The Lord has been blessing our congregation in many striking ways. We have been growing in remarkable ways, and an essential part of this growth entails the inevitable growing pains. Quite a few of you just moved to our community just within the last year, and it may seem to you that you have jumped into the middle of a conversation that has been going on for forty years. But some of you newcomers might be puzzled over something else also. Where you came from felt like a wilderness to you, and so you would devour all kinds of things that would come out of our community, and then when you arrived here, you found yourself more checked out about what is going on than some of the people who have lived here for years. Life is funny, and make sure you adjust for all the variables, and do so without becoming judgemental.
“And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (1 Sam. 7:9–12).
Summary of the Text
On the threshold of battle, the prophet Samuel interceded on behalf of Israel, with a sacrifice and intense prayer, and the Lord heard him (v. 9). And in the very moment of offering up the ascension offering, or whole burnt offering, the Philistines approached the Israelites to do battle (v. 10). But the Lord responded from heaven with loud thunder, so much so that the Philistines were thrown into confusion and Israel overcame them (v. 11). The men of Israel then seized control of the situation and drove the Philistines back as far as place called Beth Car (v. 11). In response, Samuel in his gratitude set up a monument stone, and named it Ebenezer, saying that the Lord had helped them to “this point” (v. 12). The word Ebenezer literally means “stone of help.”
Earlier in the narrative, when the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines, they took the ark from the place called Ebenezer to their city of Ashdod. This previous battle that had been lost was a real humiliation to Israel, and an indicator of their idolatrous faithlessness. Twenty years later, Samuel called Israel to return to God with all their hearts (1 Sam. 7:3), which they did. God granted them this victory, which Samuel memorialized, and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel (1 Sam. 7:13).
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I’ve come
(Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)
I would like this message to serve as something of an introduction for our “new members,” and a reminder for our old timers. Our congregation is alive and thriving, and there were many occasions when it all might have gone otherwise. Thus far the Lord really has helped us. If it had been a matter of our own wisdom or capability, we would not be here. We have no right to still be here.
The Centrality of Worship
We believe that the most important thing that any of us can do in the course of a week is to appear here before the Lord. “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve [worship] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29).
God does not just come first in an abstract way. He comes first because we worship Him on the Lord’s Day, on the first day of the week. He comes first because our time of worship here should be thought of by you as you laying the foundation stone of everything else that you will do in the course of this coming week.
The Interconnectedness of All Things
But worship is not a disconnected important thing, like a diamond in a truckload of driveway gravel. Rather it is central and connected to absolutely everything else we might do—the way the engine is central to the function of the car. “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1:17).
We believe that all things in the universe are related to one another, and they are related in Christ. In fact, the only reason why the universe can even be a universe is because of Christ. God is sovereign and therefore Christ is Lord.
It is not the case that your life is made up of all these disconnected and random parts, and that discipleship consists of you surrendering them all to the Lord, so that He could haul them off to His divine salvage yard, the place where true randomness reigns. No. In Christ, all the different aspects of your life fit together as one integrated whole. And in Christ, in this His body, your life fits together with all the other lives that are being fitted together. This is what love is like. This is what koinonia love naturally does.
“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:14; Col. 2:2).
And remember that as we grow together, we are not above using the tools and events the Lord has granted to us. This includes everything, from our new church software to our Beer & Psalms events, from shared meals to helping the less fortunate through our deacons’ fund. Expect everything to be gathered somehow, some way. But it will be gathered in an orderly way.
Self-government—which is the fruit of regeneration—is foundational to every other form of God-given government. Those three other governments are the government of the family (Gen. 2:18), the government of the church (Eph. 4:11-12), and the government of the state (Rom. 13:1-2). Now the state is the ministry of justice. The church is the ministry of Word and sacrament. The family is the ministry of health, education, and welfare. Among other things, this means that you and your family all belong here at worship.
The church has a central role, like a cathedral in the middle of a town has a central place. But the rest of the town is part of the kingdom. All of it belongs to Christ, but not all of it belongs to the church. Expect this to show up in nicknames, names like kirker, and make sure you make all the necessary adjustments. The fact that kirkers can repair automobiles or cut hair or sell burgers does not mean that the church owns or controls any of that. It simply means that you are being taught to pursue whatever it is that God has given you to do with the glory of Christ and the good of His people in mind—as determined by Scripture. The church teaches honesty, hard work, the need for craft competence, and so on.
On a related front, our church’s statement of faith reflects the views of the church leadership, and is a good indicator of what you can expect to hear taught from the pulpit. But you do not have to subscribe to it until you see it for yourself in the Word of God. In order to be a member, you have to confess that Jesus is Lord in a biblical fashion, and not be living an outrageous life style.
We are followers of Christ alone, and so it may seem odd to describe one of the attitudes that we are seeking to cultivate here by using the names of two of the Lord’s more notable servants. But that is all that it is—odd. “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). Joy is not just an attitude we have going into the fray. That joy is one of our most formidable weapons.
If you are not growing in cheerfulness, you are going to have genuine trouble fitting in. This does not mean cartwheels all day, every day, but it does mean that you are now part of an extraordinarily cheerful community, and you should prepare yourself for that. Part of that preparation means participating in it. Neither does this mean that we do not know how to mourn with those who mourn. Remember that the apostle Paul knew how to be “sorrowful, but always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Your afflictions and sorrows are rich Palouse topsoil, in which the graces of Christ may grow. But down underneath is the bedrock, a thick layer of basalt and unmovable joy. That’s what the soil rests on.
All of Christ for All of Life
If there is one most noticeable thing that is missing in our lost generation, it is the fact of identity. They have had almost all of their old established (and idolatrous) identities smashed, and now are reduced to making up their own ad hoc identities as they go along, which is how we get bizarre manifestations of our father famine—things like “trans communities.” To this our answer is not “traditional values,” but rather the message of the crucified and risen Christ. He is the only one who brings us back to the Father (John 14:6), and He is the one who alone can restore the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Mal. 4:6).
He is the risen one, and therefore the Lord of all. He is Lord extensively, and He is Lord intensively. There is therefore nothing in this cosmos that He did not extend His scepter over. Our task is to fan out and claim it—but not so fast as to outrun our own headlights. He is Lord. Proclaim it deliberately, methodically, inexorably, and proclaim it in some fashion in everything you do or say. Christ is Lord.