“Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Members of Faith, former members of faith, distinguished guests and visitors from near and far: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon on this 50th anniversary of Faith Lutheran Church comes from the theme verse of this celebration, Psalm one hundred nineteen, verse ninety. Dear friends in Christ, in the past eleven years, from the time I left this place to go to college, seminary, and finally service in the parish, I have been involved with a lot of congregations—city congregations, small town congregations, rural congregations, from Nebraska to Indiana to New York and Iowa. And one thing that I’ve learned is that congregations are like people: they each have their own personality. Each and every one of them is different, and I’m not talking about worship or doctrine. Every congregation has distinctive strengths and weaknesses, joys and sins, likes and dislikes. Each is shaped by its history, by the unique people who make up the body of Christ in that place. God doesn’t make congregations with a cookie-cutter, any more than He makes people that way. He has one truth, one Word, but a myriad of different congregations who confess that truth and preach that Word.
And congregations, like people, change; that unique character and personality doesn’t stay the same. Some change is good, some bad, but the simple fact is that change is an ever-present reality. Pastors change; in fifty years of existence, Faith Lutheran Church has been served by a total of three pastors. Three! You have been vacant in those fifty years for only about a year! I don’t know if you realize how abundantly the Lord of the Church has blessed you with stability; but even in that stability, there has been change, from Pastor Hanneman, to Pastor Schauer, to Pastor Bergstrazer, along with many other faithful shepherds who have filled this pulpit during vacancies and vacations.
The people in the pew change; it doesn’t seem like I’ve been gone that long, but when I look out over this sanctuary, I see a lot of faces I know, and a lot that I don’t. People move in, people move out; people leave for a variety of reasons, people come for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. We baptize children, giving them the new birth in Christ; we bury our dead, commending them to the Lord. Each person adds to the personality of the congregation; each one has something new to bring, and we rejoice in those gifts. And with each saint that we lay to rest, we are conscious of what we have lost.
The building changes; Faith Lutheran Church was started in part by refugees from a country parish that had closed (now that building is just down the street); you met in the funeral home until this beautiful sanctuary was built, and now for decades this has been your home. There are some of you here who remember the A-frames going up. I remember a more recent building project, watching the fellowship hall being built. I distinctly remember the fundraising, because even we kids were asked to do our part, and the result was a wonderful facility where we will celebrate later this morning.
The world has also changed. In fifty years, who would expect anything different? When this congregation was founded, our nation was in the midst of an upheaval that we are still feeling today. Christianity was losing its favored place in society, and while in some ways this was a necessary thing, because the Church becomes lazy when she is too closely associated with the culture, the consequences were, and still are, devastating. Whole generations left the church of their parents or were never in the church in the first place. And without a conscience informed by the Scriptures, humanity has suffered terribly: fifty million children dead by abortion, broken families, hurting people, poverty, murder and violence, the destruction of marriage in state after state by divorce and homosexuality, widespread persecution against Christians here and around the world.
The Church is beleaguered, under attack, assaulted by the world. Atheists mock her, terrorists want to destroy her, and apathy chokes her out. We lose the vast majority of the children that we baptize and confirm, a fact that should grieve us deeply. My generation by and large isn’t bringing our children to sit at the feet of Jesus, not from hostility or even atheism, but simply from a deep apathy. And that’s only the outside attacks; inside the Church, false doctrine poisons her, conflicts sap her strength, and so she struggles against the world weakened, maybe even on life support. It isn’t easy being a Christian or a community of Christians in a world that is bent on our destruction.
It’s overwhelming to look back over the past fifty years and see all that has changed in the world and in this congregation, both good and bad. The path that a congregation walks is never a smooth one; you remember the joys, but you also remember the tensions, the conflicts that have been a part of life together in Faith Lutheran Church for the past fifty years. And outside these walls, the world swirls around the Church like a tornado, threatening to tear us apart. All around us is change, but in the midst of that swirling tempest, there is only one constant: “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Everything in this world changes, but God’s faithfulness endures. The Lord of heaven and earth stands tall when all else falls.
