Sisters and brothers in Christ,
grace and peace to
you in the name of God the Father , Son (X)
and Holy Spirit. Amen.
we celebrate the 88th anniversary of our congregation and the
completion of the Parish House exterior restoration project. And we do so
by dwelling on the lessons appointed for the Sixteenth Sunday after
God’s Holy Words
These lessons are words from God. They are not dusty,
old, outdated ideas from the ancient Near East. They are God’s holy,
precious and eternal Words for us today – just as they were long ago to
the first believers. For this is how God speaks to us. He does not speak
to us by mouth-to-ear like people do, but by his holy book, the sacred
Scriptures. So when we hear the Holy Scriptures read aloud for us, it is
God having his say with us.
in the first lesson we hear God saying to us these grand and glorious
words from Isaiah 35.4, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be
strong, do not fear! God… will save you.’” These are wonderful words
for the weary. They calm our hearts. They reassure us. They say God is on
our side. He will help us. And so we need not worry.
The Gloom of Job 7.7
And we need to hear that. For we worry anyway. In our
hearts Job’s words of old haunt us. In Job 7.7 we read, “My eye will
never again see good.” In our weariness and despair, we doubt God’s
goodness – like Job did. We sin and take these negative words to heart.
We are afraid we’ll never again see any good. We are just like Job. Our
sin holds us in its grip. We cannot shake it off. We’re afraid we’ve
seen the last of any goodness. Job’s words seem to mark us like
we need Isaiah 35.4. We need to know that God is on his way to rescue us.
We need to know what Job should have believed in Psalm 4.8, “Only you, O
Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Yet we flail around. We toss and turn
in our doubt and despair. Job’s words become our words: “My eye will
never again see good.” Too much goes wrong. Too much time goes by with
no peace. God’s help is far from us. Only turmoil and frustration fill
our days. “My eye will never again see good.”
An Unworldly Peace
But Job 7.7 cannot silence Isaiah 35.4. God continues
to bring his salvation. In, with and under our despair and fear, he is
bringing his peace. Fear not, he says to us. Fear not.
Now this peace, I’ll grant you, is
odd. In John 14.27 Jesus our Lord and Savior says it’s “not as the
world gives.” So this peace is an unworldly peace. In it we’ll detect
no familiar form or pattern. And the great apostle,
this won’t stop us from singing its praises. Isaiah 35.4 is in our
hearts – lodged firmly there. And so we must sing out: “Be strong, do
not fear! God will save you.”
must therefore ask: Is there any one here today singing forth these
hopeful words of Isaiah? Or are Job’s gloomy words drowning out all the
rest? Are you only saying: “My eye will never again see good”? Are we
all so stuck in despair that we’re even ashamed to try to hope again?
1917 vs. 1918
Well, I don’t know about you, but I do know that
there have been days when Job’s words have ruled in the halls and hearts
of this church.
1915, for instance, Pastor Olaf Holen came to
by 1918 Isaiah 35.4 was heard again: “Be strong, do not fear! God will
save you.” Pastor Erik Slettedahl found 11 more families and our church
was established just one year after Pastor Holen had given up on it. The
gloomy words of Job had given way to Isaiah 35.4. Thanks be to God!
1933 vs. 1936
But this steadfastness didn’t last for long. In ten
years the Great Depression was on and money was short. Then a catastrophe
hit us. Our minister, Pastor Hans Holte, died in office. The first and
only pastor ever to do so – even though some of you might think that
record has stood too long! But no, Pastor Holte is the only minister
we’ve ever had who died in office. And it left our congregation reeling
with despair and sadness.
and his wife Minnie were dearly beloved. And so our church grieved in 1933
when he died. And Job’s words crept back into our hearts that year:
“My eye will never again see good.” Our district office said we
didn’t have enough members or money to stay open. The church should
close, they said.
two cried out. Minnie Holte and Charlie Johnson begged with the district
office for one last chance. And in 1936 Pastor Anders Aasen from northern
1945 vs. 1950
After WWII ended, our church needed a bigger
building. But we lacked the leadership and money to build one. It seemed
that we were stuck forever in our little white church. In our despair and
hopelessness, Job’s words came back: “My eye will never again see
good.” These words once again filled the dark recesses of our hearts.
We’ll never see any good again. The depression is finally going to catch
up with us.
God is good. In 1946 Pastor Norris R. Halvorson became our minister. He
was just what we needed. And in 1950 we had our new church building – a
magnificent gothic, brick structure. During this time Job’s dark,
brooding words were shooed-away by Isaiah’s bright, hopeful ones: “Be
strong, do not fear! God will save you.” So the new building was built
and paid for in a short time to everyone’s surprise – everyone except
for those listening to Isaiah 35.4!
1958 vs. 1959
Once again, however, Job’s dark words gripped us:
“My eye will never again see good.” In 1958 the congregation finished
our second new building, the Parish House – our office and education
building – and we ended up in conflict over Pastor Halvorson. In a
matter of weeks he was gone, off to
what would become of us?
in 1959 Isaiah’s words were heard again: “Be strong, do not fear. God
will save you.” In that year we were pulled back from the brink when
Pastor Donald Hinderlie became our minister. He preserved what was good
from the past and built upon it. He maintained our new buildings and
protected our confessional, liturgical, parish life in the turbulent 1960s
when guitar worship and folk songs were all the rage. God once again saved
our congregation. Once again those gloomy words from Job 7.7 did not
1970 vs. 1976
But soon it became apparent we needed a grand new
pipe organ to lead our worship in our gothic house of God. From 1970 to
1975 we struggled over what to do. In this turmoil Job’s words sunk back
into our hearts: “My eye will never again see good.” We despaired. We
needed a mechanical-action, tracker pipe organ and an expert organist to
play it – but neither were likely to come our way.
1976 things had changed dramatically – and maybe even miraculously.
Isaiah’s words were back: “Be strong, do not fear! God will save
you.” Our new organist arrived and remains here to this day – expert
and faithful beyond our dearest hopes. And our stunning Noack organ, Op.
83, was also installed. It’s shape, color and sound was just what we
needed. Job’s gloomy words were again silenced.
1987 vs. 1993
But all was not sweetness and light. Low intensity
trouble was brewing in the congregation – and had been ever since 1946.
In 1987 the trouble gave way to a major eruption. Our congregation was now
in the grip of an open conflict like it had never seen before. This was a
time of great stress and loss. There were lies and threats hurled day
after day for years ongoing. Members were afraid of each other. Some said
they would chain the doors of this church shut so no one could worship on
the Lord’s day. Others said we might just as well put a “for sale”
sign in the church yard!
these years of tribulation Job’s words were often heard: “My eye will
never again see good.” But these words did not prevail. Slowly, but
ineluctably, Isaiah’s words returned and we sang out again: “Be
strong, do not fear! God will save you.”
so by 1993 the conflict was resolved. We had a new constitution in place
that blocked inactive members from showing up to vote on contested parish
issues. We had our first mission statement that finally clarified our
theological and liturgical direction. We also finally had a permanent
pledge program that made giving money to this church a serious matter. And
we established a regular pastoral review format that was fair and
efficient to protect both the congregation and the pastor.
1987 no one could have possibly foreseen what finally was to come by 1993.
God saved us beyond our fondest dreams.
1996 vs. 2006
But once again there were property problems. The
exterior walls of the Parish House, built in 1958, were in disrepair with
no solution in sight. We struggled to find a contractor to help us and
nothing worked. All the bids were sky high. We couldn’t afford any of
them. So once again Job’s words were in our hearts: “My eye will never
again see good.” It looked like we could not maintain our property and
it was going to crumble down around us – leaving us nothing to stave it
then ten years later, the clouds cleared. Seattle Glass Company made us an
innovative, durable and affordable offer. And the congregation secured a
large loan – and the impossible was done just like that. The exterior
walls of the Parish House have finally been restored! In the midst of this
excitement Isaiah’s words were heard in the halls of this church once
again: “Be strong, do not fear. God will save you.” And he did – yet
again! This we should have anticipated – given Isaiah 35.4!
Burdened Down By Sinfulness
This quick, partial survey shows the bumps and
bruises from our past. It’s no fairy-tale history! It’s no rose
garden. But it needs to be shown. This is our Biblical heritage. When
facts should not be covered up so we can pretend everything has always
been and now is alright. Our past – like
is not as it should be. And so we must confess our sin. We must repent and
beg God for mercy. This is the common lot of God’s people. And it is so
in the New Testament as well. There we also see dirty linen in
the years I have tried to drive this home. Admit you’re a sinner! –
you’ve heard me preach. Know you can’t save yourselves! Know God hates
sinners (Psalm 5.5) and that you better repent in Jesus’ name!
many have gone against me for preaching this way. They say I’m too
negative – even hateful! I have responded by saying every sermon holds
out the hope we have for salvation in Christ. That’s never missing in
any of my sermons. When we repent God blesses us. So what’s the beef, I
ask? I, for the longest time, couldn’t figure this out. Then one day I
was looking into the blank eyes of one of my critics and it dawned on me.
The words of salvation only work if they’re believed in. If you don’t
believe Jesus saves you, then my sermons are only doom and gloom. For the
law of condemnation is crushing when you’re left to stand before it all
Peace By the Blood of Jesus’ Cross
But do not cave in to your sin. Don’t stand before
the law alone. Look to Jesus. He is your hope. By faith in him those
sneaky words of Job can be held at bay, day after day. By faith in Jesus
the soaring words of Isaiah can be your constant companion: “Be strong,
do not fear. God will save you.”
does Jesus Christ manage this for us? Colossians 1.20 says he makes peace
by the blood of his cross. This is indeed a strange sort of peace –
coming on the heels of a bloody crucifixion. But it’s just what we need.
It is a peace with God that’s greater than any other.
deepest problem is our moral and spiritual failure. These transgressions
separate us from God. When we break his law by not honoring his goodness
and by hurting his creation, God is provoked to anger and condemns us to
everlasting punishment in hell. He’s fierce and there’s nothing we can
do about it. As Luther says in his Large
Catechism, “We lay under God’s wrath,… doomed to eternal
damnation, as we had deserved” (The Book of
into the breach steps our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is punished in our
place – by God himself (Isaiah 53.4-6, 10-12)! This is what’s
happening on the cross (Hebrews 9.14; Ephesians 5.2). If we but believe in
this and entrust our lives to our crucified Lord, then we’re saved from
our sins and the everlasting punishment they inflict on us. Christ has
suffered all of this for us on the cross! Sing praise to Christ!
once faith in Jesus takes hold of us, we have peace with God. And that
peace only comes by the blood of the cross. This is what we should be
holding onto when dark days strike. Days like those in this congregation
in 1917, 1933, 1945, 1958, 1970, 1987, and 1996. For, again, as Luther
writes in that same passage from his Catechism,
“Christ snatched us poor lost creatures from the jaws of hell and
restored us to the Father’s favor and grace…. He made satisfaction for
us and paid what we owed, not with silver and gold, but with his own
come to the altar today and receive Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Holy
Communion. In, with, and under the bread and the wine of this mystery, you
will receive Jesus himself. He is truly present in this sacrament. Eat of
it and he will abide in you that you may abide in him (John 6.56). In this
Holy Communion your faith will be strengthened. In that strength your
faith in the Master and Lord Jesus will grow so that the peace which is
yours may sustain you in difficult times. A peace which will ward off
those hopeless words in Job 7.7.
then do good works in Jesus’ name. Recall this day another word from
that glorious prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 50.4 God tells us “to sustain
with a word him that is weary.”
us then have confidence and trust in the promises of God and share those
words with the weary. Don’t give up on them. Don’t let those words
“fade away” – following modern dictates [Hans W. Frei, The
Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (Yale, 1974) p. 79]. Trust in the Word
of God instead. Tell what he is doing. Promote his way. Don’t look for
substitutes. Don’t run off to the bar thinking alcohol will help you.
Don’t look to drugs for relief. Don’t hope in restaurant meals and
vacations. Don’t see in education and wealth your salvation. Don’t see
entertainment as your only joy. Instead sustain the weary with a word from
God. In the old Latin Bible it puts it this way: sustentare
verbo. Yes, that’s it, sustain the weary with a word – God’s
Word! Sustentare verbo. Sustain
one another with a word! Let that be our clarion cry.
on God for help to see you through this. And he will bless you. He will
give the wisdom and courage and compassion you’ll need to sustain with a
word those who are weary. For God loves you in Christ Jesus and he will
bless you in this good work. He wants you to be strong for the kingdom and
so he’ll work with you that you may not be fearful in the days ahead.
Fear not, says God. Fear not! Amen.
on the sermon as delivered with some revisions.]
“[We] are so damnably ungrateful and blind. God
showers upon [us] such great and rich miracles, and [we] do not consider
even one of them or thank Him for it! But if some clown shows up who can
walk a tightrope or who has monkeys to display, him [we] admire, praise,
Luther, Commentary on Psalm 111 (1530)
Luther’s Works 13:367.]
“The whole world is ignorant of the magnitude of
its sins and does not want to hear about it, and yes, yes it rather punishes
those who expose sins.”
Luther, Disputation Concerning Justification (1536)
Luther’s Works 34:176.]
“I am so very tired of the preaching office, as a
result of the great ingratitude of the people, but much more because of
the unbearable hardships which the devil and the world deal out to me. But
the poor souls will not let me stop preaching. Besides, there is a man,
named Jesus Christ, who says ‘No’ to my resignation.”
Luther, Exhortation to All Clergy (1530),
“The truth and wisdom of God… can be received
only in an empty and destitute heart.”
Luther, Lectures on Romans (1518)
happens through the ministry of the Word.”
Luther, Lectures on Galatians (1535)