Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 10/7

As far as I can tell, over the years there have been three commemorative booklets published recounting this church’s history.  There’s this one from 1920 which marked the 50th anniversary year.  It’s mostly in Swedish so it doesn’t do me much good other than looking at the pictures.  Then there’s this one from 1945, the 75th anniversary of the church; this one I think translates a lot of the Swedish from the 1920 edition but also of note for me, more of the names mentioned are familiar, names I’ve heard talked about.  And then this one from 1970, the hundredth anniversary, the year that this building was completed and worship moved in here after eight or ten years in the fellowship hall.  This is actually the one I find most interesting mostly because there are pictures of earlier versions of many of you that are kind of fun to look at; lots more hair in some cases.  I haven’t found a 125th anniversary booklet so I assume there isn’t one; the plan must have been to wait for 150. 

What caught my eye this year as I looked again through this 100th anniversary book is the statement in the back; “A changeless Christ for a changing world.”  I got to thinking, is that true?  Was that true?  A changeless Christ for a changing world.  Do I believe that?

The changing world part you can’t really argue with.  There is the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and there is some truth to that; but still you can’t really argue the fact that things were different in 1970 from the way they were in 1870, different in 2007 from the way they were in 1970.  The world does change; Ishpeming and the surrounding area certainly have changed.

It’s the changeless Christ part that made me think.  I know what the intent of the statement was; that the message of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God doesn’t change, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ doesn’t change.  It’s as relevant and meaningful today as it was for the Swedish immigrants who founded this church having come to this place to work in the developing iron mines.  The message continues to be relevant, but does that mean that Christ is changeless??

I’m not sure.  A way to get at this might be to ask, “Is Christ alive or dead?”  If Christ is dead, he’s changeless.  The story is over; his work is done.  But every Easter we proclaim, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  We proclaim it loudly and often and that says that we believe that Christ is alive.  We are in relationship with a living Jesus, not a dead one.  That means the story is not over; the story continues and Jesus continues to move and act in the world through the Holy Spirit.  To me, it seems that could imply a changing Jesus. 

Granted, this all comes under the realm of mystery.  We can’t fully understand it; it can’t be explained by reason.  But as a church beginning its 138th year of ministry, I think it is important to emphasize that this is a place where we are people in relationship with a living Christ.  We’re not a museum church where we just learn about things that happened a long time ago.  We don’t just talk about how God has been involved in the past…with the people of Israel, with Jesus, with the early church.  We do that, but more importantly we learn about Jesus in the present, where and how he is moving and acting in our world and in our lives.

So is that a changeless Jesus or a changing Jesus?   Or maybe I’m talking not so much about change in Jesus but change in us and how we understand Jesus and relate to him?...I can’t say for sure, and maybe it doesn’t matter that much as long as we see it as a relationship, a relationship with a living Jesus, relationship with a living God.  However we understand it, it’s that relationship that I think we should emphasize as Bethany Lutheran Church continues the history that started in 1870.  It’s that relationship that will continue to make us relevant in a changing world and  besides making us relevant it is also defines who we ought to be as Bethany Lutheran Church in the year 2007.

On an anniversary Sunday thinking about who we ought to be is one of the things we do.  It is a time to think about the past and the tradition we build on, the foundation that has been laid by previous generations of Bethany people.  But it’s also a time to think about who we are now and who we ought to be as our history continues.

The title of Walter Brueggemann’s most recent book is “Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church.”  Over the next couple of days you will have the opportunity to hear from him live and in person and I trust that I’ve made it clear how much I hope you take advantage of his presence with us. 

In this book though, and in other places, he talks about the church and the direction he thinks it ought to be headed.  He sees a need for churches that don’t hang their hat so much on doctrinal or confessional certainties, whatever they may be, but churches that emphasizes the relationship with God that the Bible talks about.  The Bible, New Testament and Old describes God in relationship with humanity.  It’s a relationship that isn’t always smooth in fact it can be quite troubling and problematic at times sometimes because of who we are as sinful human beings, but sometimes because God doesn’t quite fit neatly into any of the little boxes we want to keep him in or doesn’t act in ways that we prefer.  There’s a freedom and mystery about God that’s always kind of a wildcard. 

It’s not always an easy relationship, but it is one based on God’s promises, and it is one that despite the ups and downs, we know how it ends.  God has revealed the future, our future to us in the resurrection of Jesus.  So it’s a relationship we engage in hope.  In the year 2007, the difference we can make here is to be known as a church that emphasizes this relationship and the hope it brings.  It’s the truth that has been entrusted to us, the truth of which we are the stewards for now, as others have been before us as others will be after us.

That’s another thing to think about on an anniversary Sunday.  We’re only here for awhile as stewards of this church; others will follow us but we have a responsibility toward them, the responsibility to be good stewards of what we’ve been given.  Rock music legend Neil Young provided me with some insights about that.  He probably didn’t mean to, but he did.

You know that Walter Brueggemann is one of my idols, well Neil Young has been one of my idols for much longer than Walter.  I was listening to his music when I was in my teens and he was in his early twenties.  Now I’m in my mid-50’s and Neil is in his early 60’s and I’m still listening and he’s still making great music.  I feel like I’m kind of growing old with him. 

Anyway, about 35 years ago Neil was looking for another guitar and he wound up with an old guitar that used to belong to legendary country music icon Hank Williams.  As he’s gotten older, Neil seems to be aware that while this guitar belongs to him, it also doesn’t; it belongs to something larger than him, but while he’s got it, it’s his responsibility.  A couple of years ago he wrote a song titled, This Old Guitar, in which he says things like, “This old guitar ain’t mine to keep, I’m taking care of it now…This old guitar ain’t mine to keep, it’s only mine for awhile.”

This old church ain’t ours to keep, it’s only ours for awhile.  But while we’re here, we are called to be good stewards, to take care of it now.  Mostly that means to try to make it what Christ would have it be because in the case of the church, Christ is the something greater it really belongs to.  I believe that Christ wants this to be a place where God’s grace is proclaimed, where because of God’s grace we are invited into a divine relationship and that we are people who are living in that relationship, trying, maybe struggling to live in ways that model Jesus teachings.  It’s a relationship with a living Jesus, dare I say a changing Jesus.

If that’s who we are, this old church that’s been around for years and years will be around for a long, long time.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
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not me
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one who
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