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Rev. Gilbert J Duchow
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
September 26, 2021
1 Peter 2:1-10
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
Topic: “Living Stones”
Text: Selections from 1 Peter 2:1-10: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to the Lord, a living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house….So the honor is for you who believe. But for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense….But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
I begin with some precious memories of our life and ministry together at Immanuel. The first time we visited Immanuel in 1980, we were greeted by streams of joyful children from the school—presenting us with more than 100 pair of their hands that they had traced and cut out of paper—warmly welcoming us to Immanuel. I still have those welcoming hands stored away in my Immanuel box of memorabilia.
A couple months later was what I call my “baptism” at Immanuel. After 4 inches of rain fell in 2 hours, the quiet little stream at the edge of the property turned into a raging torrent which filled the church basement with 9 feet of water. After the fire Department had pumped out the basement, the hard work of cleaning up began.
The next day there were only about a dozen who showed up to help. That evening I decided to get to know the congregation. I got out the church directory and called every family and individual in the church—inviting them to join us the next day, a Saturday, to help with the clean-up. Many people were grateful, saying that they had never been asked before to help with anything at church. Of course, there were a few who said something like, “What church are you talking about? Oh yes, we used to belong to Immanuel.”
I could go on for quite a while sharing precious memories. I will mention just a few—Vacation Bible Schools that drew as many as 250 children from the church and community, joyous Easter services beautified by the Easter garden in the chancel, delightful Easter breakfasts with favors at every place made by Emma Ziegler and the youth group, a 2-hour weekly Bible class that twice drew 50 people for a two-year journey through the Bible, the marvelous ministry of Jeff Pool in our school and with our youth and seniors, and the countless people of God who were the backbone of the ministry at Immanuel–and the source of so much joy and blessing for me and my family.
When I began my ministry at Immanuel in 1980, there were quite a few members who could still remember the old, white-framed church building, that was torn down in 1950, when the congregation moved out to the edge of town to their beautiful new stone church. But I expect that there is hardly anyone here today who remembers the old building or the decades-long ministry of Pastor Ziegler. There are many changes in a congregation in 70 years—and even more in 125 years.
Through the years, Immanuel has been blessed with many faithful pastors and teachers, several of whom have had long, fruitful ministries, including Pastor Jud, who has well-surpassed my 16 years of service here. Through the years, hundreds of members have come and gone—some transferred to other congregations, and many transferred to the church triumphant in heaven. But one thing never changes—the church’s message and mission—”to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous and eternal light.” Above all, our Savior never changes. The Bible assures us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). By God’s grace, He has always been, is now, and always will be–the cornerstone of Immanuel Lutheran Church.
Church members come and go. But one of the great blessings for the good and growth of God’s Kingdom are the members who come and grow, the ones whom Peter calls “living stones,” people who keep on growing up into Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through God’s Word and Sacraments. Living stones take up their cross daily and follow Christ faithfully. Living stones are committed to sharing the light and love and saving grace of Jesus Christ with people all around them and all around the world.
By God’s grace, you and I are counted among those living stones. We are very imperfect people. But through our faith in Christ, we live in His forgiveness. And each day He covers us anew with His righteousness, which covers over all of our guilty stains.
Sadly, there are many people these days, including some who were brought up in the church, who are looking to sources other than Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation, for spiritual nourishment and hope for the future. They are trying to build their spiritual life on whatever lifeless stones and ideas suit their fancy at the time. But all they end up with is “stone soup,” which offers them no real or lasting nourishment or hope or peace.
Peter makes clear that in order to build a spiritual house that will stand strong through the storms of life, and will accomplish God’s will and purposes, we must first become living stones through the pure spiritual milk of baptism. Then by God’s grace, we continue to taste and see that the Lord is good, as we feed on God’s holy Word and Holy Supper. Through these means of grace, God’s Spirit continually breathes new life into our ministry as God’s chosen people—and prevents us from becoming God’s frozen people.
As we grow in our faith in the Living Stone, Jesus Christ, and build our spiritual life on the foundation of His Word and promises, God’s Spirit gathers us together in a spiritual house like Immanuel. Then, working together under the leadership of a pastoral shepherd, God’s people focus their efforts on carrying out Christ’s mission—to make disciples for Christ, and to help those disciples grow and mature in their Christian faith– and their life of Christian love and service. This has been the mission of Immanuel for 125 years, and by God’s grace, will continue to be its central focus for decades to come.
However, just as in Peter’s day, so today, many people reject God’s priceless gifts of forgiveness, new life and salvation which Jesus earned for us on the cross. They try to create their own version of stone soup, which can never satisfy their spiritual thirst. 2,000 years later, Jesus is still “the stone that the builders rejected,…a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”
An increasing number of people these days are taking offense at the exclusive claims of our Biblical faith. They claim that all religions are basically the same, there are many saviors, and all roads lead to the same place. Peter says that we are to share the saving message of the Gospel with gentleness and respect. But we must always stand firm in our faith. As the hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Jesus Christ may not always be “the people’s choice.” But He is the only choice for our salvation. Peter says clearly in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
By God’s grace, Immanuel is made up of living stones whom God has gathered together as the building blocks for His church—living stones like you!. But the psalmist reminds us that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). We must always let the Master Builder be our architect and builder.
For 125 years, the Master Builder has given to the people of Immanuel countless times when you have “tasted the kindness of the Lord,” countless times when your ministry has been blessed beyond measure. The lives of literally thousands of people have been touched and transformed by the light and love of Christ, through the ministry of Immanuel’s church and school. As you keep on growing God’s family in this community and region, by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and keep on providing the opportunities for everyone at Immanuel to grow up in Christ and serve the Lord with gladness, you will continue to be a blessing for countless people, who will be blessed as you and I have been, to call Immanuel their home! May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.