Always rebuilding so we may feed Christ’s lambs

2 Kings 23:1–7, 15–18, 21–25 Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 2 He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets-- all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. 3 The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD-- to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. 4 The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. 5 He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem-- those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. 6 He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. 7 He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the LORD and where women did weaving for Asherah. ... 15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin-- even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also. 16 Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things. 17 The king asked, "What is that tombstone I see?" The men of the city said, "It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it." 18 "Leave it alone," he said. "Don't let anyone disturb his bones." So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria. 21 The king gave this order to all the people: "Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." 22 Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem. 24 Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. 25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did-- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.


What would you think if you walked into church this morning and saw our beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window, but then saw a big pudgy Buddha statue sitting on the altar and voodoo dolls and shrunken heads hanging all over the walls of the church? Or, what would you think if you walked into one of our WLS classrooms today and saw a big wooden cross hanging on the wall, but then saw Muslim prayer rugs on the floor and Chinese paper lanterns for appeasing the dead hanging all around the classroom?
I hope you would be so enraged that you would immediately start tearing those artifacts of false worship out of the sanctuary and school. There is no place in God’s house of worship and place of Christian education for those kinds of evil relics. These buildings are not here so that we may engage in all the heretical, sinful, false beliefs of the world. Rather, these buildings are here so we may feed Christ’s lambs and sheep with Word and Sacrament.
Young King Josiah walked into his church, the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem, and looked all over the land of Judah to find his church and land filled with all kinds of evil and idolatrous relics. Josiah took over as king at age eight. He was a king who feared the Lord, very unlike the evil and unbelieving kings he followed. During the eighteenth year of his reign, when the temple was undergoing repairs, the high priest found the Book of the Law inside. It was taken to the king, who turned aghast when he read it. For in it he could see how far Judah had departed from the Lord’s ways. The very fact that the Book of the Law had been effectively lost shows how bad things had become. So Josiah ordered a major remodeling. He worked to cleanse the temple and the surrounding areas of idolatrous altars, images and paraphernalia.
Josiah removed from the temple and the high places where people gathered to worship, all kinds of assorted, disgusting, perverse worship practices. He burned the vessels and wooden poles used to worship the fertility gods, Baal and Asherah. He tore down the house of the male prostitutes used in their worship. Josiah’s work with a sledge hammer continued outside Jerusalem. He broke the pagan altars on the Judean hilltops, then desecrated them by scattering the bones of the killed priests on those high places (since no self-respecting Jew wanted to be made unclean by touching the bones of a dead man). He tore apart the altars of Chemosh and Molech where parents would sacrifice their children on blazing fires. He also rid the land of spiritists and mediums, men and women who supposedly communicated with the dead, and removed the wooden household gods from the homes of the Israelites.
These idolatrous practices had crept in gradually over the years. What one generation burned in the fire, the next generation tolerated. What one generation tolerated, the next generation worshiped. Slowly and quietly, the people turned their backs on the Lord.


King Josiah was cleaning house so he could rebuild the temple and the surrounding area as places where only the true God of salvation was worshiped and glorified.
What would you think if you had walked into the home of 61-year-old Wendy Towers of London, England? Recently, Tower’s home collapsed under its own weight. Apparently, Towers had stored 22 tons of stuff on the second floor of her house, so much that the joists and beams gave way, and the building collapsed in on itself.
Understand, Towers had never consciously decided she would collect all this junk, which eventually destroyed her home. It just sort of accumulated, bit by bit and piece by piece.
What do you think when you look at what you have accumulated in your life? I’m not talking about being a hoarder of earthly stuff like that which destroyed Towers’ home. I’m talking about accumulating all of the little, insidious sins, heresies and idolatries, much like the Israelites did before Josiah’s time.
Like, not forgiving someone who has hurt, or wounded, or betrayed you in the past. Not forgiving yourself of those sins which the Lord erased long ago. Not making the worship of your God as the number one priority for your family’s weekly activities. Grudges, envy, prejudice, revenge, anger and other sinful reactions. Making use of horoscopes, good luck, talking to a dead relative, or other seemingly innocuous things that are really from the devil and his demons. Building up pagan altars in our lives to the god of sleep, or the idol of money, or the deity of goofing off.
Like Towers, like the Israelites, we probably never set out to collect all these heresies and sins, but somehow they have just piled up one after the other. If we do not take a sledge hammer to knock down these pagan altars, these relics of our past and present sins will weigh us down, rob us of joy, and eventually cause our faith in God to come crashing down around us.
What do you think when you see all these sins and idols being stored in your heart? I hope you are so enraged that you want to tear them out and create an altar solely to the Lord.
That is one of the reasons why the Church always needs rebuilding. The construction materials God uses for His Church are the sledgehammer of the Law and the mortar of the Gospel. You and I are the stones in the house of the Lord, built upon Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. Christ fits us all together in His Holy Christian Church and then holds us together in Him through His Word and Sacraments.
Christ uses His Word to first of all show us our sin and make us uncomfortable. Three hundred years before this text, as Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, was starting idolatrous worship in Bethel, the Lord had sent a man from Judah who predicted that Josiah would put an end to all sacrifice on the illicit altar there. Prophetically, this man even gave Josiah’s name! When Josiah actually did what was predicted, he did not even know he was fulfilling a prophecy. The local people told him about it. How absolutely accurate the Lord’s Word had been, even though it was forgotten by so many!
God’s Word remained every bit as accurate when a prophet like Isaiah foretold that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and call him “Immanuel,” God with us. This accuracy held when Isaiah gave graphic details of Christ’s substitutionary suffering as the Servant upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all, and it continued when Isaiah by inspiration predicted this Servant’s restoration to life and victory.
It is this Word that we need to use and devote ourselves to learning. We Christians ought to know God’s Word even better than we know about our favorite hobbies or sports teams. But beyond mere mental exercise is deeply drinking God’s Word in and depending on it. Years ago there was a devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. Six thousand people died, largely because their homes had been poorly constructed, and built right on top of fault lines. People knew the construction was flimsy and the locations iffy. They knew these things, but that was all. That’s why our faith is constructed upon the solid foundation of Christ and His Word. It is a foundation that cannot shake, crack or fail.
That’s why, whether our members have been a part of First Evan decades ago or in a storefront on Taylor Ave or here in this sanctuary, these buildings have all had their foundation upon Christ and His holy Word. That’s why, whether our children attended Kindergarten in the room we now call our Friendship Room, or attended classes in the buildings attached to our two churches, or they get to enjoy the great new Middle School building on Grand Ave, these buildings have all had their foundation upon Christ and His holy Word. That’s why, whether our children have been in classrooms with one teacher covering a number of classes or they have the blessings of one teacher per classroom, plus aides, our teachers have had their education and their faith built upon Christ and His holy Word.
For it is God’s Word that always points to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is God who became Man, to live for us, suffer and die for us, and then rise from the dead and ascend into heaven for us. Yes, we have been hoarders of our sin. Yes, we have created altars in our hearts to all kinds of false gods. Yes, we follow all kinds of heresies and blasphemies in our daily lives. But as much sin as we have, Christ has more forgiveness. As much as we are plagued by the devil, Jesus has completely overcome the world. As much as we believe every kind of heresy and false teaching, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As much as we are hounded by death, our Lord grants us life eternal. As much as we starve ourselves spiritually, Jesus feeds our faith with His Word and Sacraments. He always has plenty more where that came from, mercies new every morning, grace upon grace.


He has more than one way of bringing this grace to us. That is why at the time of the exodus the Lord had instituted the Passover, which had been in disuse for centuries before Josiah revived it. No wonder the people had strayed religiously! They had taken their attention off the Lord, off of His forgiveness, off of the coming Christ. For the Passover was all about Christ. Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb – without blemish or defect, no broken bones, yet deliberately killed and His blood applied to save people from death. The perfect Passover Lamb saves us from spiritual death by granting us a life of faith in Baptism. In the Lord’s Supper, the perfect Passover Lamb allows us to drink His blood, poured out for our forgiveness, and eat His body, broken so we may have life in Him.
The Lord of the Church knows how much we stray, how much we sin, how much paganism we hoard in our lives. That is why the Christian Church constantly needs rebuilding. We need pastors and teachers to assist us in swinging the sledgehammer of God’s Law to break down our pagan altars and hedonistic monuments. Then these same pastors and teachers assist us with the sweetness of the Gospel, carefully building up our faith upon Christ, His apostles and prophets, so that we are living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The Lord invites us to take part in His building projects—church buildings, school buildings, the building up of people’s lives, and most importantly, the building of His heavenly Kingdom. What a joy and privilege is ours to work alongside each other, as willing servants of the Lord of the Church, to witness the power of the Spirit, and to support this ministry at Epiphany and Wisconsin Lutheran School!
It doesn’t matter what building we are in, we are constantly and continually rebuilding so we may feed Christ’s sheep and precious lambs.
Let the building continue! Amen.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Water into blood and water into wine

Funeral sermon for Susan P. Tangerstrom

Wedding sermon for Rod & Terri Strutz