Eighty-five years! Eighty-five years in Baroda, overflowing with its vineyards, fruit farms, tool and die, machine repair shops; all of which require an intimate working of human hands, calloused over from the day-to-day grind. So it’s only natural that some of those same hands from over the years shaped and molded to form what we have come to know as St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, not only 85 years ago when the first church was built on Second Street, but also 45 years later when it was determined that so many sisters and brothers in Christ were part of the St. John’s family that they needed an even bigger place to worship and praise this God of all times and places. And so brick by brick those broken-in hands formed yet again a church for us to come together in order for us to be better shaped and molded by God; and at the center of the sanctuary was this vine.
Now, I will be the first to admit to you when I first came to this place just over four years ago, I had no idea what this thing was. Perhaps it was my narrow-minded Buckeye brain, but back in Ohio the church I grew up in had this stained-glass window of Jesus behind the altar. And with the church being constructed to face the east, the sun rising on a Sunday morning would send light piercing through the face of Jesus with the ultimate reminder that Jesus Christ is indeed the light of the world. Nevertheless, there’s still something to this vine hanging behind the altar.
Yes, I understand it connects to our surroundings here, and to the very lives of so many people in this county. But there’s still something more. I’ve found myself over the years looking up to that vine after I take Communion. I don’t know why, it just happened. It was subconscious. It was…perhaps even Holy Spirit luring me to look up.
Because at the ultimate center of every worship service here at St. John’s is not the preaching or the music or the cute children coming up; it’s the meal. It’s the bread and wine. It’s God saying directly to us the very words that have saved us and give us life, “This is my body given for you.” “This is my blood shed for you.” St. John’s is ultimately about the act of living out the Lord’s Supper where we are now the disciples, filled with our own fears and worries and yet eager anticipation, just like the twelve were the night before their Lord, our Lord, would die on the cross, without which there would be absolutely no St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, no relationships shaped and molded over 85 years through choirs, Confirmation classes, youth groups, Bible studies, community picnics, no vine to hang over the altar.
And yet it hangs there. For forty years now it’s been hanging right there. And each time I taste and see the goodness of the Lord through bread and wine, through the body and blood of our Savior, I look up to that vine and realize that Communion is not just for my own soul to be forgiven, to be fed with grace, to help me realize how much God loves sinful me to the point of an awful death on a cross. That vine forces me to witness that I’m grafted into this God not just of these past 85 years, or all the eons before, but for all eternity.
We are grafted into this God that shapes and molds the entirety of humanity, and makes of us branches out of the very vine of Jesus Christ Himself, branches that will infiltrate the world from Baroda to the ends of the earth, into lives of people we have yet to meet. They will even push us away, saying they don’t need our help, they don’t need Easter egg hunts, blood drives, Relay for Life, worship services, or even the Greatest News that Christ is Risen indeed. But no matter how much we’re pushed away the branch falls right back into its place with the fruit of love and compassion growing because of the vine, because of the ministry, because of the life and death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
After all, much has happened over these past 85 years from world wars and armed conflicts to twin towers collapsing and dreaded diseases like cancer that continue to take our loved ones away from us far too soon. The anger and the doubts may push the caring branches away with the staunchest force, and yet we keep on showing up with a stubborn passion. We keep on offering bread and wine. We keep on offering the most real hope. We keep on giving this place so that God will get to work on us and on all the people who gather here. We keep on showing up to people’s bedside, in the hospital, and throughout this journey we call life, because the vine and His branches cannot be limited to inside the walls of any church. God will simply not allow such a hindrance to the divine work. The vine will burst through any stained-glass windows, any brick walls and infiltrate Berrien County and the entire world with the same love that saved all of us on the cross and out of the empty tomb.
So yes, today is a day to celebrate 85 years of ministry, filled with wonderful people we will never forget, and events that brought families and friends together from Christmas Eve worship services to Rally Day picnics. Those precious memories are not to be forgotten. So today we celebrate, but tomorrow it’s time to continue the very work God called us to live out as the branches springing forth from the life-giving vine of Jesus Christ, to bring the Great News to life that God is alive and well and at work in this world.
The last 85 years have been an amazing ride, but today at the ultimate center of worship, God will remind all of us through bread and wine, through the body and blood, that we still have more to offer to this world, that St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 85 years strong, is just beginning. And for that sacred privilege to be part of that life-giving ministry for the sake of the whole world, we give thanks to our true foundation, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, now and forevermore. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon