Friday, March 18, 2016

On the occasion of the decommissioning of Christ Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio

(Final Service in our present sanctuary)

But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly await a Savior, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body using the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:20-21

Christ Lutheran Church
3721 W. 43rd Street
Cleveland, OH 44109

Cornerstone laid 1889

Dedicated 1909

Decommissioned 2010

Holy Scripture makes a strong case for building earthly sanctuaries, elegantly adorning them, spending prodigious amounts of money on them, and for seeking refuge in them from the harsh realities of sin and death.

It makes an equally good case for counting them as nothing!  Nothing because there is only one temple that matters; the crucified, resurrected and glorified body of our Lord -- the very body we become members of in holy baptism, and which we receive on our lips in holy communion, the temple that was torn down by men, but raised by the glory of the Father on the third day. And there is the heavenly mansion: the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, a sanctuary so desirable that St. Paul confesses early in his epistle that to live is Christ but to die is gain.
1:21) And now in today’s epistle lesson he reminds us that we are bona fide citizens of a city whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:16)

Both of these are the teachings of God’s Word, but it is not the pastor’s job on this distinctive occasion to finesse anyone, smooth-talk people out of their emotions, or to fill their heads full of positive thinking maxims. Unlike Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral, which filed for bankruptcy last month, we don’t do spin at Christ Lutheran Church. Instead, by God’s mercy, we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. (
Rom 1:16) We give utterance to the strong Word which cleaves the darkness, which kills the cancer of our sin, and which gives everlasting life to sinners who are justified before God by faith and faith alone. At Christ Lutheran Church we free people from the bondage of sin and the fear of death, by showing that Jesus bore the full condemnation of their sins on the cross. By God’s favor we will continue to do so whether in a sanctuary, or if it were necessary, in a barn, because whenever God’s saints gather to “eat this bread and drink this cup,” they are no longer on earth anyway, but in heaven, present with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” lauding and magnifying God’s glorious name, and singing Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. These are not just fond sentiments the church prays in her liturgy, dear Christians, but present realities which are a foretaste of the things to come.

What is the case for desiring and finding great comfort in earthly sanctuaries? First there is God’s command.  From the earliest times He instructed His people to construct houses of worship, ones that gave visible representation to the faith they believed, sanctuaries that materially matched the goodness, truth and beauty of the Lord who saves them from destruction by His death on the cross, houses where men, who by nature worship their bellies, might rather give thanks to the one eternal God whom earth and heaven adore.

What is the case for putting their importance aside when there is no other choice?  Most compelling is the fact that God who commanded their construction was equally willing to allow their destruction,  perfectly pleased to let His enemies level them to the ground whenever His people became faithless and worshiped other gods.  It happened to the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians, to the Second Temple which was leveled by the Romans in 70 AD, and again in the year 1453 AD when Hagia Sophia the crown jewel of the Eastern Church was over-run by Muslims and converted to a Mosque which still stands today! And how many crown jewels in our own city, built with the blood, sweat and tears of our immigrant ancestors, stand empty today?  But whenever those temples were destroyed, or died of old age as ours has, God’s people took what was essential, their holy faith, and followed on to wherever He would lead.  We shall do the same.

We also have the case of David who wanted to build a house for God, but God said: no, no David, let us get things right.  You will not build a house for me but I will build one for you!  A house that will be torn down, but raised again on the third day because He is the true temple of God, even Jesus Christ our incarnate Lord and God.  Not the Jesus of church signs, nor the Jesus of modern ecclesiastical mania who “shines” at people’s command.  But rather the Incarnate Christ revealed in sacred Scripture, confessed in the church to be “true God begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man born of the virgin Mary.”  He is our Lord. Jesu!  The joy of man's desiring who sups with us and we with Him whenever and wherever the gospel of grace is purely proclaimed and the sacraments ritely administered.

And we have today’s epistle lesson, which has been read in the church on this 23rd Sunday after Trinity for several hundred years.  In it St. Paul reminds us that wherever our earthly locale we are citizens of heaven, strangers and pilgrims here with heaven as our true home. Neither is this mere sentiment, but rather a theological reality, because we are in Christ by baptism and He is in us by His Word and Sacrament, thus where He is we are.  That is our home.  That is our church.  That is the house and temple of the living God.

So if we must leave one earthly temple for another we shall do so with many tears, with much fear and trepidation, but also with aplomb, with grace, and above all with thanksgiving for what we had, what we still have, and for what our God will yet give us.

What did we have? We had a lovely sanctuary which for 107 years was like a cradle to us, a cradle of Christian civilization; like a mother, an aged mother who loved us to the end but now mother has died and we must say good bye. We will never forget her, but “our days of sorrow will end.” (Is. 60:20)

What do we still have? All the things she gave us: the Holy Word, the Holy Sacraments, the church’s corpus of hymns and prayers, creeds and doctrines, and the Office of the Holy Ministry to administer these things among us. We have one another, each a God-given gift to the other, and a temporary home with dear fellow Christians at Unity Lutheran Church. But these are not the end of God’s blessings because we have every good prospect of obtaining a future sanctuary of our own. God who is omnipotent and omniscient knows how to give us what we need. We have the promises stated in today’s epistle lesson, heavenly citizenship paid for by the death of our Lord, and bestowed upon us by grace through faith, a Savior’s word that when He returns He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, using the power which enables Him to subject all things to Himself.

Neither are these the end of what God has prepared for those who love Him because Holy Scripture declares that, “His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1) But here words fail us, so we continue where we left off. Hearing our Lord’s Word, giving thanks, and singing the church’s song with all the company of heaven. These things are “better than jewels, and nothing we can desire can compare to them.” (Prov. 8:11) Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

After 5 years God has provided Christ Lutheran Church with a new home.  For more information and worship schedules, please go to the Christ Lutheran Church website:

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