07 October 2019

Homily for Anniversary of a Congregation - 2019

"Faithful God: Past & Future"
1 Kings 8:22-30; Revelation 21:1-5; Luke 19:1-10

Listen here.

When we celebrate our congregation’s anniversary, we look not only to the past. We also look to the future. For us at Hope, today is a bit like January 1st, New Year’s Day. The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. In Roman mythology, he was literally a two-faced god. One face looked back to the past; the other face looked forward to the future. Thus Janus was the god of beginnings, transitions and doorways. So on January 1st each year, we non-Romans still look back to the past year and forward to the coming year. (Of course, Janus was a false god, really a non-god. The myth just happens to be a fitting illustration.)

Today we celebrate 103 years of God’s faithfulness to Hope congregation. And we also look to the future. How did we celebrate the big one just three short years ago? “Our Hope for Years to Come” was our theme. The true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has now blessed our beloved congregation for 103 years. He has shown steadfast love to His servants. He has indeed dwelt on earth by means of His Word and Sacraments. He has indeed come to this house to be the guest of us sinners. He has most certainly come to seek and save the lost—many who went before us and us too. For 103 years God has dwelt with us and we have been His people. He has sustained us with His promise to wipe every tear from our eyes and the sure and certain pledge that death shall be no more. And He still promises to keep doing all of that for years to come.

King Solomon celebrated this very thing when he dedicated the temple. There is no God like our Lord, in heaven above or on earth beneath. He is faithful in keeping His gracious covenant and showing steadfast love. Then Solomon looked to the past. God had kept His promise to David, Solomon’s father. David first wanted to build a temple, but God told David, “You don’t need to do that for Me. In fact, here’s what I will do for you, David. I will make your name great. I will give you rest from your enemies. And “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13).

After thanking and praising God for His faithfulness in the past, Solomon then began looking to the future. “Now therefore, O God of Israel, let Your word be confirmed, which You have spoken to Your servant David my father.” Keep Your promises going, Lord! Then Solomon prays for God to keep His eyes “open night and day toward this house” going forward. Solomon asks God to listen to the prayers of His people in days, weeks, months, and years to come. Solomon pleads for God’s ongoing forgiveness, grace and mercy well into the future.

Solomon finished his prayer of dedication and then gave the benediction: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers” (1 Kgs. 8:56-58). Thanking God for the past and relying on Him for the future—that is Solomon’s example for us.

We find ourselves in the same position today—thanking our Lord Jesus for the past and relying on Him for the future. We can remember our own stories of the past. Reverend Martin Engel serving as our first pastor. Pastor Roschke following him and starting a Lutheran day school. Pastor Bohnert coming along to serve with Pastor Roshcke. Then Pastors Richter and Lucero rounding out the 20th century. We can thank God for Mr. George Stohlmann, the first principal, and all of the other principals and teachers through the years of Hope Lutheran School. We can rejoice in all of the people who have been blessed by hearing the Gospel and receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in this very sanctuary since 1930. We can thank our Lord for all of the students who were blessed with a Christian education to shape them for all of life. God has been faithful to His promises. He has forgiven sinners throughout the past 103 years.

And He still comes to dwell among us in His Word and Sacraments. He still comes to hear our prayers and forgive our sins because of Christ crucified and risen. Even as times have changed, even as we as a congregation have changed, God remains faithful. When we doubt about going forward, when we mentally and verbally wring our hands, when we look to anything and everything except God Himself for our identity and security, God remains faithful.

Beryl Markham was a British-born Kenyan. She was also an aviator, a racehorse trainer and an author. She was the first to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. (Charles Lindbergh, of course, was the first to fly across the Atlantic, going from west to east.) Here’s something Beryl Markham wrote about the past and the future: “Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lies in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it.”

It’s safe and easy to look to our past. Those years have happened; they’re set in stone. Ponder the sacrifices our forebears made to start this congregation and keep it going. When it came time to construct this building, the church sold bonds, members bought them and thus contributed to this structure. Ponder the blessings they all received from our faithful God as well. A congregation that grew through the early decades and blossomed after World War II. Passed years are safe ones. We know what happened.

The future, though, seems to lie in a cloud. We do not know what the future will bring. But we do know we have God’s faithfulness, forgiveness, love and mercy along the way. And this brings us to our second theme of the day: Consecration Sunday. It’s our chance as individuals, as families, and as the whole congregation to look to the future. It’s an opportunity to grow in the grace of generous giving. After all, that’s what our forebears did when they started this congregation. It’s also how we end up in a newly renovated sanctuary with a newly restored organ. Generous giving by two sisters made all this possible. (Okay, we chipped in just a little for the porcelain tile flooring. Still generous giving.)

What can we make possible? What can we, by God’s grace, endeavor to achieve as we proclaim His Gospel? How can we as individuals, families and a church family grow in being generous so that others may hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and have “hope for years to come”?

Our forebears went before us only because of our faithful Lord and Savior. We are here today only because of our gracious giver God. Now we get to strive forward into the cloudy future only because of our Savior who gave Himself, His very all, for us. You see, God delights in pouring out His mercies in abundance. He loves exceeding our expectations. He has proven His love for us on the cross—the greatest act of giving ever. How can we not trust Him? How can we not respond to His love—each of us and all of us—with generosity toward His mission in the Church? How can we not seek to imitate Him in blessing others as we have already been blessed?

“O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like You, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants.” We thank You for coming to seek and save us who were lost. We thank You for bringing Your salvation to this house through Christ crucified and risen. Give us joy in Your salvation. Give us joy that You dwell among us in Your Word and Sacraments. Lead us to be generous givers that others may also rejoice in Your steadfast love. Amen.

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