This is the sermon Pastor Poellet preached at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Frankentrost. Pastor grew up at this congregation and they are celebrating their 175th anniversary during 2022.
11th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 16) LSB #’s 821:1-3, 528, 821:4-5
Text – Isaiah 66:22
For as the new heavens & the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring & your name remain.
THIS OLD HOUSE
It is a joy to be here with you as you continue to celebrate 175 years of Immanuel Lutheran Church history. God’s house, here at Frankentrost, has seen a lot of changes through the years. I’ve been alive during 63 years of that history, well less than half, but I have seen some real characters come & go in that time.
However, I’ve got to say, I am noticing some gray hair creeping in. With some of us, the electrical wiring is shorting out. With others, the plumbing has gone bad. And others still have a few cracks in the plaster. Some of our hinges don’t move like they used to, & they squeak a lot more than they once did.
With old house remodeling, the phrase “money pit,” describes how you keep pouring money in but the pit never gets filled. Physical health ends up a lot like an old house remodeling project. Even with insurance, financial planners suggest that a couple can expect to spend around $400,000 on health care just during their retirement years.
As the book of Isaiah draws to a close, the nation of Israel had become a dilapidated old house – a money pit. No amount of blessings that God invested in it could ever fill that hole. The house of David was abandoned, empty & desolate. Its people had been dragged off to a house not their own amongst a people & a language not their own.
The Israelite rebellion had led them & their house to this place. When Yahweh called, no one answered. When He spoke, no one listened. They did evil in His sight & willfully chose what did not delight the Lord. (Isaiah 66:4) David’s old house is full of suffering & pain. His old house was filled with disease & misery. The old house was built on lies & corruption. The old house would one day be destroyed by smoke & fire as the Babylonians burned the city of Jerusalem to the ground. Isaiah predicted it as did the only-begotten Son of God. What kind of house are you building today? What is God’s prediction for your home?
King Solomon knew a thing or two about building, & he shared his wisdom in Psalm 127, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (127:1a ESV) As many blessings as God has given to His people here at Immanuel, sinful creatures that all of us are, we have misused His blessings & often made a terrible mess of things.
We live in an old house that will one day be destroyed. As our nation descends into complete idolatry, as even churches & pastors leave behind the truth of God’s revelation, what will become of us? What will happen to your children or to our communities that have been formed by the crucified Son of God? What will happen to this 175-year-old house?
January 7, 1951 the wooden church that used to stand here burned to the ground. It was a devastating blow to this congregation, yet within 14 years, by 1965, a new church & a new school had been built & put into operation. When people follow Jesus they are blessed, because remaining in the Vine causes the branch to live & grow & bear fruit.
Many people in church communities today no longer embrace the gift of salvation offered by Jesus. Instead, they follow the thoughts & the ways of men, which are idolatry. You may recognize this well-known verse from Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (55:8 ESV)
By the time Isaiah gets to the early verses of chapter 66, the idolatrous faction of the church in his day, had completely denounced the remnant of Yahweh that still clung to the truth of His teaching. Many church leaders & pastors in our time are denouncing as haters & bigots anyone who clings to the truth of Yahweh’s teaching. They like to think that they have evolved beyond that ancient & backward understanding of truth. In other words, “We’re smarter than that now.” What is amazing & very disturbing at the same time, is how little of reality those ‘smarter than that’ people can see. They have no clue.
Their ‘reality’ is upside down & inside out in every way. In chapter 5, Isaiah warned about the dangers of sin & idolatry: “Woe to those who call evil good & good evil, who put darkness for light & light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet & sweet for bitter!” (5:20 ESV) From my perspective, that perfectly describes the mainstream media & culture in our land.
As disheartening as that can be, there are now boundless opportunities to share the love of Jesus Christ with people who have no clue. As I grew up here in Frankentrost, I did not know a single person who was lost to hell for eternity. I know people like that now. I can see their need for Jesus in so many ways. You probably know some of those people too.
It’s true that many of them want nothing to do with the real Jesus. At best, they’re willing to tolerate a Jesus that they make up in their own heart & mind. But there are some who will follow Christ & their lives are changed for all of eternity.
A lady named Keiko grew up Buddhist in Japan. Her older sister was attending a Catholic school & for one of her classes needed a Bible. Out of curiosity, Keiko began to read it but assumed the stories were just myth & fairytale. She doesn’t know when, but over time, at some point, she began to believe that the words are true. Now she is a faithful Christian.
