I was honored to be invited to preach at the 75th anniversary of First English Lutheran in Spring Valley Minnesota on Pentecost Sunday. There is an interesting parallel between my congregation – Zion English in Grafton and First English in Spring Valley. The sense that I get from talking to the “old timers” is that the impression in their communities was that these churches were the “German” churches, which they were, and that no one else was welcome, which I can’t believe was true. An easy solution seemed to be to throw “English” into the name. At that time in Spring Valley and surrounding communities they were preaching in German and Norwegian and evidently there were no English speaking churches of the Lutheran Confession.
Whatever, the church is lovely and the people were delightful. Pastor Lowell Wessel was gracious and kind and my hosts were marvelous. I have been sworn to secrecy as to who hosted me and where I stayed so let me just say it was a great experience to recount the blessings of God for their 75 years of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together. One sad note was that the day before the celebration the churches Secretary of 25 years passed away. Here is the sermon I preached. It is based upon Genesis 11 and Acts 2.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. God spoke and the Word was - Jesus. When God spoke He spoke Jesus and the world was created.
You know that sin entered the world and the Creator God who spoke, spoke Jesus. He spoke to Adam and Eve and He spoke to the serpent, the old evil foe " I will put enmity between you and the woman and between her seed and yours". God speaks Jesus who would crush the serpents head.
The God who speaks creates a world that speaks. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day after days utters speech and night after night shouts knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” If the universe speaks of God's glory so should I. So should you. That is why right in the middle of Psalm 19 David says, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord”.
God created us to speak to him, of him, and for him. We are to speak his glory too. The problem with sin is that we are turned in on ourselves and so we have a constant conversation with ourselves. Every one of us in this church today apart from Christ is like the Pharisee who Jesus said, "talked to himself". He prayed to himself saying, “God, I thank you that I'm not like other people, especially not like that tax collector” - the poor man cowering in the back of the church who said “God be merciful to me a sinner”.
The problem with sin is that if it is not a conversation we have with ourselves to ourselves, it is a conversation between sinful people who don't speak Jesus to one another, but speak about themselves to each other. Here is what God said, "And they settled on the plains of Shinar and they said to one another, 'let us make for ourselves towers that will reach to the heavens'.” And so God came down and confused their speech so that they couldn't speak to each other anymore, couldn't talk to each other anymore and if they could they couldn't understand.
On Pentecost God sent the Holy Spirit and reversed all that and everyone could hear the Apostle’s speaking in their own languages and they were speaking Jesus. “We hear them speaking the wonderful works of God”, and those works of God are Jesus. Jesus, who died for the sins of the whole world and for that reason God has made him Lord and Christ. They spoke Jesus who became a broken bloody sacrifice on a cross to free people from their constant conversation about and to themselves.
The church hasn't stopped speaking since. Your mother church was probably founded by one of the Pfotenhauer brothers or someone that they sent. Friedrich Pfotenhauer who became the president of the LCMS is famous for calling for Jesus to be spoken to the wild lands from Minnesota to the Dakotas to Montana and Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But what's interesting about that call was he specifically called for the speaking to be to scattered "Germans".
Your church here had its beginnings with the West End missionary Guild. Women who wanted to speak Jesus in Word and deed. They wanted to be witnesses to Christ. Witnesses speak Jesus. They cannot help but speak of the things that they have seen and heard. And they confess. That means they speak back to God what God has spoken to them. They confess that without Jesus our best efforts would all be Babel. Even building a church would become a conversation among us or a conversation about each other to each other. “Let us build a church with a tower reaching to the heavens, and let us build this and that”. That is a temptation to be resisted and the only way I can be resisted is by speaking Jesus. Many a congregation has forgotten that once the church becomes about me or you or the pastor or the LWML or the LLL or the quilting guild or the kitchen or basement or cemetery, it becomes babble, the confusion of individuals all speaking different languages about themselves and what they want and what they need and the only remedy for the babbling confusion is to speak Jesus.
Those women pioneers of the missionary guild got it. They wanted to do mission even though you're records hint that most of the men were busy having a conversation among themselves. The idea of a mission was met with "disapproval". I've seen that is churches too. Mission, witnessing or reaching out to others is met with "disapproval" because the church is about us. But the women persevered and became witnesses and your congregation grew and became witnesses. Why? Because you called pastors who spoke Jesus who was and is mercy in the flesh.
Think of this – Because of the Holy Spirit who calls and gathers and enlightens us and creates the church, every Sunday is Pentecost and every Sunday the Spirit speaks Jesus.
In your baptism God spoke and washed you clean in the water. God spoke at Jesus' baptism and stuck him in the water so that when you were baptized you could bring Him out with you. In your baptism you received a merciful washing so that you could live a merciful life.
In absolution your Pastor speaks you free so that you can go out and speak Jesus to your neighbors and speak them free too.
In the Lord's Supper you get Christ whole and entire. He speaks to you of his entire work for you, His suffering and death and resurrection and all the blessings applied to you and given through His body and blood so that you can give yourself whole and entire to your neighbors. Notice how all the speaking from our baptism forward turns from ourselves to our neighbors?
The life of Mercy is one where words become deeds and deeds become words. And that happens you know. It happens when cliques and factions form in congregations and people are fighting in the church. It happens when congregations don't get along with one another. Those deeds become words that speak volumes about who we are and what we are and what kind of speaking we are “doing” to one another and we're certainly not speaking Jesus.
Deeds can speak like words that speak Jesus too. When members of this church hauled rock from the quarry to the North to use in the construction, the community heard you speaking Jesus. I don't think they believed you were building a tower to reach up to heaven but you were building a church where you could speak Jesus. That act gave you a chance to tell them to look to the rock from which they were cut and the quarry from which they were dug and to look to Jesus the author and perfect of faith.
Words can be deeds and deeds can be words. When the church decided to help a homeless family in Germany after the war, you spoke volumes and you said “we're looking to do Mercy because we have been shown mercy” and that speaks volumes.
So you hopefully have been listening to the words that I've been speaking and if you have you realize we have witness, we have mercy, and that brings us to a life together. The three emphases of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod come together on this anniversary. You have had a life together for 75 years because of Jesus. Without him you would live in a babble of individual desires and wants and supposed needs. When you speak Jesus, His life is ours and our sin is his.
I've been told that the stained-glass windows in this Church were designed by Richard Caemmerer Junior. His Father trained an entire generation of Lutheran pastors. He trained them how to speak Jesus. His son’s stained-glass windows grace your church depicting the life of Christ. Why would they do that? Because when they speak to you they speak of the life of Christ and that life is now your life and that life that He lives in you gives you a life together.
Martin Luther said that God does not give us his Gospel in dead books, but in a living voice. The voice of Jesus, the living voice of the gospel proclaimed, still needs to be heard. If you don't believe me remember that Jesus healed a deaf man who couldn't hear a word He was saying, by speaking! He raised the dead and healed the lame and halt and blind by speaking. He reversed babble and the confusion of our lives and our words are made simple - speak Jesus. I think you have been busy doing that. Your servants in Christ; your faithful pastors have been doing that. And to what end? So that all of you will hear the voice of the good Shepherd and follow him, and that you will witness to others and try to bring them into the sheepfold with you.
You lost one of your own yesterday. She heard the voice of Jesus in her baptism. She was spoken free in absolution. She heard Jesus invite her to the feast of his body and blood. Yesterday she heard the voice of Jesus calling; calling her to life everlasting. I didn't know her. I know nothing about her. I don't have to. She was nurtured in this church and here she heard Jesus because you have spoken Jesus. Your pastors have spoken Jesus. The Holy Spirit was busy speaking Jesus and you did your job.