Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 17:11–19
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
St. John’s 60th Anniversary/Fall 2016 Stewardship Week #1
October 8-9, 2016
“Four Words on Stewardship: Thanksgiving”
Happy Thanksgiving! What? It’s not even Halloween (excuse me, Reformation!) yet, so Thanksgiving is a ways off. Not if you live in Canada! Our neighbor to the north celebrates their national day of Thanksgiving about six weeks earlier than we do here in America, and that day is Monday, October 10. Whether you’re celebrating Canadian or American Thanksgiving, our worship today is all about thanksgiving. Our congregation is celebrating sixty years of God’s amazing grace in mission and ministry and as we do so, we also begin a 4-part series on Christian stewardship that is entitled “Four Words on Stewardship.” Want to guess what the first of those four words is? You got it: thanksgiving! As we heard in the Gospel lesson in which Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one of those ten returned to give thanks and praise to God. An anniversary celebration has to begin with thanksgiving. Stewardship of God’s many gifts in life has to begin with thanksgiving. That is what today’s message will focus on: thanksgiving. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The actual date of St. John’s official organization is October 13, 1956. Thursday of this week will be the “official day” of our congregation’s birthday, but like any good celebration, we’ll do our best to stretch the party out for as long as we can. As in much of life, there were many things happening before the official day came about. On August 29, 1955, seven families from the Alexandria-Springfield area petitioned the Mission Board of the Southeastern District (SED) of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) to establish a church in this area. Permission was granted to use the auditorium of Franconia Elementary School for worship services, and the first worship service was held on January 15, 1956. And do you remember how cold it was when we returned fifty years later to the school for worship services on January 15, 2006? Brr! I’ve got people on my mind as we celebrate this weekend: people like Ruth, whom we heard of in the Old Testament lesson (Ruth 1:1-9a), great-grandmother of Kind David; Paul the apostle, and his protégé, the young Pastor Timothy, whom we heard of in today’s Epistle lesson (2 Timothy 2:1-13). Fast forward to the founding of our congregation, and those seven families who began St. John’s. This congregation was served in its founding years by the sainted Chaplain Ottomar Tietjen, who was stationed at the Pentagon at the time. He served as temporary pastor for several years. As we reflect back on all these people from sixty years ago, thanksgiving to God for their vision and faithfulness in those early years is more than appropriate. How can we but offer thanks and praise to God? We stand on the shoulders of many people who have gone before us – a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) – whose life of faith, whose vision for ministry, whose sacrificial giving has blessed us beyond measure. And now we are called to do the same in our own generation.
On this anniversary celebration, a stewardship story is in order here. The mother church of St. John’s is really Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C., who with its pastor in the 1950s and 1960s, Rev. William F. Bruening, was instrumental in the establishment of this congregation. It was Pastor Bruening who helped arrange for Chaplain Tietjen to lead worship services in those early years. It was Pastor Bruening who suggested that a former vicar who had served at Christ, Rev. Paul Meyer, might be a good candidate to serve at St. John’s. Pastor Meyer was St. John’s first called pastor and served here from 1957-1968. And it was Pastor Bruening who pitched to his own congregation the need of this congregation for new and expanded facilities. By the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ Lutheran Church elected to take out a new mortgage for $180,000 on their property, earmarking $100,000 of this as a loan for the Sanctuary in which we worship today nearly fifty years later. Do you see the thanksgiving here? Do you see the sacrifice of energy, time, and funds to expand God’s kingdom then? Do you see what God is calling us to do today which will require the sacrifice of energy, time and money as it did to our fathers and mothers in the faith? And so we wish to bless a new congregation among us, Vine & Branches Lutheran Church in South Riding, Virginia (actually St. John’s “granddaughter”), even as Christ Lutheran Church blessed us many years ago. As we consider our own stewardship response to all that God in Christ has done for us – all that He has placed into our hands both as individuals and as a congregation – all of this is rooted in thanksgiving even as the opening words of today’s psalm remind us: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). Don’t let your thanksgiving stop there – “in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” Let your thanksgiving overflow into love and good works to your neighbor where you live and be that blessing to those around you in Jesus’ Name.
Before our congregation was officially organized or had its first worship service, people came together in one another’s living rooms for Bible study, prayer, worship, and fellowship. The vast majority of congregations began and still begin this way: the people of Christ gathering in one another’s homes. The truth is that this is where we are headed in the future with mission starts and church plants. As we join Jesus on his mission, we realize that the mission field is all around us. Right now, our Southeastern District has 212 congregations scattered over a multi-state area that has a population of some 32 million people. That mission field is way too big for these several hundred congregations to handle. What do we do? Do we wring our hands in fear and uncertainty at the enormity of the mission before us? Or by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, do we see how the Holy Spirit will take us back to where we began and use the living rooms of these 60,000 people in the SED to touch people in our neighborhoods and communities with the good news of Jesus? That is the key to the future as we take the Gospel to where the people are and the church is not. I believe the Lord may well be calling us from a temple understanding of church to a tabernacle understanding. It will always be important for God’s people to gather together around Word and Sacrament where we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. That is the temple. But let us not lose sight of the importance of tabernacle! Before the temple was ever built by King Solomon, there was the tabernacle – a mobile unit of God’s presence that was placed among God’s people wherever they went. It was nimble and portable. And now in Jesus, “the Word made flesh who dwelt among us” (John 1:14), we have a new tabernacle - not a place, but a Person – where God’s saving presence may be found. We follow him who loves us and gave his life upon the cross for us. We follow him who is our new tabernacle out into our neighborhoods and communities to be Christ to our neighbor. This is the new missionary age in which we live, and it is cause for thanksgiving! God chooses to work through his people, through you and me, to bless the lives of others and share with them the message of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Jesus that makes an eternal difference. We have a changeless Christ for a changing world – always.
In healing the ten lepers, Jesus restored them not just physically, but socially, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Of the ten healed, only one returned to give thanks and he was an outsider, a foreigner, a Samaritan. Funny thing: sometimes it is the outsiders who have something to teach us who are insiders. That was only a 10% return on Jesus’ investment. We might not consider that a very good return. Were we in Jesus’ shoes (sandals), we might be tempted to cut our losses and invest in something or someone else. But remember that little is much in the hands of Jesus. The investment of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in each of us is immeasurably more than we can imagine. And so let us return to give thanks, not only on this anniversary celebration, but each and every day. Let us return to give thanks so that our thanksgiving becomes thanksliving.
Thanksgiving is the first word on Christian stewardship. There are three more to come in this series of “Four Words on Stewardship.” Four words on stewardship leads to forward in stewardship as we look ahead to what the Lord of the Church will yet do in us and through us and among us here at St. John’s. To God be the glory! Amen.