Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - October 8, 2006

Every Sunday since I’ve been here I’ve heard the bell ring to announce the beginning of the service.  It’s an old bell; I think many of you know that; rung electronically now but it has been part of this church since 1912 when it replaced the first church bell that dated back to the late 1880’s but which had cracked.  The bell made the journey from the old church downtown up here where first it was right overhead on top of the roof until it was decided that the weight of the whole structure was putting too much stress on the roof.  Then it was moved to its present location.  It’s been around for a long time.

You might also know that there is an inscription on the bell, one written in Swedish, the language of the immigrants who founded this church.  I’ve known that for awhile; I’ve know there was an inscription, but I never paid much attention to it. I think however, that what it says is a good text for an anniversary Sunday.  What it says, translated into English is what is printed on the front of the bulletin: “Listen!  God still offers you His grace!  Behold the doors of the temple are opening.”

“Listen!  God still offers you His grace!”  Think about the fact that for the past almost 100 years our church bell has rung that message out across this community, across the valley between the mountains of iron as an early church history describes the area.  “God still offers you His grace” is a pretty good summary statement of the gospel, especially the gospel as understood by Lutherans.  Of course the problem is that most people, I assume even most people who faithfully attend this church, don’t hear the ringing of the bell that way.  Like me, you probably have heard it just announcing that church is about to begin so we’d better settle down.  Hearing it announce that God still offers you His grace kind of changes things though doesn’t it?

For 136 years this church has announced the gift of God’s grace.  During that time, in some ways the context has changed; in other ways it has stayed the same.  It’s hard for us to imagine the frontier kind of town Ishpeming must have been in the late 1860’s into the 1870’s as various groups of immigrants came here having heard about the rich mineral deposits, with hopes of earning money in the mines.  Some of the early writing about this church indicates that Ishpeming must have been a pretty rough place; there’s mention of a dreadful spiritual darkness, drinking in the saloons, brawling, indifference to the word of God among many (some of that certainly hasn’t changed), but also persecution of some of the visiting pastors, apparently even an attempt to kill one of them.  Throughout all the difficulties though, the people and the pastors persevered and God’s grace was proclaimed. 

A Pastor Lindahl who was one of the visiting pastors prior to the calling of the first full time pastor in 1873 wrote, “May the church’s Lord preserve his little flock in Ishpeming until it shall no longer be a rose among the thorns but a beautiful crown in our God’s hand.”  The Lord has preserved this little flock, but are we still a rose among thorns?  Is our context that different from what it was 136 years ago? 

A rose among thorns may not be the best metaphor, but in some ways, not just for 136 years but for 2000 years the role of the church has always been kind of like that.  Regardless of the context, in some ways the church should always stand against the prevailing culture and the prevailing wisdom of the day rather than accommodating itself to it.  I don’t know if a rose among thorns is the best way to think about that but the church should definitely represent something different, an alternative script as I’ve called it on other occasions.  That’s worth bearing in mind as we begin our 137th year of ministry and I do think beginning a new year of church life and ministry should be the primary focus of these anniversary Sundays rather than just looking back at the previous years.

The unchanging message of the bell, “Listen!  God still offers you his grace!” is a good place to start our continuing ministry.  Our challenge as a church moving forward in history is first to hear that message ourselves when the bell rings and then to share it with others, to let others know this is what we believe as Lutherans.  “Living in God’s amazing grace” is the slogan the ELCA uses to share this message but I often think that as a national church and as local churches we don’t do a very good job of making this vision known. 

We’re not the only ones who proclaim God’s grace, but the loudest Christian voices out there, while they may not disregard grace, offer a message that comes down more heavily on a judgmental, out to get you God who only loves you if you fit the mold of what they think is correct Christian doctrine and behavior.  I think that starting with “Listen!  God still offers you his grace!” opens the doors to a more inviting, inclusive, welcoming temple which is what we want this church to be because the teachings of Jesus point pretty strongly in that direction.

It is this life giving message of hope based on the life and teachings of Jesus that we proclaim.  It doesn’t make us the only rose in the bouquet, but it does make us one that continues to announce grace in a world where grace doesn’t make sense.  We live in a don’t get mad, get even, you get what you deserve world, where there’s no room for grace.  Grace becomes an unimaginable intrusion or it gets redefined,  becoming limited to those who deserve it and we fail to see how oxymoronic it is to put deserve and grace together, forgetting that deserve’s got nothing to do with it. 

We live in a world where grace doesn’t make sense…yet, just as so many others before us have done, we persist in this belief and proclamation of a God of grace and we trust in and look for the surprising newness that he works in our lives as unreasonable and illogical as that may seem.  “Listen!  God still offers you his grace!”  That’s who we have been and continue to be.

On an anniversary Sunday there is probably nothing more appropriate that we can do than to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Today, Ashley Lynn Chartre becomes the newest member of this church.  It’s a reminder of the ongoing history here as today Ashley is made a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever, and she becomes connected with all the other baptized children of God who have been part of Bethany for 136 years.  She becomes part of the future  history, but also part of the past,  part of those of us who in some ways determine the impact of those who have preceded us.

It’s kind of like bowling.  I know some of you are bowlers, good bowlers, so you know that when you get a strike or a spare, you mark it down, but you don’t mark the score.  The value of your strike or spare, the value of what you have already done, is determined by the future, by what you do in the next frame or two.  The history of the church is like that.  If you look at some of the old confirmation pictures on display, the value of what those people did continues to depend on us as we are guided by the Holy Spirit, just as the value of what we do will be determined by Ashley and others who come after us, guided by the Holy Spirit.

But Listen!  God still offers you his grace!  Hear those words when you hear the bell.  I know having thought about this all week I hear the bell differently now and I hope I continue to hear it as more than it’s time to stand up and make the announcements.  With that as our message, the value of our past grows, the value of our future is secure and promising.  It is the message of Jesus, the message that our world has always needed to hear.

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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