September 24-26, 2011
Pastor Don Sutton
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. 2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” 3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Ten years ….it’s been ten whole years since we dedicated our Parish Center! For me sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday. But at other times, it seems like it was so long ago because of so much that has taken place there over the last ten years – hundreds of bible classes, small groups, confirmation classes, Sunday School, Wednesday school, fellowship meals, funeral dinners, wedding receptions, baby showers, youth activities, leadership meetings, Owls, Kingdom Workers, community activities, health and wellness presentations, MLC activities and more. There are so many things we can do now in ministry that we didn’t used to do or that we used to do but now can do so much better.
So who made it happen? Certainly our leaders such as Jerry Bentz who was church president at the time and the council and boards who supported it. There was the building headed up by chairman Jeff Bielke, construction coordinator Lloyd Schauer and committee members Rachel Anderson, John Apitz, John Covington, Tim Hoscheit, Harold Olson, Arlene Stolte, Jason Schaefer, Pastor Henning, Ron Schmidt and Todd Wendorf. There was also the Thank Offering Committee chaired by Joel Albrecht that included Harold Yotter, Jean Leighty, Judy Martens, David Pelzl, Annette Thorson, Jack Ulrich, Ron Schmidt and Pastor Sutton. Our architectural firm, Professional Design, and Heyman Construction played important roles. There were the many members whose input, prayers and special gifts made our Parish Center possible. To all, again we say, “Thank you.”
But bottom-line and in the end it was God who made it happen. So this weekend we join with the psalmist of Psalm 126 in saying, “The Lord Has Done Great Things!” As with the psalmist and his fellow Jews, we say this from a perspective of being …restored and renewed.
As for Psalm 126 in a way we can say that it is a psalm of uncertainties. For example in its heading it’s called a “Psalm of Ascents.” Some Bible commentators believe that this psalm and others like it are called Psalms of Ascents because they believe the priest sung them as hey ascended the stairs of the temple in Jerusalem. Others think that these psalms are called such because the Jews sung them as they ascended the mountain on which Jerusalem was built as they came to worship in connection with the Old Testament festivals. It was probably some of both.
Also we can’t be certain who the human author it. It may have been David, or Asaph, or someone else. But God the Holy Spirit inspired the writer.
Also unknown are the circumstances. The NIV translates, “When the Lord brought back captives to Zion….” This translation suggests a celebration after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon. But an alternate reading is, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…” perhaps pointing to another time of deliverance or referring to the Lord’s delivering Israel in general. Either way, it’s obvious that the Lord has delivered his people from something trying and terrible, and restored them. This is obvious from references to the Negev, the wilderness at the south of Israel or to tears and weeping.
In some way or another the Lord delivered his people. If it was from exile in Babylon, it was by touching the heart of the Persian king Cyrus the Great who allowed and enabled the Jews to returned from exile. If it was from so other trouble or catastrophe, God somehow delivered his people.
Don’t we all have Negevs and reason for weeping and tears in our lives? Loved ones died. We become ill. We suffer injury. Relationships are ruined. Material things are lost. Jobs are terminated or employment limited. Doors get closed to us. Fortune turns to misfortune.
How do we survive? God is with us. As the psalmist reminds us about the Lord, “Our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (46:1).”
This is certainly true in the greatest misfortune to affect us – the Fall into sin. As a result of what happened not long after the beginning of time came deadness for the soul, death for the body, damnation for us sinners and a destiny of separation from God and his blessings forever. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. By ourselves we can’t know God as he is. We can’t love God. We can’t live for God.
This was our misfortune.
But God saved us. Purely out of his undeserved love God the Father sent his Son from glory in heaven to humility on earth. Paul wrote of God the son, “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient onto death, even death on a cross (Phil2).” This Son, this servant, Jesus, did this for you, for me and for all to pay for our sins, to save us from hell, and to make it possible that we can be children of God and heirs of eternal life. His resurrection proves that he was a success. So that we can enjoy the blessings of Jesus, God also gave us the Holy Spirit who raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life and through this faith gave us forgiveness and eternal life. The Lord has done great things!
While in no way did our ministry circumstances at St. Paul’s before the Parish Center come close to the Lord’s delivering us from sin, we certainly faced challenges and struggled with obstacles. There was only so much ministry we could do with the facilities we had. But even though we needed more space, the fear was that we could not handle the cost of constructing another facility. We had looked at it in the 60’s and again in the 90’s with that conclusion. Annually we were dealing with operating deficits. Then there were those who felt we didn’t need a Parish Center.
