This past Sunday, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Campbell Hill, Illinois, celebrated the 125th anniversary of her founding. We welcomed the Reverend Mark Buetow of Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, Illinois, as our guest preacher. Here's what he brought to the faithful.
The holy, Christian church. It was there long before. It was there in Solomon’s day. He rejoiced that his Father David was a part of it and he called upon the Lord to continue it. And that was long before there was ever a St. Peter Lutheran congregation in Campbell Hill. And it will be there until Jesus comes again, even if this particular congregation is gone. It will be forever, for St. John saw it in his vision of things to come: the holy church, prepared as a bride for her Bridegroom, Jesus. And when Solomon prayed, the Lord was there, right there, among His people, in that Temple. And in the resurrection and the age to come, St. John sees in his vision that the dwelling of God is with men. God Himself, right there among His people. That’s how He did it in Solomon’s day. That’s how it will be in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s how God rolls. He dwells in the midst of His people. That’s why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. So there it is long ago, the holy church. In the age to come, the holy church. And for this little slice of the past 125 years, the Lord, dwelling among His people in THIS place, Campbell Hill, Illinois, St. Peter Lutheran congregation. That is a gift. Today we give thanks for the these 125 years but not ONLY for those 125 years. We give thanks for the Lord who is here among us as He has always been for His people, long before this congregation was gathered and, we pray, still until He comes again on the Last Day.
It was Peter who, by the Father's leading, confessed that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." So, he's a good one to name a congregation after. For 125 years, St. Peter's confession has been, well, St. Peter's confession. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That is the confession upon which Christ builds His church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Think of that! The Jesus whom St. Peter confessed and who St. Peter's has confessed for these 125 years is the same Christ longed for by the Old Testament people of God. He is the same Son of God who was present in the flames of glory at Solomon's Temple. He is the same Jesus who took on flesh in time and was born of the virgin. The same Jesus who was handed over, mocked, beaten, spit upon. The same Jesus who was scourged and crowned with thorns. The same Jesus who was crucified on Calvary and laid dead in the freshly cut tomb. The same Jesus who rose the third day and ascended to the right hand of the Father. The same Jesus who did all that for sinners. For you. For the people of St. Peter who have gone before. For you here now and for those yet to come. That's the Jesus Peter confessed and it's that Jesus who is among His people in His church. That's the same Jesus who established this church here, 125 years ago, built on that confession. And it's a congregation against which the gates of hell can't prevail. The Kaiser going to war couldn't destroy it. Neither could a Great Depression. Or Nazis. Or the threat of nuclear bombs. Or terrorists. Or bad farming years or synodical crises or anything else. Because this is Jesus Christ's little flock and He Himself is here among you.
Now the temptation is to look back and make this gift about yourselves. This is YOUR church. It may have been your PARENTS' church. Even your GRANDPARENTS' or GREAT-GRANDPARENTS' church. There is the lure to look back and say, "Yes, we built this. We have taken care of it. We have preserved it. Pastors have come and gone, people have joined or left but we, here, the members today, this is our church." You would be wrong to say that. Christ built this church. It is His church. YOU are His church. And He built it through His Word which was delivered by faithful preachers over a century and a quarter and by which He called and gathered His saints here. And He cared for this church through its members and their offerings and gifts so that the pastors were cared for and the building and grounds maintained. All gift. But a gift from Christ, not the reason for the gift. There is also the temptation, as there is in everyday life, to look back on the "golden age" and compare it to today. To say that the congregation is shrinking or dying or wasn't what it used to be. That would be wrong too, because that still makes it about you. And about people. Instead of about Jesus. Here we repent of making the church about us at all and learn to believe that where His gifts are, Christ’s church is, Christ is and whether there are two or three hundred or just two or three, there He is dwelling with them in His Word and gifts and smashing in Hell's gates and overthrowing the devil's kingdom. Repent of making the church YOUR church; rejoice that because it is CHRIST'S church, it cannot be overthrown.
And so it goes. Jesus dwells here. Right here in little ol’ Campbell Hill, Illinois. For 125 years, He has been coming to this font to wash away sins by water and His Word. For 125 years He has been telling sinners, “I forgive you all your sins.” For 125 years, He has been coming to this altar in His body and blood to forgive sinners and promise them that He will raise them up on the Last Day. For 125 years, the Lord has been joining men and women in holy marriage, comforting the loved ones of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, teaching the Faith of Christ, catechizing the young and old, comforting sinners who are in distress and who mourn and who struggle and who need the Lord’s Word to instruct and guide them. And, for the next however many years--the Lord grant that it’s 125 and more!--He will continue to wash away sins, absolve sinners, and feed His church with His flesh and blood. And so we ask with King Solomon: Can God indeed dwell on earth? Yes He can and He does! In the womb of the Virgin, in the flesh of His human nature. And until He comes again, He dwells in His church, where the water, Word and Body and Blood are. And of all the many places around the world that He is, it is also right here. St. Peter Lutheran Church, Campbell Hill, Illinois, where not even the gates of hell prevail against it. Because this church is Jesus Christ’s. HIS house. HIS gifts. And you, HIS people. For 125 years and counting. Happy Anniversary in the Name of Jesus. Amen.