His faithfulness endures to all generations; He promised a Savior just moments after the first sin, and He remained faithful to that promise. God’s faithfulness is demonstrated by a baby in a manger, by a man on a cross, by a tomb left empty. God’s faithfulness is summed up by the little Word that casts down the devil: Jesus. Jesus came into our world’s whirling tempest of change and decay, and established Himself as the rock of salvation, the pillar we cling to in the midst of the storm. He purchased and won us with His shed blood, with His innocent suffering and death; He won the victory for us, in our place, dying the death we deserved, rising so that we too will rise. In a world of change, the cross stands firm and established, never to be moved. God proves His faithfulness there; because of the cross every other promise He makes is true, despite anything this world says or does to you: your sins are forgiven by Jesus’ shed blood! You have a place in heaven because Christ conquered death! The gates of hell will never prevail against you because the devil has been crushed by the mighty foot of your Savior!
The Lord never abandons His Church! He says to the devil, to the world, “You can’t have her, she is mine! I bought her with my own shed blood, I triumphed over you, and my victory is her victory. You have no power here!” Christ has never been absent from His Church; from generation to generation He has accompanied her. Sometimes she has been strong and mighty, but more often than not she has been weak and harried, persecuted by the world. Congregations may shrink and close, buildings may crumble and steeples topple, but Christ’s Church endures. He has never left her alone. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” Congregations change, and the world changes, for better or for worse, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus Christ is the pillar that the Church is built on, the pillar that Faith Lutheran Church is built on, the pillar that stands when everything else falls. The Church lives because Jesus lives; the Church is victorious because Jesus is victorious. Here, in this place, God’s faithfulness is demonstrated each and every week, as Jesus comes into your midst to deliver to you the gifts that He won. That’s what a congregation is: lambs of the Savior gathered together to receive His gracious gifts. Christians built sanctuaries to show themselves and the world that their God is firm and established, to preach His steadfast faithfulness that endures for eternity. This sanctuary, and its furnishings, the font, the altar, the pulpit, proclaim the God who is faithful to His promises. How many of you were baptized, like me, in this very font? It stands today as a testimony of what Christ did for us on that day, claiming us as His own. This massive, mighty altar emphasizes the permanence of our God’s faithfulness shown in the sacrifice of Christ: rock and granite that will stand even when these walls come down. “Your faithfulness endures to all generations.” This building won’t last forever, but while it stands, it preaches, and the children of God, one generation after the next, gather here to receive Christ’s great gifts. Faith Lutheran Church is an embassy in a foreign land, an outpost of grace in a world of sin. She stands to proclaim the faithfulness of the God who keeps His promises in Christ.
So stand faithful in the whirling tempest of this world. Stand faithful on the solid rock, the foundation, the pillar of the Word of your faithful God. This congregation was established on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, proclaimed by the Scriptures and confessed in the Book of Concord. For fifty years you have stood as a pillar, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to the world. Stand faithful to the Word, stand faithful to the One who gave that Word to you. Stand faithful to your Lutheran heritage; never be ashamed to be called ‘Lutheran,’ for our Lutheran Confessions, like nothing else, proclaim Christ, the pillar on which the Church is built. You are a congregation built on Christ; do not despair, do not lose heart, this world has no claim on those who belong to Him, the gates of hell will not triumph over His Church. Do not hide behind these walls; the Church may be an embassy, an outpost, but she is called to take the kingdom of God out into the world, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins to a world desperately in need of both. Bring the world to your font, your altar, your pulpit, that here all people may be fed as you have been. In this place, among this congregation, Christ demonstrates God’s faithfulness, forgiving your sins, giving to you life and salvation. Take heart, you have an inheritance that is unchanging, for it is given by the God whose “faithfulness endures to all generations.” In the Name of Jesus, the Lord of the Church, who will bring her to Himself to live forever in the glories of heaven, Amen.