Our Centennial: Jesus is Still Present Among Us with His Grace

Readings: 1 Kings 8:22-30, Revelation 21:1-5, Luke 19:1-10
Hymns: 790, 912, 644, 895

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

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Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we celebrate with great joy 100 years of God’s blessings in this congregation and community. One hundred years ago is a long time in our minds, but a short time in God’s, as it is written, “Beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Much has changed over the last century. What one could buy for a dollar then, now requires nearly $13. Our congregation was organized on January 18, 1920, just two days after the Prohibition went into effect. Eight months later, the organization that would become known as the National Football League was formed. The Roaring Twenties were just beginning. In 1920, Ford lowered the price of the model T from $500 to $395, which helped double sales. Wood was needed in the cars, so Henry Ford enlisted Edward Kingsford to obtain land to produce a sawmill. But what to do with the leftover wood from automotive production? In 1920, Ford Motor Company began making the wood scraps into charcoal briquettes, which eventually became known as Kingsford charcoal. In Pittsburg, the first commercially licensed radio station began broadcasting in the United States. Just 35 percent of American homes had electricity in 1920. The Spanish flu pandemic, which began in 1918 finally came to an end in 1920, but it took about 675,000 American lives and perhaps 40M worldwide.

I mention all this because it is just a tiny sampling of the many changes that have happened in the last century. With so many changes to society, what things of the past should we hold on to? Should we hold on to a church that has been around for a century? And the question some wonder, what is the value of having a church, anyway?

In our day, things that are old are thrown away. While many families have a few old treasures they keep for generations, many household items are replaced every few decades. If it breaks, we toss it. If it seems unnecessary, we get rid of it.

Our world has established gods that it figures are more comfortable than the true God. People love money and their possessions. People love stimulus checks and free healthcare. And if people can make it by without working, then who really needs God to take care of them? While Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25), Jesus visited the rich man, Zacchaeus, who received Jesus joyfully, announced that he would give half of his goods to the poor, and repay fourfold anyone whom he defrauded. So, if we want to assume that many won’t receive the Gospel from already having the god of mammon, we must remember Zacchaeus, and work all the harder at reaching people with the true, saving Gospel.

Sadly, the trend of staying home instead of going to church is increasing at alarming rates. Should churches just accept this trend and throw in the towel? Should we simply consider Christianity a thing of the past, and assume that it offers little relevance in our fast-paced, electronic, entertainment-driven age?

Now, if the Church were simply a relic of past traditions, then I suppose it would be fine to see those past customs be transformed or melded into some new form of tradition or cultural way. But the Church is not just a tradition; it is the bride of our Lord Jesus Christ. God Himself establishes and nourishes congregations. And He delivers His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through the Church’s proclamation of the Word and administration of the sacraments.

We are not talking about traditions, religious concepts, philosophy, or other nifty matters of thought which engage the curiosity of a small subset of the population. Instead, Christ has founded His Church which proclaims the grace of God in Christ Jesus, delivers souls from eternal death, and grants the peace of God and Christ’s forgiveness to all who believe.

When Jesus entered Jericho, that ancient city conquered by the Israelites by marching around the city, there was a crowd following Jesus. This crowd was interested in the preaching of Jesus—the Word of salvation—the message of grace. Here the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah was now present in the flesh. Here you have the Son of God—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity—God in flesh made manifest—walking among the people. Jesus is not a crutch for the weak, a concept for the mind, or an antiquated religious expression.

Instead, Jesus is real. He is God of God and Lord of Lords. He came for a reason. On His way through Jericho, He not only stays with Zacchaeus, but He is traveling with a plan and a purpose. For He has set His face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He is making His way to the Holy City where the Temple stood.

In our Old Testament lesson, we heard a marvelous prayer by King Solomon after the Temple was constructed and the Ark of the Testimony brought to the Temple. The glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord (1 Kings 8:11). Yet, Solomon asks, “Will God indeed dwell on the Earth?” For Solomon knows that “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain” God (1 Kings 8:27-28). It is simply impressive—absolutely astounding—that the God who made the entire universe and formed all life would choose to be present among His people. God placed His name there and He listened to Solomon’s prayer and the prayers of God’s people. And, to answer Solomon’s question, God certainly would dwell on Earth. For God fulfilled His promise in sending His Son when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesus was raised in Nazareth and now is returning to Jerusalem.

