Remember! Give Thanks!
WELCOME to this special worship service of remembrance and thanksgiving to our God.
225 years ago today the Declaration of Independence was signed. We have come to know this day as "Independence Day" and the "Birth Day" of our nation. Today and tonight Americans all over our country and all around the world have been celebrating FREEDOM, PROSPERITY, and a summer holiday. Patriots find the celebrations to be empty when people celebrate the day just because they don’t have to work and can go to the lake, meanwhile forgetting the historical significance. Even when celebrators think about the significance of the holiday, they often times forget the God whose power and grace it is that gives us our country, her freedoms, and prosperity. TONIGHT we REMEMBER and give THANKS!
More recently, just 30 years ago, the building in which we are now worshipping did not exist and its predecessor lay a smoldering heap and charred shell. It is so easy to come to a worship service, walk through the doors, sit down in the pews, and forget what a blessing it is to have the freedom to worship, to have a group of like-minded believers with whom to worship, and a physical church home together with all of the furnishings. Having an abundance of blessings day by day can lead one to forget how in His wisdom God might all of a sudden stretch out His chastening hand and take things away from us…for our blessing. TONIGHT we REMEMBER and give THANKS!
Even more recently, indeed currently, we experience the forgiving grace of God day by day in every day of our lives. Today, you have sinned many times in thought, word, and deed; and so have I. Today the grace of God and the forgiveness of all your sins through Jesus Your Savior is just as real as they were yesterday and as real as they will be tomorrow. In the rapidity with which we live our lives, it is easy and fashionable to forget the depth of God’s mercy. TONIGHT we REMEMBER and give THANKS!
Meditation I - Remember Repentance!
"It would have been a simple matter simply to have let the announcement go out this morning that there would be no services at Immanuel Church. It would have been only natural if we had gathered outside the church doors and had stood there wringing our hands at the wretched sight which we beheld. It would have been so simply natural if we had gathered together and poured out upon each other's shoulders tears of self-pity at the sight that we beheld. But if we had done that, then we would have failed to learn from our God the lesson that He surely is bringing home to us in this dramatic fashion."
With these words Pastor Robert Reim began his sermon on the Sunday morning of July 4, 1971 to a congregation without a church building gathered in the auditorium of what is now West High School.
It is, perhaps, a bit unusual to remember a disaster with a special worship service. Why remember a fire that destroyed a church building? The calendar helped in this by bringing July 4th thirty years later on a Wednesday, when we have a weekly evening service. But more than that, we are not so much remembering the fire as the lessons which the Lord taught through that fire. The lessons the Lord brought to His people through His Word on the day the fire and in the time thereafter, are lessons of TRUTH which are ours also to learn, 30 years later. Learning the truths and lessons which the Lord taught through His chastening hand was the focus of the sermon that Sunday morning based on this text from Hebrews 12:5: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’"
Pastor Reim continued…
“We have felt the chastening hand of God this morning. . . lessons of crisis and hope. When the Hebrew Christians felt the chastening hand of God, then the holy writer had to come to them and remind them that this is precisely what they must expect from their Father in heaven. . .If we can go past the corner of Second and Spring Street today and not see there the mighty hand of God at work, then we have lost something very precious and something very important. If we are going to charge what has happened to accident, or if we are going to charge what has happened to the violence of nature and see nothing more than that in the destruction of a church building that is precious to all of us, then we have missed what our heavenly Father in His grace and mercy wants to tell us this morning. This is His doing, and let no one ever forget it! Once we have recognized that and reminded ourselves of that and impressed that upon our hearts, that this was the solemn judgment of our God that this church building could be destroyed on this day, then we are in the proper frame of mind to hear Him out and learn from Him what He wants to teach. For He is speaking to His "sons," not to strangers. When He let this building be destroyed this morning, He was touching each and every one of us as an individual child that belonged to Him, and He was bringing home to each and every one of us something very precious and something that must be very important!
“But we have to learn it, don't we? The apostle uses the word "chasten." He is very careful. The Lord does not punish His sons -- that punishment has been paid by Christ Jesus -- but He does find it necessary to chasten them. For while we walk on the face of this earth, it is the truth of God that they could not walk His way perfectly. We would lose the import of this hour if we began to look at each other and tried to decide what heinous sin the other person did that should have called this judgment of God upon us. No, our God is speaking to each of us individually, and He is calling upon each of us individually to search out our hearts to recognize our own personal shortcomings. They are there in a tremendous variety. None of us loves that Word of our God as He has a right to expect. None of us dedicates himself so completely to the service of God who has redeemed him, as God has a right to expect. We'll have no trouble finding in our own personal lives ample reason why our God found it necessary this morning to lay His heavy hand upon us. But by all means let us use the morning for that purpose. Let us use the incident as the chastening of God. Let Him open our eyes and our hearts to our failures.”
When catastrophe strikes we ought not ask "Why?" and expect to find a detailed answer. Why did a beautiful church burn? Was it because hearts had become too fond of an earthly structure? Was it for some reason yet to be revealed? We don’t and cannot know those answers, and we need not nor dare not seek them. Nor can we know all that God accomplished, is accomplishing, or will yet accomplish as a result of that fire. But we can recognize it as a chastening, a reminder of our frailty, our weaknesses, our sins. Whether it is a fire, a flood, an earthquake, or a more personal disaster on a smaller scale, we need to see the Lord’s hand and our sin and repent. As we are chastened by the Lord, we see our sinfulness and come know our helplessness; but we also take lasting comfort and hope from knowing that He chastens us as SONS! In His WISDOM, God allows sorrows to come so that we might turn to Him and love Him all the more!
Remembering earthly loss, brings to mind our sin, leads us to remember repentance and to give thanks to God for our Savior! Scripture Reading: Daniel 9:4-19
Meditation II - Remember Providence!
The hand of God that chastens is also the hand that controls all things in this world for the blessing of His children. Our all-wise, all-knowing, gracious, and merciful God guides and controls the world for you, this is His Providence.
It was God’s providence that woke the pastor and his wife early on July 4, 1971 so that a fire door could be closed and the fire department could be called and thereby spare a parsonage and school building with only a few scorched shingles.
It was God’s providence that allowed for arrangements to be made so quickly that an alternate site for worship was available on the very morning of the fire; thereby assuring that His flock would hear the words of comfort and guidance at such an emotional and difficult time.
It was God’s providence that allowed this building in which we now stand, to be erected, expanded, and now continue as the physical home for Immanuel congregation and her activities in the work of the Kingdom of God.
At the time of rebuilding, questions raised about location. Should we rebuild on this location or move elsewhere? The questions on both sides of the issue could, undoubtedly, still be debated today…but God’s Providence lead the decision and He has blessed it.
Many examples could be given to see God’s providential hand guiding the events following the fire, but more than anything else Remember His providence in preserving His Word and thank Him.
Again, Pastor Reim:
“For is He not making this church building, that lies in ashes at this moment, something far more precious than it ever was before? -- reminding us …that it is not the beauty of the structure, that it is not the beauty of the musical instrument, that it is not the traditions that are found in that building, but that it is His Word by which He comes to His sons and draws them to Him and holds them fast to Him. That is what makes His house!”
Far more amazing than the rebuilding of a structure that we call a "church" is the building up, the growing, and the strengthening of a flock of believers whom Christ calls "His Church" (cf: Ephesians 4:11-16). Remember God’s providence that has brought the heritage of His Word down to our generation. Remember God’s providence that has, throughout this congregation’s history, seen it through fires of controversy and the smoke of false doctrine, to leave us with the Truth and the commission to preach that truth to every creature.
God has not shown a gracious providence to us for the sake of a building or an address on the corner of 2nd and Spring. God shows a gracious providence for the sake of sinners’ souls purchased by the blood of His Son – YOUR souls! God’s love for Your soul and His desire to have you as His beloved child is what moves Him to do what He does, and nothing else.
Out of the darkness of our sin and the despair of an eternal condemnation there rises hope, life, and joy because Jesus has died to set us free from sin. God saw You before the foundation of the world and now in His providence has brought you into faith and salvation. How fitting, therefore, that cross which now dominates the furnishings of this "new" sanctuary would be hewn from the charred timbers of the old. The cross of Christ and the redemption won there reminds us of God’s gracious providence exercised for the salvation of our souls. Remember and give thanks! Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:22-25; 1 Peter 2:1-6
Mediation III - Remember Blessing!
God who has redeemed us through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, and has promised us eternal life in heaven, also bestows great blessings upon us while we live on the earth. Out of what are nearly countless earthly blessings, the one we especially celebrate today is great indeed…the gift of our country and its freedoms.
Surely there is sin in our country, we have already confessed this. We dare not exalt our government, country, or national systems as they were the objects worthy of our most ultimate honor and greatest love for they are still "earthly" and subject to fail and ultimately destruction. We can treasure and appreciate peace for it is a gift of God. At the same time we know that if peace in our country were to give way to unrest, our peace with God is still secure. Being cautious that we worship the Giver of good gifts (cf: James 1:17) and not the gifts themselves, we are right in recognizing our nation and our citizenship in it as a tremendous blessing.
It is a blessing to be able to go to a parade and see military vehicles rumble down the street with children waving from the windows and candy being strewn among the crowd, rather than having soldiers waving their machine guns from the windows and bullets spraying to disperse the crowd.
It is a blessing to live in such prosperity that expensive celebrations can be held and when a hot dog falls on the ground it is thrown in the trash without a second thought…and the list goes on.
During the time of Jesus life and ministry and also the early days of the New Testament Church, the Roman empire ruled the world. Travel was easy and safe (not by today’s standards, but very much so for the time) and the empire prospered. God blessed the Roman empire with success to accomplish His purposes of bringing the Savior to the world and then spreading the Good News of Salvation.
During the Reformation and the days of Martin Luther, the moveable type printing press was invented and changed the landscape of the printed word forever. Tracts and sermons and writings of every sort were quickly mass produced (again, not by our modern standards but very much so according to that time) and spread throughout Europe. God blessed the nations of Europe for the spread of His Word.
Today, the blessings which God brings upon our land are also designed for the spread of His Word and the work of His Kingdom. The prosperity, the ease of travel, the nearly instantaneous communication from one corner of the world to another—what an opportunity for spreading the Word of Christ!!
We enjoy the blessing of luxuries and the comforts of success….YES! but not for sinful self-indulgence. The benefits we have are great, but not because we have EARNED or DESERVED them! God could bring the United States down to destruction just as easily as He has raised it up to world prominence. We are not exempt. We are not masters of our own fate. Everything we enjoy is a gift of GRACE and will only continue as long as it serves God’s wisdom in the plan of His salvation.
What we enjoy as Americans is God’s blessing upon us, so that we might live a peaceable life in all godliness and reverence, serving our Lord and taking the saving Gospel word to others.
Remember the great blessings God has given you as a citizen of this country and with all Christian patriotism celebrate your nation! But do so giving all honor and glory and thanksgiving to God. Remember the great blessings God gives to you in the United States and remember His desire and purpose for those blessings. Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-6
Meditation IV - Remember Grace
Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23,25
“Do this in Remembrance of Me”
Tonight we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper. By Jesus’ own words we do this in remembrance of Him. As you, communicants, come to the Lord’s table; or as non-communicants observe, REMEMBER the grace of your Savior.
In the Lord’s Supper you are receiving the body and blood which Jesus offered on the cross so that you don’t have to face an eternity in hell-fire. Remember the grace of God which so loved you that He sent Jesus to be your Savior. Remember the willingness of the Son of God to come and set aside His prerogatives as God to be Your servant and to die your death on the cross. Remember the grace of God that called you with His Word and brought you to faith so that you now have the assurance that YES, your sins—every one of them!—are all forgiven.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus or hearing His Word and remembering all that He has done is more than a simple recollection of facts. It is a humble remembrance that takes a proper view of our sinful selves and sees there nothing but sin and shame. It is an awed remembrance which marvels that God could love me, but rejoices with thanksgiving to know that He does! It is a confident remembrance that is reassured to see how God has helped in the past and trusts in all of His promises for the future. It is growing remembrance that day by day uses the precious truth of God’s Word and treasures it above all else.
Remember God’s Grace and GIVE THANKS! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt