April 26, 2015

Chartering Service

 

“Unity in the Word of God”

(Matthew 16:13-18)

 

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.  Amen.

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

 

Our text for this very special service is our Gospel lesson – especially the words of Jesus, right after Peter made his great confession:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus then revealed that flesh and blood does not reveal that fact to us, but only our Father who is in heaven. Jesus then went on to reassure us all, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  This is our text.  Amen.

 

What rock?  Jesus Christ built his Church on the Solid Rock of the Word of God, the Word made flesh.  God Himself revealed to us through the written Word that Jesus of Nazareth is the Word made flesh, the Promised One, the Messiah, the One promised by God long ages ago.  At just the right moment in time, God sent that Savior, His only-begotten Son, to save us from our sin.  It makes no sense to us sophomores that Jesus of Nazareth would lay down his life for his enemies, so God enables us to believe by sending his Holy Spirit through the Word to convince us that it’s true, that we do enter the Church by the blood of Jesus, shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

 

As the Apostle John explains to us in chapter 20, Jesus did many things that are not written in the Bible, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

 

“Life in His name…”

 

That is precisely why we all worked together to establish Faith Lutheran Church.  Our goal was to know Christ and have life in his name.  And, knowing Christ, we naturally wanted to bring this saving Word of God to our neighbors in Beaufort – the saving Word of God, which reveals to us still today that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

So, in August of 2008 my family and I made our last Sunday-morning trip to the nearest LCMS church – an hour-long drive to Hilton Head Island.  Wracked by guilt, I drove my own family to a church way out of town – and abandoned the families of my friends and neighbors to the wolves who would tickle their ears with sweet sounding but empty promises.  It’s no secret that more and more churches are changing the teachings of the Bible, fulfilling the prophesy You just heard in our Scripture lesson from the book of Acts by “speaking twisted things.” It’s becoming more and more difficult to find a church that still teaches and believes the saving Word of God.

 

My fellow pastors in Circuit 18 of the Southeastern District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (a circuit that covers most of the state of South Carolina), these pastors shared my concern for the people of Beaufort.  The pastor and congregation of Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Spartanburg actively supported the goal of establishing an LCMS church here by calling me to be their missionary to Beaufort.  That pastor was Pastor John Rickert.  (We owe you a great debt for allowing God to work through you to bring the Word of God to Beaufort.  Thank you.)

 

So, in 2008 we began offering a service in the dining room of Helena House in Port Royal.  Eight people were there – six of them were Crandalls.  Yes, there were two residents and the Crandall Family, a grand total of eight people, who attended the very first service of Faith Evangelical Mission.  The second Sunday we were joined by the Weinrich family – and Faith was blessed with its first elder, Mark Weinrich.  Within a few months, the congregation had grown to more than 30 people.  We had outgrown the dining room of Helena House and it was time to look for our next location.

 

With little savings and a modest income, we could only afford to rent a space by the hour.  From ten to twelve on Sunday mornings, the reception hall of Beaufort Catering at 1013 Charles Street was ours.  There we began to celebrate Holy Communion every week – but we had to (first) sweep out all the cockroaches and (last) put our portable altar-on-wheels and the metal folding chairs back in the closet before we left each Sunday morning.  We made the most of it, though, and even scraped together eighty dollars to rent the space a few extra hours on Christmas Eve for our children’s service.

 

Two years after moving to Charles Street, the congregation had grown enough (in attendance numbers, faith, and giving) to commit to leasing a facility for an entire year at a time.  While we were in the process of locating a suitable place, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in High Point, North Carolina, announced that it would soon close.  It was sad to see a congregation dissolve, but they donated to us this altar and the pews you’re sitting on, nineteen pews altogether, along with a full set of gorgeous paraments and beautiful brass accessories.

 

The congregation all pitched in to paint, carpet, furnish, and dedicate a sacred space for worship – this sacred space.  I like to call it “a modest, yet dignified brick building with two red doors.”  Yes, 1812 Boundary Street in Beaufort is where God is currently blessing the congregation of Faith Lutheran Church with his Word.  That is what unifies us – true unity in the Word of God.

 

And today, we officially become a member congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, joining more than six thousand other congregations here in the United States, and tens of thousands more in our 35 partner churches around the world.  We join them all in a common confession of the Christian faith as set forth in the Evangelical Lutheran Confessions; we unite with the greater Church for mutual support and the common endeavor of proclaiming the Gospel in all the world.  We pray that God would strengthen us in the Holy Spirit that, united in the Word, we may bring glory to the name of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, by bringing His saving name to our neighbors living in a lost world.

 

What we are accomplishing today is no small matter.  No congregation does this more than once.  Today we celebrate our unity, true unity, which is grounded on the Solid Rock of the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ, as He is revealed to us in the written Word of God.  Today we celebrate our unity with Lutherans world-wide in publicly declaring our subscription to the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  This subscription to the Confessions is the bottom line of what it means to be a Lutheran Christian:  We confess the whole Word of God as the Scriptures are exposed in the Confessions, which we have come to know from Luther’s Small Catechism.  In other words (and put quite simply):  This day we join Paul the Apostle and all Christians down through the ages who did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.

 

“But Pastor, don’t you mean to say that other churches are teaching a different interpretation of the Bible, that yours is just one variation and theirs is another – another interpretation that is just as valid as yours?”

 

In a word, NO.  That is not at all what I mean to say.

 

In the first place, the faith we believe, when we subscribe to the Confessions, is not MY interpretation; it’s not as though I all by myself am leading you to where I personally want to go.  This congregation is joining the greater Church that still confesses the Word of God.  It is my confession, but it is far from being mine alone.

 

In the second place, God warns us in His Word that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but (having itching ears) they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Teachings that contradict the word of God are not simply “other variations”, or merely alternate interpretations.  They are myths that lead the sheep away from the Good Shepherd, lies that would lead you away from the saving Word of God.  Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

 

We are not joining some strange cult, but joining our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world who still cling to Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and the Word Alone – the hallmarks of the true Christian Church on earth.

 

You see, if we are saved by the grace of God through our faith (and we are), then what we put our faith in certainly does matter – and it matters a lot.  Eternal souls are at stake.  God would have us trust in the Christ, the Son of the living God, as He is revealed to us in the Word of God.  Eternal lives are at stake – your eternal life.  But as Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The gates of hell are no match for the Rock of our salvation, our Lord and Savior, Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

We tend to wander, like real sheep, so we need to draw near to the Good Shepherd often to hear His voice and be fed richly from His Word.  “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.