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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that nothing’s impossible for God said … AMEN!
The SEABEES are part of the U.S. Navy, they are unique not because they are involved in constructing facilities like runways, landing facilities, fortifications, they are unique because while they are involved in construction they are often under enemy fire. Just like Nehemiah’s men, while some men worked on the wall around Jerusalem, others stood guard with swords and spears. Likewise SEABEES are often portrayed with a shovel in one hand and a rifle slug over their shoulder. Their unofficial motto is “With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once, the impossible takes a bit longer!” I had the privilege of serving with a SEABEE in Naval Coastal Warfare, he was about six foot 3 and as wide as he was tall, he could have been a linebacker. I had to share a two man tent with him for the first four nights we were in Spain, I acquired a lot of sympathy for my wife who has had to sleep with a big moose for all these 36 years.
On this 140th anniversary of First/St Johns Evangelical Lutheran Church, I can certainly say the same for those who founded this church. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have taken to conceptualize (a brilliant mind like John Augustus Dempwolf, who also designed the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital in Harrisburg… and supervised the construction of Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, First Saint Johns is certainly a remarkable achievement.) Also what it must have been like to raise the money, organize the resources to raise this magnificent house of worship, built to the glory of God. I wonder if it took “just a little bit longer.”
More and more we are realizing how vitally important strong Christian churches are to the vitality of our cities. So while we observe the founding and building of this structure, a feat that must have been enormous. Of equal importance are those people who 140 years ago had the vision to see how important a strong Christian ministry is in the heart of the city of York. That these structures were built to inspire awe and a tiny hint of God’s glory, the glory of the eternal, perfect world in our Lord Jesus Christ. I really like bringing people into this sanctuary for the first time and inevitably they will let a reverential “wow” come from their lips as they take in this magnificent house of Christian worship, the place where we join together to raise up God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This all speaks to the fact that there are those in the world who do those things that are to the glory of God, that look beyond themselves, that want, yes, what is best for themselves, but they also know that what is best is not for themselves alone, it is for all. Certainly Christ is best, there is no other way but through Christ. This quote from C.S. Lewis: God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” I just do not understand how people can cope without Christ. They are quick to blame a God they don’t believe in, they have many idols in their lives; their money, possessions (remember the rich young ruler from last week), job/position, spouse, home, on and on. Other idols include drugs, alcohol, sex, power, food… As Pastor Eric Lang notes about today’s Old Testament passage; “Ecclesiastes here focuses more on the danger of wealth to those who are wealthy.” How is that dangerous? It is mortally dangerous! We can’t focus on two idols and Jesus certainly clearly stresses that: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24) Jesus never says don’t have money. Lazarus was wealthy for this time. Jesus doesn’t condemn him. It seems as though Lazarus was more than willing to share his wealth, he uses his wealth to provide for others. Jesus says: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) Remember how God told the rich man who was blessed with a plentiful crop, he had all kinds of plans to hoard and benefit from his produce? “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20) We don’t really know for sure, it was 140 years plus ago, but I would be willing to bet that those who founded Heilige Johannes Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche were not particularly rich people. Either way, their lives weren’t like the rich farmer when he said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (Luke 12:19) Many, maybe most, had emigrated from Germany and their vision was not about being merry, it was about a church that would be a witness to the world around them to the glory of Jesus Christ. Part of that witness was providing for those who also emigrated from Germany and no doubt to help their neighbors. We continue to live that heritage today. I’m not German, but I am Lutheran. Many here today aren’t German, but as a result of this church being here, they have had an opportunity to come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord, they know that they are only saved in Christ. They certainly understand the C.S. Lewis quote there is no happiness or peace other than in Jesus. Sure in today’s world many think they have peace through self-medicating and indulging, but they come to realize how shallow, hopeless and the slavery they fall into when they surrender to worldly pleasures. Only through Christ do we have true life, only because of His sacrifice do we have eternal life in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross do we have that relationship with God in this world and in the eternal resurrection.
The men and women who had the vision for this church, who struggled to bring this church to reality, who served Christ in this church and because of that served so many others, those people understood what Jesus’ words meant. They did not store away their wealth, but they used it as a tool to build this magnificent testimony to the Lordship of Christ and their true life because of Him. By doing that they also have witnessed to Christ to generations of people who have worshipped here, who have received the life-saving message of Christ’s Gospel here. The founders of this church did the impossible, not as men and women, but as the faithful of Christ who were guided by the faith the Holy Spirit gave them and sacrificed time, treasure and talent to build this glorious witness. Because of it God did the “impossible” through them and saved countless souls because of the Christian ministry in this church.
While they are the church waiting in heaven, we who are their brothers and sisters in Jesus, now bear their mantle to continue to witness to Christ, not just in this building, but going out into the community they knew so well to proclaim the life-saving message of Christ. Those who are led by those who are here, then come and join us in this magnificent house of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit to grow in their life in Christ and to raise their children and generations that will follow us.
We praise God for them, for what they have left to us, for those who are here today and whom we have personally known who sacrificed and worked so hard for this church that we join together in, in Christ.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom
Design attribution to Terry Downs
 Eric Lange Concordia Pulpit Resources Vol 25, Part 4, Series B