Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tomorrow's sermon

Tomorrow we are having our Centennial Celebration for the State of Oklahoma.

Centennial Sunday – November 18th, 2007 – Luke 19:1-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus +

We all know the phrase – Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. We generally use this phrase to describe how we approach this world, knowing that it is not the end all, be all of things – knowing that there is a life to come, knowing that we are to store up treasures in heaven. We are in the world, but not of the world, and so we strive not to play all the sick little games of the world, to avoid the rat race, to not lie, cheat, and steal in order to win, to live our lives focused on the love of Christ rather than the love of mammon. There is a second part to that phrase though – actually, it’s the first part. Christians are IN the world. Each one of us here is a human being living here in this world, in a specific time, in a specific place. And so, today as we give thanks to God for 100 years of Statehood for Oklahoma, it is worthwhile to think on what a blessing God has given to us here in the world in this state.

First, this morning, I would like you to ponder with me the first and most obvious blessing that we over look so often – that God has simply preserved our lives here. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oklahoma is a place where the fact that we rely on God for daily bread is a bit more obvious. In the 19th Century, when the first English speaking explorers came out this way, do you know what they called Oklahoma? They called it the great American desert. And compared to pretty much everything east of here – it was. We don’t get much water – most years. Even this year with all it’s rain, record setting rain – would just be a typical year in most places east of the Mississippi. You don’t have nearly as many trees, certainly not out this way – and the soil tends to be poorer. Lot of parts of the state are rather rugged and rocky – and then there’s the weather. Incredibly hot in the summer, artic fronts cutting in from the north in the winter, winds, hail, tornadoes. When the dustbowl hits the entire country, it hits here the hardest. It’s a harsh, rugged place.

And yet God has preserved His people here. Now yes, we all enjoy the benefits of technology today – air conditioning and central heating make the weather extremes a bit less worrisome – advances in farming and crop design have helped – but this isn’t necessarily the easiest place to live. And yet we do. With a love of the place. Think on how many years God has preserved people here in Oklahoma. . . from earlier Native Americans to later land-runners. It’s a hard land, and yet for the last 175 years human communities have been preserved here. God has been quite gracious to the people living here, providing for them. The simple ruggedness of our state should be a constant reminder to us that we are in God’s hands and that He is generous with His care and support for us.

In addition, there is another blessing which we should give thanks for – and it is the one that is most proper to the Centennial celebration – that God has preserved for us freedoms and opportunities through the blessing that is the State of Oklahoma. Good government and peaceful living conditions are a great blessing, and one that we can often take for granted. Ponder if you will, the ample amount of peace and security we have had here in Oklahoma. Today we are dedicating a plaque listing off all the various members of this congregation who have served their nation’s military, most often in times of war. Not one of those wars has been fought on Oklahoma soil. For over a hundred years Oklahoma itself has known peace – Germany can’t say that – England can’t say that – Russia can’t say that – indeed, how many families here hail from Germans persecuted out of Russia? Oklahoma has had peace, and that is indeed an extraordinary blessing – that God has provided to us a safe harbor from the troubles and trials which so often beset other places – we’ve not had to worry about pillaging armies or carpet bombing or any of the like.

And safety from military action is just a start –think on the freedoms which have been guaranteed us here in this state. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms – and by in large our government hasn’t interfered. We’ve been blessed with a wonderful infrastructure – many of you remember as that was being built. Modern highways make it a lot easier to get around. Think of the growth and improvement that you yourself have seen in your lifetime. These are things that a good and peaceful government allows. For 100 years the State of Oklahoma has safeguarded its people and provided a place for prosperity and growth, which is a blessing not to be overlooked.

But there is one final blessing that we should above all give thanks for. It is almost somewhat odd to celebrate it today, as this congregation is older than the State – but for 100 years Oklahoma has provided a place where God’s Word can be openly preached – where we can gladly gather to hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper without fear. Even back in the days of World War I when we were speaking German, which wasn’t quite popular – this congregation was preserved. Preserved through dust bowls and oil busts – as hard as it is to imagine an oil bust right now – God has preserved His Word. And not just here, but throughout the State. That is such a blessing – a blessing that is absent in so many places. You aren’t in danger of being killed for being a Christian – we don’t have to hide where we meet. A fantastic blessing – because the greatest blessing we can have is God’s Word – and Oklahoma is a place where we can hear and receive that Word without fear.

Sometimes this is a blessing that we over look. Most of the best ones are blessings that we overlook. Our Gospel lesson sort of brings this out. Zacchaeus was a man with many of the earthly blessings that we all too often crave. He was a chief tax collector – a high official with power and respect. He was a rich man – plenty of wealth and all that money can buy. Power and cash – what could be better? You know the story, perhaps while growing up you even sang the song “Zacchaeus was a wee little man”. Jesus sees him, calls out to him, tells Zacchaeus that He is going to Zacchaeus’ house. And so Jesus walks into that lavish house all adorned with the blessings of the world – and what does Zacchaeus do? Does he try to impress Jesus with His collections? Does he try to get Jesus to marvel at how good the food is? Nope – Zacchaeus instead marvels at Christ, at the wonder that Jesus, the Messiah has come to him. Today salvation has come to this house – and Zacchaeus sees and realizes that this is a wonder far greater than any that he had, a blessing that surpasses all others.

Today, Salvation has come to this house, Zion Lutheran Church in Lahoma – as it has with regularity for as long as there’s been an Oklahoma. In many ways we are like Zacchaeus – we are surrounded by blessings and bounty – we’ve got a feast waiting for us in the kitchen – all good things. But the greatest, the most important thing is that Christ Jesus is here, that He has come to be here in this place to give us the forgiveness of our sins. The greatest feast isn’t the one at noon – it’s the one here on the altar – where under simple bread and wine Christ Jesus will give you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins – and more over, it’s not even a surprise. Zacchaeus must have been shocked when Jesus said – I’m coming to your house. We take this for granted – of course God will be here for us. Do you see how richly blessed we are? And we can do this without fear. Are any of you worried about an angry mob breaking down the doors and beating us to death – because it’s happened to many a church in the past, and it happens to many churches even today. We have some strange religious crackpots here in Oklahoma, but we don’t have to worry about mobs. Or do you fear that the government will send troops to break this service up, or that I’ll get arrested for preaching the Gospel – because there are places where that is the case. No, Christ Jesus continues to come to us here in this place and has done so unmolested for longer than any of us have been alive. And that, dear friends, is a blessing that is almost beyond our ability to comprehend.

So, dear friends in Christ, we are right to give thanks to God this day for the 100 years of Statehood He has granted unto Oklahoma – for in fact He has blessed us through this State. We have seen growth unimaginable here, and we have experienced safety and security that is rare and unique throughout the world. But most importantly, and that which we should never forget, God has preserved this congregation, indeed, even using the State of Oklahoma to be a harbor of safety so that His Word might be preached – so that He might come to us sinners and share with us the meal of immortality in His supper. God grant that He continue to bless us, and may He continue to preserve the freedoms we have known through the State of Oklahoma. Amen.

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