s be discerning—when we listen to the politicians, the talking heads, and the experts in various fields, especially when they talk about bringing about a more perfect world, a less evil place to live and move and have our being.

Our hope is not in ourselves, because we mere mortals are the fallen creatures. We are the lost ones whom Jesus comes to seek and to save. And He comes to seek and save us from ourselves. You see, each one of us has the very same darkness and evil in the heart as did the Las Vegas shooter, as do the political opportunists, as do the terrorists around the globe, as does every tyrant through history, as does every human being on the face of the planet.

We cannot hope in ourselves, but we can and do hope in Jesus Himself. You see, since He does indeed dwell on earth in His Church, He is also with us in the times of darkness. That’s when He gives us the greatest hope. He is there with us in the midst of the darkness and despair.

So cling to His promise in our second reading. Do you want a world without mass shootings and wars and terrorism and natural disasters? Look to the one Man who promises to deliver—and actually can deliver—“a new heaven and a new earth.” He who wept tears of sorrow for us who are so misguided, so enslaved to sin and death—“He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” He who promises “neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” actually went through all the pain that we endure—the pain of loss, the pain of grief, the pain of whips on His torso, the pain of thorns in His scalp, the pain of spikes in His wrists and feet, the pain of abandonment, the pain of suffocating to death. Then this one Man who suffered your death, my death, and the death of every mere mortal actually burst the bonds of death. This one Man—the salvation who comes into our house—actually rose from the grave. Only this one Man can say, “Death shall be no more.”

Only this one Man can give hope for a better life, hope for a new world free from evil and tragedy. In this one Man—Jesus the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man—God’s eternal promise is fulfilled and made real: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” That promise is very real now, as we walk by faith. One day it will be even more real, when we get to live it by sight.

So, dear people of Hope, you have hope in this world of darkness, despair, evil, and death. Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He creates in you a clean heart; He renews a right spirit within you (Ps. 51:10). He restores to you the joy of His salvation, and He upholds you with a willing spirit (Ps. 51:12). And you have the privilege—the high calling—of living, speaking, and showing this hope for all to hear and see. He is making you new, and through you He is giving hope for years to come—hope for a whole eternity yet to come.

If it’s worth hearing once, it’s worth hearing for the one-hundred first time: “Happy Birthday!” Amen.

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