Jesus was not going to that city so that He can be impressed by the historical events of our Old Testament lesson, which took place 1000 years earlier. And Jesus is not going to Jerusalem so that He can gaze upon the Temple with astonishment over its size and stature. After all, Jesus is the Temple made without hands, which would be destroyed and raised on the third day (John 2:19).

Instead, Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem so that He can ride into the Holy City on a donkey as the crowds sing their praises of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9) Jesus is heading to Jerusalem to save His people—to be handed over to evil men who seek His life. He sets His face toward Jerusalem so that He can die on the cross and take away the sins of the entire world, including yours and mine.

It’s quite clear that we need this forgiveness. For we have loved our possessions more than God, we have not been like Solomon who prayed, and we have figured that it is fine to avoid God’s house. We have dishonored those in authority by speaking poorly of them, we have hurt people by our words, we have looked at others with lust, we have been like Zacchaeus who defrauded others and failed to help the poor, we have gossiped, and have sought out ways to obtain things that don’t belong to us in ways that may appear before the world as right.

Despite our many sins, look at what God does. He comes in the flesh to save. He actually enters our presence. He has come into this house of worship and He is present among us to bless.

In Jericho, Jesus seeks out the man who could not through his riches make himself taller. Zacchaeus had to climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus among the crowd. And Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down for He is going to stay at this sinner’s home. The crowds are disgusted at this thought. Jesus spending time with sinners in the likes of this rich, tax-collecting traitor? If they had any excuse to dismiss Jesus as irrelevant to them—or even dead to them—this was their chance. But Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10). Jesus came to save the tax collector, who was lost. Jesus came to save the crowd who grumbled at Him. Jesus came to save us, who were dead in our sins and trespasses. He came to forgive by paying for our sins.

He does so by going to the cross, bearing the sins of the world in His body, and shedding His Blood in the place of sinners.

This gift of salvation was treasured by Solomon who prayed to God, saying, “When You hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30), by Zaccaheaus who hurried down the sycamore tree and received Jesus joyfully (Luke 19:6), and by the saints who dwell with our Lord (Rev. 21:3).

It is right, then, for people in our modern age to also treasure Christ, His Word, and the gifts He offers. For mankind remains sinners, and Jesus remains the Savior of the Nations.

So, what do we make of a church that is 100 years old in a world that has changed ever so drastically? We take comfort in knowing that despite all the changes and chances in life, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), that salvation is offered freely by grace to all (Eph. 2:8-10), that despite all the advances in this world, it is clear we remain sinners in need of forgiveness.

So our church will continue to do just that. Comfort sinners with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, direct hearts and minds to Christ, His cross, and His dying, bleeding love. Sinners are pronounced righteous. We are being prepared to depart from this life in peace, for our eyes have seen salvation.

These treasures never grow old or irrelevant. They can never be replaced by more modern ideas. For God, who created all things, has come in person of His Son. And, like He did for Zacchaeus, Jesus is in our house today, among us sinners, who by faith are now declared righteous in Him and have received salvation through Him. Jesus is no longer a stranger. He is not an ancient concept. By virtue of our baptism, we have been adopted into God’s family, which means Jesus is our Brother. We are His brothers and sisters, redeemed by His blood and precious in His sight.

We pray that God will continue to bless this place and all who gather here, that God will listen to the pleas of His people, and when He hears, He will forgive (1 Kings 8:30).

We must always keep in mind that Satan hates our church. He will not relent his attacks until our Lord returns. Therefore, stand firm, dear saints, on the Word of God. Fight the good fight of faith. Remember that you are baptized into God’s family, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, and possess the treasure of the forgiveness of sin earned by Jesus on the cross.

Celebrate this occasion not only with joy, but also with fear, so that you draw near to Jesus, rest in His loving arms, and receive His heavenly blessings.

While much has changed in the last century, God’s truths have never changed, and God’s mercies never end. We need Christ, His Church, and the message of the cross more now than ever.

God bless this church with the pure proclamation of the Word, the proper administration of the Sacraments, and the presence of Christ and His love! And God bless each and every one of you who have heard the grace of God in Christ Jesus with faith to life everlasting. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen