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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Redefining Church

Time after Pentecost
November 18, 2007
Luke 21:5-19
Bethany Lutheran Church

“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” No more hanging cross, no more risen Christ to hang on the wall, no more pews with orange padding, no more green carpeting, no more beautiful communion vessels. And I wonder, how will you each respond? What if I declared to you that on some day this week, the four walls of this church would all collapse, and what if Pastor Geier and I were inside? Alright, the chances of it happening are slim to none, but what if it happened? What would you do if the four walls of this church came down?

In England, in a town called Coventry, there was once a beautiful cathedral, decorated with large tall stained glass windows and several other worshipful pieces. One night, during the Blitz bombings of World War II, it was bombed. Luckily, no one was inside. On the next day, the Anglican priest walked around the rubble and smoldering ash. It was all that remained of his cathedral. Everything had been destroyed. As he walked towards the area that was once the sanctuary, he found there, a large cross lying on top of the altar. It was not the beautiful cross that once adorned his cathedral, the one which hung on the wall. That one had burned. No, this cross appeared after the cathedral was bombed. It was formed when two of the largest and most important structural support beams from the ceiling fell when the cathedral was hit. And when they fell, they landed on the altar in the shape of a cross. A coincidence? Perhaps. But not so for that priest. For him, in the midst of the very sin that caused World War II, that sin for which no one could be blamed, although everyone who participated in the war was guilty of something, there in the midst of the very sin that caused that cathedral to be bombed, it was then that God appeared and made his presence known. The priest believed that it was for this that God died: God died in order that we might know forgiveness. When the priest saw that cross lying on top the altar, he walked up to it. And on the very front of the altar, in the grey dust he inscribed the words “Father Forgive.” They are the very same words which were uttered by Jesus, the very Son of God when he hung upon the cross, bleeding and dying for the sins of the world. “Father Forgive.” Forgive them for they know not what they do.

The church rebuilt itself of course and embarked upon a ministry of reconciliation, a ministry of forgiveness. They would serve, and continue to serve this day, as a model of what faithful ministry that is grounded in the gospel really means. The four walls of that cathedral which had grown cold over time was reinvigorated with a renewed sense of mission. God’s message of forgiveness suddenly became very real for them and it was so important that they believed they needed to share it with the world.

So I ask you once again, what would you do if the four walls of Bethany came down? I ask you this out of a sense of faith and hope. For if I simply thought that the church would cease to be, I would not have asked you the question in the first place. But this church is unique. This gathered community that assembles within these four walls each week is very special. I believe that if something happened to the building, this community of believers would still continue to meet Sunday after Sunday. But what would be different? How would you change or adapt your mission? How would you reinvent this church?

When church buildings are destroyed, the church community is seldom lost. Rather, when a church dies, Jesus indeed comes again and the church is often resurrected to new life, to a reorganized mission that is now re-energized to do God’s work in the world. During times of crisis, there is not time to stand around and determine the accused, rather we move quickly to forgiveness in order to find a solution to the crisis.

The gospel reading today is not a comfortable one to hear: wars, insurrections, famines, earthquakes, plaques, prosecutions, betrayal. But in the midst of it all, God says “do not be terrified.” Terror is not the response that should be given to such things as these for no matter how bad things might seem Jesus says that they are being embraced with a divine purpose. Instead, be prepared for these events by trusting in God. The walls of the church may crumble, but the church community shall prevail. Amidst all of these horrible atrocities, Jesus emphasizes that God will be faithful through it all. God will be faithful and so God calls us to faithfulness in our commitment. We are called to remain faithful in our expressions of faith and in our response to trusting in God. When walls crumble, we do not give up all hope, rather we rebuilt. Death always becomes an opportunity for new life.

This text has so often been used when talking about “the end times.” People like to estimate when the world will end, when it will be no more. How many of you were scared of the millennium when Y2K hit. We feared all computers and electronic devises would shut down. The world would simply melt down into nothing and the human race would be no more. But, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, our God is a faithful God. Our God will not abandon us.

I wish we had more time this morning, more time to hear the word read in this assembly. If we had more time, I would suggest that we read the gospel reading once again, but this time continue on to read the remaining three verses of Luke’s gospel. Then, once we finished that, we could move onto Acts, for Acts is the sequel to Luke’s gospel. Acts is the next part of the story, most likely even penned by the same hand. Acts is only 28 chapters long, so we would most likely only be here until five o’clock tonight.

If only we had more time, you would see that this story runs along a parallel. In Luke chapters 22 and 23, Jesus will be handed over to the authorities for questioning. After Jesus’ resurrection during the spreading of Christianity, during the spreading of the gospel, in Acts, Jesus’ followers are similarly handed over to the courts for questioning about this Christianity stuff. Jesus goes before Pilate, the early Christians similarly went before chief judges. Jesus was sentenced to death on the cross, some of the early Christians in Acts found themselves encountered with either death or a betrayal and denial of their Christian beliefs.

I know all too well that being a Christian in this world is not popular. Our gospel reading this day has spoken of such persecutions and I am sure that some of you have encountered your own. Doing Jesus’ ministry in this world is not popular nor is it easy, nor does it even guarantee success. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it has become easier for us to simply not say anything at all. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we are shy and afraid to talk about our faith in public, in our homes, at the work place, or even at coffee hour. What a remarkable thing it would be if we could discuss with one another the reasons why we came to worship this morning. Each of us come here to worship in need of hearing some sort of message. Over coffee, share with one another what that message is that you were hoping to hear today. Share with one another whether or not you heard it.

God has entrusted to us the greatest message of all, the message of faith in Jesus, our very God who suffered and died for us all. Since we have been entrusted with such a powerful message, let us not hoard it to ourselves. Spew forth those words that God has already given to you, spew forth the spirit that is already deep within you, and share that message of Christianity to the world. Do not stand with the false prophets, worrying about what the media portrays this week or next, worrying about the end of the world and trying to predict just when it will happen. Rather go forth from this place to testify to what God has done.

We have been hearing throughout this month of November how present hunger is throughout our world. There is enough wealth and food in the world to feed the world, so let’s not start feeding the hungry tomorrow, let’s start today.

Let the walls of this church crumble so that it may be filled with new life and with a new mission for serving the world, a new mission for sharing the Christian faith with the world. Being a Christian is not easy, but what would you do if the four walls of this church came down?

Vicar Luke Smetters


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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