Epiphany 2, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some months ago before the end of baseball being played on the North Side...I watched a video on YouTube that was recorded one mile away from Wrigley Field. The video recorded the sound of thousands of fans singing "Go Cubs Go." Regardless of your baseball allegiance... it was an awesome sound...to hear anything being sung so loudly and clearly a mile away...wow! Do you know what that same stadium sounded like after the last game that I attended last year? It sounded dead. It was the sound of defeat. It was the sound of hopes being deflated. It was game 3 of the NLCS and the Cubs went in the hole 3 games to none. They would be swept out of the playoffs the next night.
Often the Church sounds deflated of its hope and joy as well. Maybe we should sound that way...at least when we look at what is going on around us. Some of you can recall when the seats of this Church were filled. Many of us can recall countless Congregations and schools that have closed in our lifetime. Last year St. Paul, Chicago Heights closed their school. At the end of this school year Trinity, Lansing will close their school. This follows the same unfortunate pattern of our congregations and their schools in Chicago where at one time 10 of the largest LCMS congregations were located ranging from 2000 - 5000 members in 1900; the largest, 1 Bethlehem, having a school with over 800 students.
But ours is not the only church body to suffer decline. All major denominations are declining. It is no wonder that articles are repeatedly published with the titles that include "Christianity dying" in the Huffington Post, Newsweek, and other papers and magazines. Christianity has been dying in the Middle East and Europe.
Many scoffers mock the Church as membership falls. They repeat that the Church is dying. is outdated, worthless, forsaken, and desolate. Often we feel this to be true. We get down on ourselves as we see the empty pews around us. We are saddened as loved ones aren't found in the place we know they need to be; where God promises to be for them and us.
If we believe that we are part of a dying Church we are just as wrong as the world around us. For Christ "is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” (Luke 20:38) Christ is not the God of a dying Church, but of a living and thriving Church! For every Sunday our Church is filled to the brim as we worship with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. For God's Church is made up of all the Saints both living by grace and those living in glory.
Revelation reminds us about God's Church: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-14)
The Church will stand forever dear brothers and sisters in Christ. But that doesn't mean that we can just sit back, relax, and not care. For the Church has a wonderful mission and that mission centers around a wonderful message. That message is that Christ died to save sinners! That message is that God loved us so much that Christ was born to die for us that we would be saved and made children of God.
"For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:1-5)
For the Church's sake; for the sake of God's people; for the sake of all people we cannot keep silent! The love of God found in Christ is too important a message! The message of God's love is a beacon of light in this dark world...and it will never be extinguished. Instead...the nations shall see your righteousness and God will proclaim that His Church and His children are His delight. You are God's delight dear children. You are heirs of His kingdom which continues to grow and shall never end.
As awesome as that Cubs video is of hearing 40,000 people sing "Go, Cubs, Go" is...I look forward to hearing something far greater and awesome...the voice of a great multitude that no one can count from every nation, tribe, and people...the voice of a great multitude that includes my grandparents...and brother... a great multitude that includes Zachary Kyle, our friends sainted newborn, a great multitude that will one day include my parents and siblings, and children. How awesome is it to not only worship with the saints now...but to look forward to the Resurrection when being reunited with all of our loved ones we may sing the victory hymn of Christ with them and all saints; a number that cannot be counted!
The Church is Alive. It shall never end. And we are surrounded this day...and every Lord's Day with a great cloud of witnesses. For we worship with all of our loved ones that have died in the faith; we worship with the entire congregation of heaven. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.