But at the same time there were issues we had with handicap accessibility. I remember our having to carry elderly loved ones in wheel chairs down the steps to the basement for funeral and fellowship meals. Our basement was too small; our bathrooms, inadequate. Our Sunday School was a stepchild. Our offices, in an old house to the north of the church, were cramped and run down. Even the school with its spacious facilities could not take care of all the needs of our congregation.
As a result of a Parish Assistance process in 1997-1998 that not only helped us plan ministry but emphasized the need for a parish center facility to do our ministry, our leaders organized building committee who did a needs analysis and then a feasibility study. This needs analysis showed that the needs were such that we should build a building of a size that might be in the $2.5 to $3 million range. But the feasibility study would show that cost-wise we should build something in the vicinity of $1.7 to no more than $2.1 million unless we receive an upfront donation of a quarter million dollars or more.
It was on Christmas Day that attorney Bob Hinnenthal of our congregation passed along the news that Mrs. Gladys Timm of our congregation had willed her estate of approximately $800,000 to St. Paul’s with no designation. It was in spring of the next year that St. Paul’s decided to go ahead with the project. In the meantime our building committee had developed a fast-track time-line to get construction done in a year. At the same time the Thank Offering Committee organized cottage meetings and presentations to raise funds for construction. When we began what eventually was a $2.8 million project we borrowed about $1.7 million. But by the time we dedicated the building we owed $1.2.
When one considers the needs, the challenges and the outcomes, we have to join with the psalmist in saying, “The Lord has done great things!
When the Lord restored Israel, they were renewed in spirit, and responded in wonder, praise and thanks. The psalmist says, “We were like men who dreamed…” Do you supposed that when Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the two men just released from captivity in Iran, woke up the first morning they were free, they wondered whether they were dreaming? It sounds like Israel experienced that same as a result of God’s deliverance. Probably you and I have felt that a time or two in our lives. The psalmist continued, “Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”
When you consider how you were in God’s eyes, where you should be in respect to God and where you should spend eternity, and then consider what God has done for you – saved you, declared you to be – holy and forgiven, and where he has now destined you to go to heaven, doesn’t that fill you with joy and make you want to praise God? Isn’t this something to tell others about and to spread to all the world?
Here at St. Paul’s on an average weekend about 880 people gather to praise God’s name and many do so every week. In an average month hundreds of our people donate about 3000 hrs. of service to the Lord in thanks for his love and love for others. Half of our giving units donate a total of $1.3 million for ministry here and throughout the world in love and thanks to the Lord for saving us from damnation. To all you, “Thank you and keep it up. Continue to be renewed in the joy of your salvation and to praise the Lord.”
But to the part of our congregation that doesn’t worship often, doesn’t serve at all, or who give little or nothing, you need to be renewed in the joy of your salvation. You need to hear God’s law that reminds of where we would be without Jesus and God’s gospel that comforts us with where we are with Jesus. This is a need that is not Christmas and Easter or once every two or three months. Why did God establish the weekly Sabbath in the Old Testament? In part because he wanted his people on a weekly basis to stop their everyday lives and take a special focus on God’s promises and experience God’s love and power. We’re no different in terms of our spiritual needs today.
Let all join together to faithfully grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to thank the Lord for his love, and to serve him with joyful hearts and love-filled lives. One way we can thank and serve is by continuing to pay off the Parish Center a total of $368,000, the majority of it to Citizens bank and the remainder to members. To think that in ten years this is all we owe of $2.8 million is reason to say, “The Lord has done great thing!”
But to do so and even do so early, will keep us from using precious offerings on interest. It will also enable us to focus on pressing facility needs at our 40-yr.-old school – handicap accessibility, handicap restrooms, new windows, new flooring, new flooring and ceiling, a new farm-alarm system, re-located offices and more – perhaps in the vicinity of $500,000 to $1 million or even more. These improvements will be needed if we want to continue to disciple our children through quality Christian education in the Lutheran School.
At this time thank God for his blessings. As God blesses you, consider a special offering for the Parish Center. Regularly be renewed in the joy of your salvation. Join with the psalmist in saying, “The Lord has done great things!” Let’s do that now …… Amen.