Note: The Lutheran Haven is our SELC District’s Adult Care Community in Oviedo, FL. I am currently serving on the Board of Trustees. During our meetings there last week, we commemorated the 65th anniversary of its founding. This homily was preached for that event, using readings for the Vigil of Pentecost.
The Lutheran Haven is 65 years old. Thanks be to God for His goodness and grace, and for all who have been cared for here over the years. I wonder what that number is of all who have been here and been helped here through the years, both young and old, orphans and church workers in need.
65 years old. That number means something else too: retirement. A lot of changes happens to us in 65 years of life. Changes I am still discovering - the gray hair, the aches and pains - but most of you know. The Haven has changed much over these 65 years as well, though she is not retiring. And as you well know, after 65 the changes keep coming. It reminds me of the line from a hymn you will surely remember: change and decay in all around I see, in life and death, O Lord, abide with me (LSB #878).
And He does. For, you see, He is the constant in the midst of all change. For He is the changeless One. The One who is always the same. Steadfast, sure, and reliable, even when all else fails us. Our Lord Jesus, His Father, and His Spirit. The One who created you, redeemed you, and sanctifies you. The One who comes and makes you His own through water and the Word. And He promises: you are mine (Isaiah 43), He says. Nothing will snatch you out of my hand (John 10), He says. I have gone to prepare a place for you (John 14), He says. A place even greater than the Haven. And nothing in this world is more sure than those words. Nothing.
And today, we heard another promise, spoken by Jesus in His last hours with His disciples, just before going to the cross. He says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth . . . I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Orphans. That’s part of the reason the Haven was begun - to show the life of Christ to the least of these. The Scriptures tell us that God always has a place in His heart for the fatherless and the widow. But not only them. With these words, Jesus is telling His disciples - and us - that because of Him, we will never be without a Father, and the Church will never be without her Bridegroom. In Christ, we will never be alone or left alone.
It is not so in the world. We are often bereaved of loved ones. Parents die, spouses die, friends die. Jesus knows what that’s like. When his father died, when his cousin John died, when his friend Lazarus died. He knows the tears. So He knew that when He died, when He was arrested, abused, and then hung on the cross as a trophy of hate - He knew what would be in the hearts of His disciples. And so He tells them, He assures them: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Yes, the One who is going to die will come to them! How can this be? You know the answer. It is what we have been celebrating this whole Easter season now drawing to a close. It is because Christ is risen! Because the One who died our death rose from the dead to break the power of death. Because the One who was wounded for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities (Is 53:5) - His chastisement has brought us peace; peace in the forgiveness of our sins. And so there is really now nothing that can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). And so Jesus did come to them - the resurrected and triumphant Jesus - in that room where they were huddled behind locked doors, beside the Sea of Galilee, on the Road to Emmaus.
And then He ascends, as we celebrated last week. The conquerer mounts in triumph! Yet still we will not be orphans; still we will not be alone! He sends His Spirit, another Helper, to be with us. The Spirit who was sent to the Church on Pentecost, as we will celebrate this Sunday. But also the Spirit given to you as Christ baptizes you. The Spirit who comes to you as Christ speaks to you through His Word. The Spirit who brings you His gifts, who works in you His fruits, and who is not only the gift of your Saviour but who connects you to your Saviour. There is nothing you need that He does not give, for He brings the forgiveness, life, and salvation won by your Saviour on the cross.
For 65 years now, these gifts have been given here, at this Lutheran Haven, by Christ’s servants. Indeed this is why you came, to this Lutheran Haven - this Haven of Lutheranism in the midst of a world that says it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you believe. To that you have said NO! You are here because it does matter! It matters because who you are is not what you have chosen to be, but who Christ made you. And what you believe isn’t what you think is true, but what has been given to you as true by God in His Word. And you treasure that. Embodying what Jesus said, and as we heard earlier: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Keep there doesn’t mean just obey, though that is a part of it. It is actually a military word, meaning to treasure, to keep, to stand guard over like a sentry. Because you love your God, His Word does matter. His life does matter. His gifts do matter. And so you want to lose no Word, no gift, nothing that He has given. And so you have come here. You could have moved and lived anywhere, but you chose here. To a Haven of God’s gifts given and His life lived.
For it is as God said through the prophet Isaiah: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. . . . And I will heal him.
Healing has been in the news a lot lately, what with the changes that Obamacare is bringing, and the advances science keeps making. Yet people are still dying. That is not the healing God is speaking about here. His is a greater healing than that. Jesus healed many with every disease as He walked our dusty globe. He even raised a few from the dead - the son of a widow and Lazarus come to mind. But what happened to them after that? They died, or died again. Sin will reap its awful wages - the wages we all owe. And so if only for this life, this kind of healing, we have hope in Christ, then we are of all people most to be pitied, Paul says (1 Cor 15:19).
But our hope is greater than that, for God’s healing is greater than that. It is life from the dead. It is forgiveness for the contrite. It is the lifting up of the lowly. The lifting up - the resurrection! - of those who are dust, and to dust they have returned. For nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). It is why He took our flesh, to raise it. And it is why He gives us His flesh and blood now - to raise ours. To a life beyond death. To a life where all sin, all sorrow, all tears, are no more. And He gives us His Spirit as a guarantee (2 Cor 1:22). That we live in Him. That we live in hope.
And that, it seems to me, is what this place, this Lutheran Haven, is all about. It is a place of hope. This is not a place where the living wait to die, but where the dying live and wait to live even more. The world doesn’t see it that way, so that is our message to them as well. There is more to this place than meets the eye, just as there is more to the water, words, and bread and wine. The greater is the healing that cannot be seen. The life that is ours, but not yet. When the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest (LSB #644 v.4).
On this foundation, The Church’s One Foundation (LSB #644), the Lutheran Haven was begun 65 years ago. A long time for us; a blink of the eye to God.
I’ll end now with more one “65” in the Bible. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah, who then lived 969 years (Gen 5:21-27). Does the Haven have another 969 years? Only God knows. But this I know: you do. For our great Enoch, our Lord Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven for you, to take you to be where He is. To live not in the cottages, but in the mansions, He has prepared for us. Where we with all the saints who have gone before us, will see Him face to face (LSB #644 v.5).
65 years years of grace we celebrate this day. Thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.