Sometimes God calls us to help people take those first tentative steps into the Christian faith. At other times, He calls us to strengthen & encourage people who already follow Jesus. And there are times when the Holy Spirit calls us to be with someone as they leave this life to enter heaven. God provides all sorts of opportunities for us to share the love of Jesus, our Lord & Savior. Those opportunities are there in good times & in bad. They are there in cultures that follow Jesus & in cultures that do not. And God sent people to be with us as we took, or are still taking, those first tentative steps of faith. He sends people to strengthen & encourage us as we follow our Savior.
And if friends or family can’t be with us as we enter heaven, Jesus is there to receive us. The original Frankentrost settlers had many troubles 175 years ago. All of us have our struggles today. With our government increasingly turning against public expression of the Christian faith there are more troubles ahead. Listen to these words from Matthew 24:
“And you will hear of wars & rumors of wars… For nation will rise against nation, & kingdom against kingdom, & there will be famines & earthquakes in various places. And then many will fall away & betray one another & hate one another. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (24:6-7, 10, 12 ESV)
God’s Word makes it clear that we cannot predict when the world will end, but those words of Matthew 24 are sounding eerily familiar. The point Jesus is making is this, “Be ready, because you don’t know when the end is coming!” We don’t know when this old house will collapse once & for all.
You see, it’s not just you & me that are getting older. It’s not just our churches or nation. It’s the entire universe that is becoming this old house. That’s what sin does to all of this creation. It’s why God gave the life of His Son – to reverse the curse. This old house needs to be rebuilt right from the foundation & cornerstone.
As he wrote, Isaiah had been wondering, & so do we, if Yahweh will ever come down to address the plight of His true children. “How can You be silent & afflict us forever?” are the words Isaiah used in 64:12. In the last chapter of Isaiah, the Lord amplifies His response, begun in chapter 65, to the praying faithful. He continues to drive home a two-pronged message, insisting that the hand of the Lord is with His servants, & His indignation is against His enemies. Let the faithful take heart; let the wicked be warned. Already in chapter 57, God said:
“I dwell in the high & holy place, & also with him who is of a contrite & lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, & to revive the heart of the contrite.” (57:15 ESV) Those who tremble at God’s Word will be persecuted for His name’s sake & will bear the taunts even of family, but it is those doing the taunting who will be put to eternal shame.
We live in an old house. It can be discouraging as we see the plaster cracking, the plumbing leaking & hear the hinges squeaking. The people of our nation no longer honor God as they once did. It was the same story in Isaiah’s day. People can only handle God’s blessing for so long. Then we take it for granted & go our own way.
As the book of Isaiah draws to a close, God is reassuring us that He is already at work building a new house: “For as the new heavens & the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring & your name remain.” But it’s not just the house that will remain before God. It is also the names of His people.
From Abraham to Zehnder & every name in between, that trusts in the Lord, & all their faithful offspring, shall remain forever before the heavenly Father. Because of our sinful nature, all of us have spent hours building the wrong kind of house. Yet, God’s prediction for your home & for mine is eternal. They shall remain forever before the Lord.
Our new home shall never need remodeling because it is being built of living stones that are connected to the Vine & are producing fruit for the Lord. Every time we turn back to Him, our sins are painted over by the blood of Christ. Each of us who follows Jesus can trace our roots back, not just 175 years, but all the way to God’s promise to Abraham that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars. In this new house that God is building, “…people will come from east & west, & from north & south, & recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 13:29 ESV)
The world of home improvement television has exploded since it first began in 1979 with the arrival of “This Old House.” It was a PBS show that looked at renovating historical homes. Over the years, restoration television has seen a boost in popularity thanks to the creation of networks like “HGTV,” which are all about embracing your fantasies for a bigger, better home.
Any fantasies you may have about a bigger & better home will pale in comparison to that one that Yahweh Himself is creating for us. If you are bothered by the old house that you currently live in, remember these words of Jesus:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go & prepare a place for you, I will come again & will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3 ESV) Amen.
When life’s troubles rise to meet me, though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me. God, my loving Savior, sends them; He who knows all my woes knows how best to end them. God gives me days of gladness, & I will trust Him still when He sends me sadness. God is good; His love attends me day by day, come what may, guides me & defends me. Now in Christ, death cannot slay me, though it might, day & night, trouble & dismay me. Christ has made my death a portal from the strife of this life to His joy immortal. Amen. LSB 756:2-3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet