Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 08/28/2016

Today is my last Sunday as your Intern at Bethany, so this is my last sermon here. The past couple weeks I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about finding a way to say good-bye, and I decided to distract myself by doing something, which is for me, brand new: preaching from the second reading of the day. In the eighty plus sermons I’ve preached over the last few years, I’ve always used the Gospel text, except for one time this summer – after Orlando – when I used Psalm 22 – a psalm that I felt helped us lament what had taken place. And now today, I’m using the New Testament reading, a text from Hebrews.

Now Hebrews is not what most pastors would refer to as a much beloved book of the Bible. One of the commentaries I looked at mentioned that if a person wasn’t careful, reading Hebrews could lead to frustration, disappointment, and a lack of benefit, so I realize I’m taking a bit of a chance here. Pastor Geier isn’t sure that he’s ever preached from Hebrews; we talked earlier this week about how some scholars feel the book was based on that other not-so-beloved book: Leviticus. Leviticus is all about the priesthood from an Old Testament perspective, while Hebrews focuses on replacing the “old priesthood system” with Christ’s unique priesthood.

The Book of Hebrews is considered a “letter slash sermon”, and the thinking is that the congregation being addressed here is found in Rome, most likely one that’s meeting in a private home. This type of congregation would be made up of people from the household – family members and some of the servants – along with associates and friends, maybe fifteen or twenty people in a typical gathering. These are people who’ve not actually followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, but afterward. They’re men and women who are responding to preaching about Jesus.

These are early days in Christianity, far from Jerusalem, and there are certainly temptations to disregard the claims made by those who have been witnesses to Jesus’ life, and his death and resurrection. Christianity is a fledgling religion at this point, and some of the earliest preachers are starting to die off. And with the early leaders dying off, it would be pretty easy to lose faith and just assimilate right back into Roman society, with its imperial cult and official gods.

So the Hebrews letter writer, who in this case is actually a preacher, is wrapping up the sermon where we’re reading today, cautioning these congregants, knowing that there are many struggles and hardships to come. These people are going to be faced with a decision: given the difficulties ahead, do we continue affirming our early Christian faith or do we abandon it?

Well, with Hebrews, the preacher is encouraging listeners to keep the faith, to pursue peace and holiness, to worship God. And then, in order to prepare for worship, the preacher offers some basic guidance and instructions: show hospitality to one another and to strangers … remember those in prison, those who have been mistreated … honor your marriages … and be free of materialism. … caring for others. For neighbors.

Good and moral words to live by, back then … just as relevant now.

So, true thing for me: from my earliest days, I’ve been attracted to the moral aspects of Christian teaching. I remember as a child, being absolutely taken by the Beatitudes, because I heard in them a list of things to care about. While I didn’t really understand what was meant by phrases like “the poor in spirit” or even “the meek”, I just knew Jesus wanted us to have concern about others – to be merciful and pure in heart and to be peacemakers. These were things I could grasp hold of and even try to accomplish in my young life.

And it’s carried forward with me over the years – maybe some of you feel similarly – that desire to live honorably and ethically … and when we’re in the sanctuary, we have a desire to hear a bit about what we’re “supposed” to be doing. Over the past twelve months, maybe you’ve even noticed that I’ve snuck in a few “shoulds” in my sermons … The Law … I’ve been very careful in how I do this – lest I get in deep and hot water theologically – so I share “shoulds” in response to the great gift given to us, the grace of God in Christ Jesus: the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.

So not every week, but sometimes, with the passages we’re given, it just seems right to delve a bit into how we live as Christians, just like the author of Hebrews is doing in our text today. This preacher is explaining how to go about pursuing peace and holiness and worship by conveying ways to live out our daily lives: showing hospitality; thinking of those who are imprisoned; caring for our families; and knowing, in our hearts, when enough is enough of the material stuff. We, like the hearers of Hebrews, sometimes need reminders within the context of a Sunday worship – as part of the overall worship experience.

And worship is something you all take very seriously. Bethany Lutheran is a church that cares deeply about worship and the worship experience. Every Sunday you come together to participate in a wonderful liturgy, beautiful music, an amazing choir, thoughtful, grounded, grace-filled preaching, and active participation by all ages. This year I’ve been so grateful to be part of special worship services that most churches don’t take time for – like Christmas Day and Epiphany, Easter Vigil and Ascension, and mostly recently, Morning Prayer. After each service, we leave refreshed, ready to live out our Christian lives in our many and varied vocations: in the workplace – at home – at school – in our free time.

But worship services aren’t all there is about Bethany. You’re not just a “Sunday” church. You’re here and active so many days of the week. I can go on and on about the fruits of your time together – ministries for children – giving schoolkids a safe place to hang out and have a snack and in theory, get a bit of homework done; there are the school kits sent to kids who can’t afford the cost of basic supplies and baby care kits to welcome the littlest ones into the world. Kids are encouraged to try out a camping experience and join with others for summertime fun at vacation Bible School. And that’s just the kids!

For adults, there’s more. For those who have lost everything, you make up personal care kits – soap and comb and toothbrush – basics we all take for granted. You help out those who are ready to learn a marketable skill by creating fabric kits. And there’s a great deal you do for neighbors needing life’s basic necessities: food for the hungry, quilts for bitter cold, prayer shawls to comfort, blood for patients in need, and funds to shelter the homeless and avert wintertime utility shut off.

As part of this church, you live your lives in service, right here, together. You are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. It’s been a fantastic year for me, watching as this happens around me.

And there’s even more. You grow strong in faith as you learn together through Bible and Book studies and Lay School, as you teach our children. You brings news and special moments when visiting with our shut-ins. And you bring this sanctuary to life each week, filling it with God’s gifts given you in music. You’re in fellowship – the Grumpy Men … and the Circles … and the Quilters – caring for one another and for the world. And we don’t want to forget the faithful ones who meet together in committees to hash out all the operational details, so essential to day-to-day ministry.

This is a church full of life and hope and promise.

And now I must leave to complete my seminary education, but I leave with wonderful memories and for this I thank you. I couldn’t have asked for a better teaching congregation. There are so many people to thank. First, I thank Assistant to the Bishop Pastor Katherine Finegan for bringing my name to Bethany as a potential intern. I am ever grateful. I want to thank Pastor Geier for taking a chance with me, and for all he’s done for me this year, all he has taught me, the freedom he gave me to do my work. It’s been a great working relationship. I thank my Internship Committee members who have been available for me whenever I needed them: Rae and Gwen, Donna and Bob, Tom and Dan. I sincerely thank our staff – Carrie, Bob, Tonya, Linda, Linda, Wendy, Pam, and Tom, and our “virtual” staff member, Gary, for your willingness to help me along the way …

And I thank all of you for an incredible year.

I leave this church knowing that you’re grounded and growing in mission, that you’re responding to the grace of God in Jesus Christ by living out your Christian calls. As the writer in Hebrews commends, you are pursuing peace and holiness as you leave here each week, strengthened in God’s word, pursuing your missional focus and fellowship – only to return each Sunday to worship God and hear the Gospel once more.

We share this good new in common – the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that bring us forgiveness and eternal life. Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein

 
 

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
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