In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Virginia, a “grandmother” figure for many children in her neighborhood, died unexpectedly. Saddened by the death of this special friend from her childhood, one teenager observed, “I wish things could stay the same as when I was little.” Don’t we all wish that things could stay the same as when we were little, or when we were first married, or whenever that good time was? Obviously, many things don’t stay the same. Where can we find the stability we desire in our lives? We seek it in many places: in doing well at school, a steady job, a stable family life, a healthy body, a strong investment portfolio, to name a few. None of these things is bad in and of itself; indeed, they are generally good and worthwhile pursuits. But can they, or anything we might think, try, or achieve—even “spiritual” pursuits—can any give the stability we seek? We find true and lasting stability for this life, and eternal security beyond this life, only in this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Doing well in school and being a good student is something every parent, teacher, principal, and school wants to instill in every student. I was blessed to attend Lutheran schools only later in life, as an adult, first at Concordia College (now University) in St. Paul, Minnesota (one of my professors there, Dr. Jeff Burkart, wrote the words for our first hymn), and then Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where one of my professors was the grandfather of one of our Hope School students). I did attend good public schools in my hometown, and I had good teachers. I remember many of them with fondness and gratitude for what they taught me, and for their friendship and encouragement. The public university I attended had a nationally recognized field geology program, and geology was my major. I wanted to become a paleontologist and study dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to take your favorite classes, and not have to bother with subjects that don’t interest you, or in which you don’t do well? You like English, but you’re not good at math, so you skip the math classes. I was one of those kids who liked school, and I did well academically. In college, you have to declare a major, an area of study in which you concentrate and get your degree. As I said, mine was geology, and I knew that well before college, well before high school even. You can really like your major, but not necessarily every required class. One of my required classes was Structural Geology—basically engineering for geologists. Now I am no engineer. The professor had probably been teaching the class for 25 years—same lectures, same assignments, same tests, even the same coughs to clear his throat. The first test did not go well. It was my first ‘F,’ ever. In fact, almost everyone in the class bombed it! The person most shaken by that? The professor. For it had never happened to him before, and for the first time, he realized, he had to go back and re-teach the first part of the class.
One of my favorite hymns, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” speaks of “The stable earth, the deep salt sea / Around the old eternal rocks.” You don’t need to be a geologist to know that many parts of the earth are unstable; and rocks, far from being eternal, are worn down by weather, water, and each other. We human beings want to believe that we’re stable and reliable. If we change, we want it to be ‘upward’ change, improving our knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and so improving ourselves. Yet we know our selves, and that we daily fall back off of the one True Foundation and onto our old foundation, the old self, the self-reliant, self-loving self; or, as Luther put it, “we daily sin much.”
Consider the two “star pupils” we have in our Scripture lessons today, Jonah and Simon Peter. Each one is chosen by the Lord to be His messenger, Jonah a prophet and Peter an apostle. The Lord commands Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn its people of the judgment and destruction He is about to bring down upon them for their evil ways. After Jonah tries to flee as far away as he can, and once the Lord gets him headed in the right direction, Jonah does proclaim the divine warning, and the Ninevites believe him and repent! The Lord Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and they give some popular answers. Then He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” and Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah!” declares Jesus. A prophet speaks, and a whole city listens, repenting, turning from its evil ways. What prophet wouldn’t want that? And Peter is the ‘A’ student, he aced the test, give him a gold star!
But like each of us, they have their ups and their downs. Boy, do they have their downs! See how far and how fast each of them falls! God sees how the Ninevites turn from their evil way, and He relents from sending disaster upon them. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jnh 4:1). Jonah knew God would be gracious and merciful and forgiving; but, Nineveh, capital of Assyria, was Israel’s enemy, and Jonah wanted them destroyed. The Lord answers him, “Do you do well to be angry? … Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, and all those people?” (4:4, 11) After Peter’s confession, Jesus tells the disciples that He must suffer and be put to death and be raised. Peter says, “Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” Jesus answers him, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of man” (Mt 16:22–23). Jesus is warning Peter that he’s shifting the foundation of his thinking and faith from the Truth of God to the lies of his own fleshly heart and mind, lies straight from the devil. Get back on the One, the Sure, the Lasting Foundation! Likewise, Jonah tried to make God’s Law, with its threats and punishments, the foundation of his faith. But what would Jonah deserve for his sin? Would he not deserve the Law’s punishments? And if Jesus does not suffer and die and rise again, as Peter wishes, would not Peter die in his sins? Indeed, we and the whole world deserve exactly that, punishment and death, apart from Christ. We are Jonah and Peter, sinner-saints who in weakness depart from the Mind of God, who forget His Law, and His grace and mercy and forgiveness. We falter, and we’re fickle, sometimes as changeable as Silly Putty. He is not. “Christ Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He. is. The. Rock.
Since it started in 1983, Hope Lutheran School has been through many yesterdays. Our preschool started in the same year as the congregation, 1954, so it’s had more yesterdays. Teachers have changed, though certainly Hope is blessed to have had the stability of several teachers with long tenures here. Principals have changed, as have school office secretaries, and other support staff. Pastors and DCEs have changed. Curriculums and classes have changed. Technology has changed how some things are taught. Who uses filmstrips anymore? Students have definitely changed, as have their parents! Numbers have had their ups and downs, as have the individuals who have been Hope Lutheran Church and School over the years. Take a look at the thousands of fish in Concord Hall, each one with the name of a student who has attended Hope Lutheran School or Preschool. I love Mrs. Eichholz’s explanation for having each student, not just each graduate: Jesus calls us to become fishers of men, and each student is a fish who has, at least for a time, been ‘caught’ and has heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ here at Hope.
Hope Lutheran Church and School continues to experience changes in the present, and while we try to plan and prepare for the future, we must always do so saying in true humility, “If God wills it.” Whatever changes we may propose, and whatever changes may be imposed from outside, “Christ Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and His Faith is the same yesterday and today and forever. That Foundation, the Confession that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and all that it means—His incarnation and perfect obedience, and His suffering and death and His resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and for the life of the world—is the only Foundation. Though all other lessons may change and even drop away, God forbid that this Lesson, this Confession, this Foundation, should ever change or pass away!
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.