50 Years of Revealing Faith

Text: Matthew 16:13-20
Occasion: 50th Anniversary of Trinity Lutheran School
Date: Pentecost X + Proper 16 + 8/21/11
Trinity Lutheran Church, Jackson, Michigan

“Who do you say that I am?” asked Jesus of His disciples. Peter answered, “The Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Good for you, Pete!” “Blessed are you” responded Jesus. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

This is the heart, the hidden part, the real wisdom behind a Lutheran school and of our Trinity Lutheran School for the past fifty years. Only things that are somehow hidden in the first place need to be revealed, revealed to us by someone else. Whether that means pulling away or removing those things that are covering up that “something” or just opening our eyes to see what should be, after all, plainly visible is the task of those sent to bring that “something” to change people’s perspective, worldview, vision and life. Thus it was that God sent His only Son into this world not to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17). In Jesus alone a person can clearly see God, the God of grace and glory. So also in Jesus’ sending of His apostolic ministers to preach and teach people God’s truth. Such has been the heart of our Lutheran schools ever since Lutherans first set foot in our land. Of course certain things of life in this world can be taught and learned by (almost) anyone, “reading, writing, arithmetic.” But the things of God, the eternal things must be revealed, revealed by God working through His Word the gift of faith in the heart. And this, above all, is what we are celebrating this year as we mark fifty years of God’s blessing of our beloved Trinity Lutheran School of Jackson, Michigan.

Wow! I just had a flashback remembering the celebration of our thirtieth year! And that reminds me of the flashbacks I’ve experienced so far just this summer—conducting a wedding of someone I baptized as an infant in my first parish in Chicago, then another wedding here at Ella Sharp Park of Laura Hickey and Brandon Kroth, then, at the end of last month, I was in the Kansas City, Missouri area to preach for the ordination and installation as a pastor of a son of the congregation I now serve. While I was there, though, I had to decide where to go to church, to Divine Service on Sunday morning. So I looked at the synod website and, lo and behold, there was the name of Tyler Arnold. Tyler Arnold is not only administrative pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Platte Woods, Missouri but also circuit counselor for circuit number twelve, Kansas City North. Even better than that, however, is that Tyler Arnold was that tall, skinny 8th grader, the last I saw him, sitting in the back row of my confirmation class at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wood River, Illinois (where I was just before coming to Jackson). It was an amazing experience! I sat in on his Bible class and listened to the sermon and found myself thinking, “Where did he get all that?” I know, of course, where he got all that. He greeted me with a huge hug and we spent some time catching up with what has happened in the intervening years. Those are experiences only the passing of time and God’s rich blessings can provide. And once in a while you get to come back to some of your favorite places.

I’ve got lots of great memories of Trinity Lutheran School. Three of my four sons graduated from TLS. Oh, sure, there were the rough moments—many of which were the making of our own sin, pride, refusal to forgive, stupidity and all that sinful side of life. But over all the grace of God covered, forgave, blessed.

The whole purpose, the whole reason for putting forth all the sweat and tears and expense of operating a Lutheran school was and is to this day to provide the means for God’s work of revealing faith to the children He brings and their parents and families as well.

I’d like to think that, in answer to our Lord’s question in today’s text, “Who do you say that I am?” our former students and faculty, board members, pastors and principals would all like to think we are like St. Peter giving that blessed, powerful confession of faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And in many ways we have been and are blessed like St. Peter. For not “flesh and blood,” not any wisdom of this world, but God our Father in heaven has revealed to us and given us the gift of faith through His Word and Sacraments. It has to be that way, you see. For not only the children but we all are born with the blinders of the fallen, sinful nature that does not allow us to know God or see Him even though He be right in front of us. How does the catechism say it? “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but that the Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith.” God must reveal Himself to each of us and He does that through His Word.

In the wisdom of this world we could only come to the conclusion of the line items in the annual budget that convince us that we just can’t afford the building, the staff, the equipment, the faculty, the supplies, the utilities that it takes to run a quality school. But it is in the faith of God’s revelation and operation that we came to the amazing conclusion, fifty years ago and over again through the years, that we couldn’t afford not to provide this greenhouse and garden of faith for our children and our community.

All of us, children, families, faculty, pastors do resemble Peter and his confession because God has revealed Himself also to us and given us the power, grace and faithfulness to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But now, if we take Simon Peter as our example, we must take all of him also. For all-too-soon after his mighty confession of faith Peter’s mind gets blinded once again to the things of God and gets stuck on the things of men. We with Peter have made the confession of who Jesus is, the Christ. But now we must also confess with the same boldness and conviction what Christ came to do. To Peter He laid out His plan: “to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” At this, of course you know, Peter took Jesus aside and contradicted Him with a sort of homemade pride saying, “This shall never happen to you!” The voice of none other than Satan, the devil, tempting Jesus to go a different way and not the way of the cross.

So goes the struggle for us: the struggle between faith and unbelief, sin and grace, as long as we are called to follow our Lord and live by faith in this world; saints and sinners at the same time. But it was precisely because of that struggle—the struggle between faith and sight, sin and grace, heaven and hell—that Jesus, the pure, true, glorious, graceful Son of God also had to offer Himself as the one and only hope and sacrifice to end the power of sin and death for the life of the world. It took nothing less than His bitter but glorious death on the cross to de-fang the devil and reconcile the world to God our loving Creator and Redeemer.

With Peter, then, both the confession of our sin and need and the confession of faith in God’s grace and action on our behalf in Christ are given to us and to all who hear God’s Word. Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

What makes it worse these days is that, when the question comes to people today, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” most often the answer is, “What difference does that make?” or “Who cares?” This is what is behind the general shrinking of the size of all Christian denominations, of individual churches and of our schools in these gray and latter days. “Who cares?” says a world that has every perceived need almost instantly gratified, every instant communication device available to it, almost every answer to every question just by typing in to Google on the Internet, but which still stumbles and falls when it comes to the most personal issues of identity, purpose in life, and relationships, not to mention the questions of death, the judgment of God and our eternal destiny. It is easier to feel and act faithful when membership is 1700, average church attendance is 800, and enrollment in our Lutheran school is approaching 250. It is a little more difficult to remain faithful in those times when the Church is not so popular or when sin trips us up causing all sorts of conflict. But faith hangs on to Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who keeps the vision alive, who provides us with the never-ending supply of forgiveness and new life.

Forgiveness! Did you catch that? On the rock of Peter’s confession of faith Christ builds His Church, the place that has the key to life in the kingdom of heaven, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Here we are to learn daily not only that our sins are forgiven but that we forgive others, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. In that forgiveness the Word and Sacraments of Christ inspire, give and build the gift of faith and of all the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23), in short, new, abundant, eternal life.

So here we are this day, this weekend, this year, “Giving God to Glory” for 50 years through Trinity Lutheran School. We give God glory because He has first given it to us by faith in His Son, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

God forgive us our sins, our short-sightedness, our weakness, and renew in us that Spirit of faith that gives bold witness to Your grace that drives us to share Your life-giving Word with all people. Receive our thanks for all the blessings You have given especially through our Lutheran school dedicated to Your most holy Trinity. Continue, we pray, to bless, to open our eyes, to reveal Your truth and Your guidance, we pray through Your Son Jesus, the Christ, Your living Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen