Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Synod Assembly 5/17/2015


John 17:6-19

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.
SA Logo 2014.pngThis morning, nearly 300 people gather at Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan. People of the Northern Great Lakes Synod are meeting in worship and in plenary session from the congregations of this Church.  Our synod stretches across the six counties of Northeastern Wisconsin and the fifteen counties of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We are from 82 congregations.  As your bishop I give thanks to God for your faithful witness here in this community.  I give thanks to God for your partnership in the gospel and in the work of the Northern Great Lakes Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  I rejoice that God continues to provide for the work to which we all have been called.  Thank you for your ministry!  Thank you for being Christ to others!  Thank you for building this Church on the foundation of the Apostles, as we are all sent into the world. Today, centering ourselves around God’s Word and the Lord’s presence in bread and wine, we are sent into the world to worship, welcome and witness.

Have you noticed?  The Church is changing!  Most of our church buildings look a lot like they did thirty and forty years ago.  Some churches have had additions to their physical frame; some improvements have been made.  On most of our churches the roofs have been repaired, the walls inside and out have been re-painted, the sidewalks fixed up.  The buildings for most of our church homes are very recognizable today from what they looked like a half century ago.  Go inside however, and there you will see real changes. It is not the church building that has changed so much, but instead the church itself, the congregation has changed.

12So what is this change? Here are two differences from “What the church used to be!”  One example I will cite to you is near trivial, one is more profound.  When I was a boy, in “the good old days,” people dressed up for church.  Every man was in a suit and tie; every woman wore a dress.  I can still remember women wearing gloves and I can remember men carrying hats.  Well those days are gone! Today there is a new dress code in our churches and its name is “informal.”  Suits and ties and dresses are just about totally gone from Sunday morning apparel.  Is this a bad thing? I will not say it is bad or improper. Our reality is that we have become as a culture increasingly informal in our clothing styles.  It is different than it used to be in our Church. 

But now another difference—and this change is much more important!  When I came to this synod area some thirty-five years ago, the Sunday Schools were large.  In fact the church I served had nearly as many people in Sunday School as we had in our Sunday worship service. The world has shifted.  In 2015, we are struggling to even have Sunday School in many of our congregations.  The church community that worships is aging, and children are not around our churches as much as they were in a previous time. 

Change is happening! At this point I need to make myself very clear.  I am not blaming or finding fault with any of our congregations because of decline in our numbers. I am only recognizing the reality of our situation.  And more than that, I am not telling you that we can go back to the way it once was in our communities of faith.  Northeastern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have changed in regards to our demographics in the past fifty years—and we are not likely going back to packed churches and full Sunday Schools.

The text from the Gospel of John is a call for us as a church to embrace our new  realities, even to welcome this change and to accept the calling of God to be a people of faith who worship, welcome and witness in the 21st century. We are called by the Scriptures to focus our witness, worship and welcome on the Word made flesh.

34So what will worship look like in our future? We are a people with many different ideas on what constitutes “good worship.”  Some of us like piano and organ, others guitar; many are into 17th century organ music, others like Country Western, others 20th century Gospel music, or contemporary praise songs. Whatever the style, and indeed one church service may have “all of the above,” in music the essence of worship must remain.  The center still holds.  God is to be glorified in all of our worship services.  The truth must always be proclaimed. We are one in Christ Jesus and we should pray to be one as God is one.  The Gospel of John reminds us that our worship services must always center on this Jesus. In the words of the Book of Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever!”

The phone rang one morning years ago in my church office when I was serving as a parish pastor.  Laura was on the other end.  AMy dog died and I don=t know what to do.  I am so sad,@ she said.  Yes, I thought to myself, I am about to make my first Adoggy death visit.@  Laura and Waino never had any children.  Their lives have been wrapped up in each other, the church and their dogs.  The dogs were treated as children and they ran the house. So on that day, with scriptures and communion in hand, we worshiped God, thanking the Lord for good dogs as we remembered a now dead pet.

She was quite a lady.  It is fair to say that Laura was eccentric.  She always had a take on local news or world news that was a little “different,” shall we say.  And she was a mystic.  She talked to her dead relatives, and APastor,@ she said, “you are not going to be able to talk me out of it either.”  And I never tried.  Above all Laura was faithful. I was told over and over again by this couple of faith, that they always felt embraced by their congregation.  They were loved by the people of the church, even as sometimes they were just, different!

If you have been a member of any of our congregations for more than 30 minutes, you realize that the church is made up of many different kinds of people. There are Lauras and Wainos and lots of people who are not a bit like Laura or Waino. Yes, we have different genders and ethnic heritages.  We have many older people in our pews and some younger couples and families. We all think differently on political issues. It is true that if you get four Lutherans together, you will have five different opinions represented.  Between 40% and 60% of the people of our congregations vote Democrat and about 40% to 60% of our people vote Republican. And some don’t even vote or care about politics.

5Some of the synod folks are struggling financially and some of our people are definitely not struggling with money.  Some people in our churches have traveled around the world; others have never been below the Mackinac Bridge or have ever traveled south of Green Bay. Some of our people have an eighth grade education, others have done post-doctoral work. You get the picture.  We are all different!  Yet all are a part of the church of Jesus in 2015. Just as Jesus reached out to all types of people, we reflect the living Christ when encourage all to worship and to be a part of our Lutheran congregations.  We welcome all in the name of Jesus.

Jesus in the Gospel of John is a man of prayer!  His prayer in John 17 is known as the Farewell Prayer or the High Priestly Prayer.  It centers on the future Church and is a petition to God the Father that his people might love each other.  And it is focused on unity of purpose and of heart. The prayer says we are sent into the world.

We are all being called, all being sent by the living God to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ. We have been challenged; calledByou name the wordBwe have been sent—and at the same time led to the feet of Jesus.  It is a journey from which we must not stray.  We are not free to make up our own version of Church; we are not free to smile at ignorance about the word of God.  We are not allowed to ignore the Word.  We have accepted Jesus as the final and definitive revelation of God. It is not enough to be spiritual.  It is not enough to be “nice.” It is important to be more than just a group of well-meaning people.  We have a message, a story to tell.  And that story is about Jesus and His life, death and resurrection.

Eugene Peterson writing in The Christian Century said this about witnessing to this  Christ, about telling the story of Jesus

AWe can=t get around Jesus or away from him: Jesus is the incarnation of God.  God among and with us.  Jesus gathered God=s words spoken to and through God=s people and given to us in our scriptures and spoke them personally to us.  Jesus performed God=s work of healing and compassion, forgiveness and salvation, love and sacrifice among us, men and women with personal names, with personal histories.  Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, gathered disciples in Galilee, ate meals in Bethany, went to a wedding in Cana, told stories in Jericho, prayed in Gethsemane, led a parade down the Mount of Olives, taught in the Jerusalem temple, was killed on the hill of Golgotha, and three days later had supper with Cleopas and his friend in Emmaus, none of us are free to make up our own private spiritualties; we know too much about his life.”

And then this summary, Peterson states, which lays out the truth as clearly as I can understand it: “Jesus saves us from wasting our lives...Jesus keeps our feet on the ground...Jesus is God here and now.@

Image result for conversationsCan we talk to our neighbor about Jesus? Can we talk about Jesus, Savior of the world to our children? Can you share the meaning of Jesus in your life to the people you work with? Jesus calls his church to live in the world in verses 15 and 16 of our text:  “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

We do not belong to the world but we are still sent into it.  Oh, yes the world can be very alluring.  There is much potential for disaster in “loving” the world. We can be tempted by so much.  It is easy to fall into our own selfish sin filled desires.  “Jesus is Lord,” we proclaim.  “God is always above country or culture or financial security or popularity,” we tell all who will listen. Yet we often do not rise to the occasion of proclaiming the Gospel. We are too often caught in a compromise to sin, death and the devil. In this prayer Jesus says that he wants the Father to protect us, shield us, and defend us from the evil one!

We Christians are a little odd, at least as the world sees it.  We love each other, even to the point of holding people close to us who have hurt us.  We sacrifice for the other person, even when the other person is interested only in destroying us.  We give of ourselves sacrificially to the work of Jesus in the world.  We put the best construction on our neighbor’s actions!  We keep on trucking, working and moving ahead even when we look into that mirror in the morning and see only decline in our own physical future.  We seek out the lost and the lonely knowing there will be no earthly reward for loving the homeless, the imprisoned or those who make bad decisions. We are called to tell the story, to proclaim the news that Christ is Risen.  And we are challenged to witness to God’s love. We worship a crucified Savior. We welcome the outcast into our lives and we witness to the perfect news that Christ is raised, and loves all even today, May 17, 2015--at this very moment!

God bless the work of your congregation to worship God, to welcome the neighbor and to witness to the Lamb that has been slain.  God bless our synod and our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as we struggle to be faithful to the Word made flesh. Pray for this work. Your church, your pastor, your congregation council president, your leaders’ - clergy and lay leaders alike - and your bishop need your prayers. The Church is changing, but when in our 2000 year history has it ever not changed.  Embrace the change and thrive.

The precious news my friends is crystal clear for Newberry, Negaunee, Pembine and Sayner.  It is completely wonderfully obvious for South Range, Palmer, Rhinelander and Bessemer.  And it is real and forever for all other points on the synod map too!   Christ is risen, and nothing will ever be the same again. Nothing! Never!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Written by Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes

Read by Tom Perry


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
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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