A pastor learned that there were serious problems at his former congregation. It had become riddled with cliques and divisions over which pastor people preferred, between rich vs poor, between those who considered themselves more spiritual and those they judged to be less so. The arguments resulted in chaos in worship services and at church gatherings. The feuding got so bad that people were actually suing fellow members in court. One member was living in open adultery, and people looked the other way. Other members of the congregation were themselves participating in the sexual sins so common in the culture around them. Families were being torn apart by divorce. And there were serious doctrinal problems—some of the members were even saying that Jesus did not really rise from the dead on Easter.
Not a pretty picture. Would you want to join that congregation? If you were a member there, would you want to stay? The problems seemed unsolvable. From all outward appearances, that congregation’s future did not look too bright.
The pastor who got that news was the Apostle Paul. The congregation was the one that he had founded in the Greek city of Corinth. Keep in your mind all those problems—and then listen to what Paul amazingly has to say to them as he begins his letter. “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do no lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” (1 Cor 1:4-9)
Paul certainly recognized how serious these problems were. He spent 14 chapters of his letter addressing those problems. But he also saw a congregation that was also richly blessed and had all they needed to solve those problems. You could say that Paul began by directing them to the future and assured them that, by God’s grace, the best was yet to come.
Members of Mt. Olive, you’ve taken time this year to see God’s gracious blessings to you, both in the past and in the present. And what did you see?
- Here in this place, you see God giving hundreds of children new life at this baptismal font through the power of his Word.
- Here, in this place, you saw God causing generations of parents to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord
- Here, in this place, you and your forefathers knelt before this altar again and again to receive the true body and blood of Jesus, and with it the amazing assurance of full and free forgiveness.
- Here, you and those before you listened to words preached from this pulpit, as unworthy and all too human messengers proclaimed to you the power word of God himself.
- Here some of you and many before you were joined by God in marriage.
- Here, you have said goodbye to loved ones, grieving to lose them for a time, but absolutely confident that you will see them again.
- Here, through your congregation, you have shared the good news of Jesus in your community, and with the other members of the synod throughout the world.
- Here, in this place, God has enabled you year in and year out to bow down before your newborn Savior at Christmas, to look up in repentance at the cross of a dying Savior, and to rejoice at the door of the empty tomb.
Amazing blessings from God, in the past and in the present. And what is most amazing about all of those blessings is that you and I have not deserved a single one of them. Thankfully, Mt. Olive does not have the problems that had invaded congregation in Corinth. But there is one similarity. Today, in this house of worship, as was the case in Corinth, are people who are nothing but poor, miserable sinners, undeserving of a single blessing from God. In these pews and in this pulpit are people whose words have hurt others, whose actions have been selfish, whose thoughts were far from pure. We see people who have all too often set aside our trust in God and replaced it with worry, who have followed our will and desires rather than God’s, whose worship has all too often been half-hearted and whose prayers have been all to infrequent.
But overshadowing all of those failures and overpowering the power of sin itself, is a God who would not let us wander from him and die in our sins. A God who sent his Son to suffer and die to remove our guilt, and who rose again to proclaim his victory for us. A God who has seen to it that the message of Jesus has been preached and taught in this place for 100 years, and who through that message has made you and me his children.
And now today, you look forward to the future. And as you do that, as you recall the blessings God has showered on you in the past, as you continue to gather here to carry out your mission, and as you train the next generation of God’s people to serve him after you are gone, you can be sure that the best is yet to come. Because you have his Word. Because he gives you the gifts to do the work, and because you have his unchanging and unbreakable promises.
- The best is yet to come – because you have God’s Word
What God said to the Corinthians through Paul, he also says to you: “In Christ you have been enriched in every way, because the testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. “ Paul did not speak his own words to them; he spoke God’s Word. The message was not Paul’s, but his testimony about Jesus was from God himself. And that powerful message of law and gospel had led them to know Jesus and his love and brought them into God’s family. And it was that same Word of God that would restore health and healing to their congregation.
We often sing, “God’s Word is our great heritage.” That’s not just an empty slogan or a memorable motto. Rather, it’s a clear confession that we know what a blessing it is to hear and to believe the Word of God himself. Having that heritage, passed down to us through the generations, we don’t depend on human ideas to shape what we believe. We don’t have to search and wonder if there is a God, or who that God is. He has revealed himself to each of us in his Word. There he tells us about himself. About his power. About his holiness. About his love and mercy. It’s that Word that reminds us that we are sinners who deserve only the anger and punishment of a righteous God. It’s that Word that reveals what a gracious God has done to save us from sin and. It’s that Word that doesn’t leave us wondering about what is true, about our purpose in life, or about where we will spend eternity. It’s that Word that guides us in how we can show our love and thanks to a God who has made us his people. No wonder Paul says that through that Word you have been enriched in every way. It’s a precious inheritance that God has preserved for you at Mt. Olive for 100 years.
But what about the future? As Mt. Olive begins its second century you can know that the best is yet to come, because, just as it has in the past and does so now, you have the Word of God. His Word will continue to enrich you in every way. With faith. With joy. With knowledge. With a purpose. With commitment.
If God’s word is so important to you—and it is—can’t you also see how important it is to training the next generation to know God’s Word, to pass that great heritage to them?
Your training of the next generation, of course, begins in your homes. From infancy you can teach your children to know the Holy Scriptures, which will make them wise for salvation in Christ Jesus. That happens when you read Bible stories to you children at bed time; when you have devotions at meal time or in the evening; when you show that worship in church is not an option for your family, but is a weekly priority that comes before everything else.
And then you build on what is taught in the home through your elementary and high school. You recognize that your schools do not just offer private education, not just a quality education, but an education in which God’s Word is at the heart and center of all that is taught; an education that begins each day at the cross of Jesus, an education in which the Word of God is a the heart of every subject; an education where in God’s Word children and young people learn to know who they are, to know the meaning and purpose of life, and to look forward with confidence to an eternity with their Savior.
Training a child is not an easy task. Ask any parent. It’s not easy to potty train an infant. It’s not easy to teach a ten year old to be responsible around the house. It’s not easy teaching your 16 year old how to drive. It’s not easy teaching your college age son to be responsible for the wise use of his time. None of those things is easy. It takes continuing and consistent effort to teach your children. But in the end, it’s all worth it.
Training the next generation to remain faithful to their Savior and to carry on the mission of the church is not necessarily easy either. It takes real commitment and sacrifice and hard work for a congregation to operate a Lutheran elementary school and support a Lutheran high school. It takes God-given wisdom to see these schools not just as side activities, but as a vital part of your congregation’s ministry. It takes members and parents and teachers all working together to make it happen and happen well.
So you will teach them that they are sinners. You will teach them that they are redeemed children of God. You will teach them to be Lutheran, people who know from Scripture alone that they are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. You will teach them to be salt and light in a dark world. You will teach them that they have a message to cherish for themselves and a message to share with others.
And it will be worth it. You will see young people staying in church well beyond their confirmation. You will see them growing stronger in their faith and commitment to their Savior. You will see those same young people heading out into a hostile and godless world as responsible faith-filled Christians to carry out their God-given vocation. You will see the next generation entering Christian marriages and establishing Christen homes and families. You will see a healthy and mission-minded congregation. Yes, the best is yet to come, because of the Word of God that you will pass on to the next generation.
- The best is yet to come – because you have God’s gifts
As you look to the future, there’s another reason why you can know that the best is yet to come for Mt. Olive. What Paul said to the Corinthians, he says to you: “Therefore you do no lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” Generals do no send their soldiers into war without equipment. Contractors do no send their workers to a job without tools. So God does not send his people on his mission without equipping them with all the gifts and abilities necessary to carry out his work.
The Bible mentions many of the gifts that God gives to his people. And he’s given them to you. Look around you and you will see people with those gifts. The gift of prophecy? (Not telling the future but proclaiming God’s Word) Your pastors and teachers do that in your name and on your behalf. The gift of serving? Think of the many people in your congregation who are ready to use their time to serve others. The gift of leadership and administration? God has given you people who can give wise advice and guide the work of your congregation. You have been blessed with other gifts. The gift of giving, the gift of mercy, the gift of encouraging, the gift of wisdom and knowledge. Not everyone at Mt. Olive has been given all these gifts, but taken together as a congregation, God has blessed all of you with some of them. And together you use those gifts. You use those gifts to serve each other and to carry out his mission. And you work to train the next generation to recognize and appreciate the gifts and skills God has given them, and—this is important—you will look for ways to give them the opportunity as early as possible to use those gifts.
The best is yet to come not because of your commitment, your planning, your dedication, your inborn skills and abilities, but because God will use the gifts that he himself has given to you and to the next generation to carry out the mission he has entrusted to you.
- The best is yet to come – because you have God’s promises
There’s another reason why the best is yet to come for Mt. Olive. Paul says to you, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
In other words, the best is yet to come for Mt. Olive because you have God’s unbreakable promises.
He promises, to you and the next generation, “I will be with you always.” He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He says, “My Word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I please and fulfil the purpose for which I sent it.” He tells you that “The gates of hell itself will not overcome his church.” Think of the message of the book of Revelation. Some say the book of Revelation is hard to understand and even a little scary. But the message of Revelation is simple and clear. As long as the church exists, it will be under attack. Satan will be working to destroy God’s church and harm his people. The church may at times seem to be in retreat and losing the battle. But don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. Because Jesus is coming, and in the end, he wins. So for you as members of Mt. Olive, remember that no matter what threats and fears the future may hold, your gracious God is holding you in the palm of his hand. He has written his name on you. You belong to him. And his saving plan for his church will be accomplished. And so, as he leaves you in this world to carry out his mission, and as you train the next generation to continue that mission, you can be sure that the best is yet to come. You have his promise.
A Lutheran theologian once said, “The Christian IS an optimist!” Not a hope so attitude, not wishful thinking, but optimism that expresses complete confidence about the future. You can have that kind of optimism. You can be sure that the best is yet to come. Why? Because you have God’s Word and his saving gospel. Because you have the gifts necessary to carry out his mission. And because you have his unchanging promise.