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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 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. Where you came from felt like a wilderness to you, and so you would devour all kinds of things that would come out of Moscow, 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 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). 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 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 lost battle was a 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 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. 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).
The Interconnectedness of All Things
But worship is not a disconnected important thing, like a diamond in a load of driveway gravel. Rather it is central and connected to absolutely everything else we 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.
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). 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.
We are followers of Christ alone, and so it may seem odd to describe one of the attitudes that we are seeking to cultivate 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.
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. To this we answer, not with “traditional values,” but rather with the message of the crucified and risen Christ.
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.