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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sermon for our 125th Anniversary Celebration

125th Anniversary Celebration

Called. Gathered. Kept.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Grace, Mercy and Peace to your from God our Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ.
    1 Peter 2:9-10
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  

Some months ago, the steering committee for this 125th anniversary celebration settled on a theme for our observance.  Called. Gathered. Kept.  For the next few minutes let’s meditate on how God has blessed us these past many years, and then let’s meditate on the hope we have that God will certainly continue to bless us in the future with all good things, because He loves us in Jesus Christ. And we will organize our thoughts around the three part them: Called, Gathered. Kept.
In Matthhew 22, the Gospel reading for the day, Jesus uses a parable to teach us what it means for a person to be called into His Kingdom. He says it’s like a King who throws a great banquet. All these people were invited to come, and they excused themselves. They were too busy for such things. They had what they felt were much more important matters to attend to. Even worse, some of those on the King’s guest list were so rude, so disrespectful that when the delivery boy came around with their invitation, they beat him up, mocked him and killed him.  
The King is understandably angry. He has a punishment in store for all those who despised him and who mocked his invitation. And then He turns to the servants and says, 'The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.'
And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Jesus uses stories, parables to make a point. Sometimes the point was obvious to everyone, sometimes it was hidden a bit, only understood when you had further instruction. This parable is relatively easy to understand. The King represents God. The Banquet, His eternal salvation and the heavenly bliss that is to come. The servants are the prophets of old, the apostles and the preachers of every generation who proclaim to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His invitation.
One of the most intriguing things about this parable that Jesus tells is how rude, murderous even, the people on the guest behave. Incredible! Why would they turn down an invitation to the King’s banquet? Why would they get so upset about it they mistreat the messengers? Yet it’s the sad truth that whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached there are those who reject the beautiful invitation of Jesus. These rude people in Jesus’ parable represent all those who have rejected his message, ridiculed His call, and persecuted His servants.
So, in the parable, the King has his invitation go out to the highways and byways, to the alleys and gutters, He invites the wayward, the lowly, the ones no one expected to be picked.
These folks, the last ones represent. . . well, when you hear this parable it might take you a second and then you say, wait! Is that us? Are we the 2nd class citizens, the scum of the earth, the ones invited as a sort of last resort? Is Jesus saying here, that we are not as special as we sometimes think we are?
This parable of Jesus is hard news to those who do not come to Jesus when called. But it is also a humbling message for all of us. We have nothing in ourselves to be proud of. We have no fame to claim. We have no credit to take.
The catechism teaches us to say, I  I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith
When the Holy Spirit in His word brings us to the proper reality, that we are by nature poor miserable sinners, worth less than nothing without Jesus, then It is incredibly good news to hear the King call us, invite us to His eternal feast.
You who have no goodness in yourselves, who have not done enough good, nor will you ever, you who have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what you have done and by what you have left undone, You have this one thing, and only this thing going for you. . . 1 Peter 2 you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 
God has called you, you who have been baptized. When He washed your sins away, He said, now you are born again born into my eternal kingdom. Your name is written in my book of life, the guest list of the eternal celebration of heaven.
God has called you, as you learned His word in your Sunday school class, your catechism class, even the little bit you learned in Vacation Bible School. His word you learned is His Call to you believe and to follow Him through life and death and into eternity.
We as a human race are becoming more and more isolated.
In 1890, 125 years ago, there were 1.6 billion people in the world. Now there are 7 billion. At different times along the way, so-called experts have come out with dire predictions of overpopulation that would lead to doom.
But now ironically, the problem is not that we are living with too many people. The problem is that so many withdraw from other people. Billions in the world are lonely. There is a higher percentage of lonely people now that there are Billions than there were when there were only hundreds of thousands.
We are becoming more scattered, less gathered.
And when life gets hectic and life tells you “Go, go, go!” I know the feeling you have. You just want to be alone, isolated.
God has called you by the Gospel.
God has gathered you into a church.
I must insist dear brothers and sisters in Christ that this is Gospel. It is good, blessed news that God has gathered you with others into something new.
In eternity, after the resurrection we will all be free from our hang-ups, free from our anxieties, free from our phobias. We will fully enjoy our life together. We will rejoice to be a part of that great crowd of saints, that no one here and now can number, surrounding the throne of our Lord, worshipping and serving Jesus.
In the meantime, we are getting used to it now.
When we are gathered it’s a blessing for ourselves and for each other. We witness to each other , we witness about Jesus and His resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives faith by means of the Word and Sacrament but He doesn’t tend to do that in isolation, but among His gathered people. As there is a shepherd and a flock of sheep, so there is a preacher and a congregation of hearers.
When we are gathered it’s a blessing for ourselves and for each other. We are an encouragement to each other, giving and taking encouragement from those our Lord has given us in our congregation. We pray with each other and for each other.
Thanks be to the God who gathers scattered souls.
God has kept us in the faith. God has kept this congregation faithful for 125 years.
Again, this is a miracle. It has come to be not by our reason or strength, not by the charisma of leaders, not even because of the wise fore-though of our founding fathers, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has kept us even despite our flawed human works and even through challenging times.
Let me give an example of one of the challenging times through which the Holy Spirit has kept this congregation.  I will read from the minutes of the voters’ meeting of January 12, 1931.
“After a very lengthy discussion of the ill feelings of several members of the Congregation toward one another. . . . (note: and here I am going to leave out the names of the parties involved because some of you are related to them.)  [a member] moved and [another member] seconded, That all those, who were in favor of forgiving the wrongs which others have done to them, and asking those to whom they have done wrong for forgiveness, and willing to forget the past, and willing to shut up about it, and tell the women to keep the Church’s affairs off the telephone lines should stand up. ALL present stood up.”
Now you don’t even need to know what the particular issue or issues were that started this problem, but you can relate to the kind of uncomfortable difficulties it caused.
Can you see that the Holy Spirit was working in the midst of this congregation? That’s how He works on us. He calls us to repent. He leads us to the forgiveness of Jesus. We ought to regularly pass resolutions like this, whether we feel it’s needed or not.
You are kept. That’s Good News for you.
Especially it’s good news of you because it is from this church that you buried your loved ones. God promises to keep His sheep.

Promise – That’s how God talks to His people.  It’s His job to promise. It’s your job to believe. He promises to keep you in the true faith until you die.  How does He keep that promise? When you repent daily and drown your sins like they were drowned at your baptism, and when you believe the forgiveness of Jesus His Son daily and forever.  Amen. 

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