29 July 2019

Homily for Re-Dedication of Sanctuary and Organ

"Making All Things New"
Revelation 21:1-5

Listen here.

Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Missouri, USA (2019)
Flashback to 1931. The date was January 18. This space, its organ, in fact, the whole building were brand spanking new. What exhilaration, what excitement, everyone must have felt! Some of them remembered the small portable chapel of the early days. Many of them had worshiped in the basement chapel since 1922. But nine years later, they got to move into their new space—this space—and hear their new organ.

Theodore Steinmeyer, the architect of this building, wrote about the features of the building and this space. After explaining the many details, he concluded:
“This sanctuary is truly a shrine, before which one is brought to grace; where one may hear and meditate on God’s Word; pray and praise; [promise] one’s faith and love; and where one may long to be brought, when entering through it, as a gateway to the Heavenly Mansions above.” (Dedication booklet, 1931)
Fast-forward back to 2019. Today, July 28. This space and this organ are new once again. And here you are, feeling the exhilaration, the excitement. We did not worship in a portable chapel, but we have been in the basement—the catacombs!—for nine months. And now we move back into our new space. Now we hear our new organ. In fact, our organ is so new that it now has new-to-us pipes that were made in 1898, long before our original organ was even born. :-)

How fitting, then, what we hear from our gracious giver God in Revelation 21: “And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Our God is a God of things new. His business, His will, His purpose, His mission in life, is making all things new.

We’re not talking “out with the old; in with the new” the way 21st century American culture does. Too many people think world history began the day they were born. Too many people assume that things of the past are, well, boring and tedious. Give us the future! Let us make our own new day! Why bother with all those old people and old notions of centuries past? When I was growing up, the “oldies station” played music from the ‘60s; now it plays the music I rather liked in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Oh, and you’re using that old smart phone? That is so last year! When we Americans think of something new, we think of something that was not there before. We think of something that has just appeared on the scene, whatever is most recent in history’s flowing river.

That’s not what God means when He says, “I am making all things new.” The Greek word indicates a newness in kind and quality. God makes all things “new” and distinctive, new in nature, different from the usual, superior in value.

The apostle John got a glimpse of God’s new things: “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” John got to see beyond this fallen, broken creation. He got a preview of the perfect creation yet to come. You see, we all know this world—this first heaven and first earth—is tainted, imperfect, damaged, painful and broken. Tornados and earthquakes remind us of that, as do the cancer diagnosis, the shooting of an innocent girl, the strained relationship, the mob riot and so much more. But John got to see all of that—all the mess of sin and death—in the rear view mirror, passed away.

Then John adds this: “and the sea was no more.” Does that mean there will be no oceans or large bodies of water in the new heavens and new earth? Not likely. After all, in the first creation God did create the seas and all of the creatures that live and swim in them. He even called them good. After the Fall into sin, though, “the sea” comes to represent our real problem before God. “The sea” comes to stand for the deep chaos caused by sin—our sin. It stands for the fearful gulf that separates us human beings from God—the separation caused by our sin and our rebellion against Him.

That’s “the sea” that will not be in the new heavens and the new earth. When God makes all things new, He removes the deep, dark, chaotic gulf that separates us from Him. When “the sea” is gone, so is the fear, so is the terror, so is the pain that comes from being separated from our gracious giver God.

As John beholds this preview trailer of the new heavens and new earth, he also sees “the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” But this is not a plat of land with criss-crossing avenues or winding streets, with buildings of different designs, shapes and sizes. No, that’s so old-creation. This city, this new Jerusalem is dressed and adorned as a bride. And she is ready for her man, her husband, her Lord, her Savior. You see, He is the one who loved her and gave Himself up for her. By His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection, He has sanctified her; He has cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. He is the One  who adorns and beautifies her. He presents her to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (cf. Eph. 5:25-27). This city is you—God’s redeemed, faithful people, the Bride of Christ, the Church. This is how God makes all things new.

Parsons, Opus 49
You see, “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’s really what we celebrate today—not just a new look, some new artwork, some new pipes and a new sound. We celebrate God dwelling with us fallen creatures. We celebrate God Himself—the Son of God—becoming flesh and dwelling among us full of grace and truth. We celebrate Him who sacrificed Himself at the great expense of His life’s blood. We celebrate that He gives the unending treasure and joy of life with Him in His new creation. We celebrate that we may look forward to that new heavens and new earth.

We certainly thank our gracious giver God for the ability to renovate our organ and sanctuary. What a gift! But let’s thank Him even more for His renovation of the universe through His Son. Let’s thank Him even more for His renovation of us through Jesus’ blood. After all, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.” All the tears, all the disappointments, all the hurts, all the sins—either done by us or done to us—He will wipe away. All the loss, all the sadness, all the death, all the grief—He will erase and delete forever.

“Behold, I am making all things new,” the Father says from His throne. The Son accomplished this newness on His cross. The Spirit breathes this newness into you—when you are baptized, when you hear words of Absolution, when you eat and drink Jesus’ very Body and Blood. All this gives eager anticipation and fervent hope.

This hope is what our space and organ proclaim. Yes, they also preach our Savior making all things new. When we enter, we cannot miss the font. Baptism is our entry into Jesus and His Church, our entry into this new life of hope, this journey of life with Him all the way to eternity. As we go from font to altar, the images point the way to the new Jerusalem, the new creation:
  • An empty ark after its occupants entered a post-flood new world;
  • God’s rescued people crossing the Jordan River into the Promised land;
  • Water turned into the bountiful best wine of our Savior’s new creation;
  • Five lit lamps of five wise virgins as they wait for Him and get to be included in His cross-won wedding feast;
  • Our Savior’s promised return on the cloud when the trumpet blasts;
  • The great multitude gathered around His throne in the new heavens and new earth;
  • The new Jerusalem, the tree of life, the river of life, all provided by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and gives us His life;
  • And, finally, the Lamb and His bride, the Church, consummating their union with the grandest wedding banquet ever.
Wedding Banquet of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church
At this end of the space, we come to the throne of the Holy Trinity, the holy of holies of the Alpha and Omega Himself. We gather to hear Him in His Word and feast on Him in His Supper. Here we get a foretaste of the feast to come. Here we are made new over and over again. Here we enter heaven on earth. Here Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and He bears His new fruit in and through us. Here He renews us time and again until we get to see what John saw.

And the organ! What a day to dedicate a newly renovated organ—this day when the Church remembers Johann Sebastian Bach. And the prayer for remembering Kantor Bach expresses joy that we on earth may glimpse the beauty and richness of our Lord’s new creation through music.  So in this organ, old pipes refitted to sing better. Other pipes added to increase the chorus. All pipes rearranged and repositioned to blend their voices to greater effect. Did you know pipes have mouths and voices? Those mouths and voices serve and aid your mouths and voices to sing our Lord’s new song. “For He has done marvelous things! His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him” (Ps. 98:1). Whether we sing or listen as the organ sounds waft around us, we are drawn to our Lord who makes all things new. After all, music in a sacred space is new and distinctive, different from the usual. With it we learn to thank the Lord and sing His praise. With it we have hope all our days. With it our Lord prepares us for His new heavens and new earth.

Brothers and sisters of Hope, welcome home! How exciting to be back in our sacred space and hear our organ! To our other brothers and sisters with us today: thank you for joining in our joy. Thank you for your prayers, your support, and blending your voices with ours. While the new sights and sounds exhilarate us now, let’s all remember this: we haven’t seen or heard anything yet. Just wait until we get to see and hear our Lord’s  renovated heaven and earth! Amen.

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