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St. John’s, Okabena, Minnesota —


In 1995 St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Okabena, Minn. has been observing its 100th anniversary. Pastor and people feel like Peter did when he beheld the Lord’s glory on the Mount: “It is good for us to be here!

It is good for us to behold the grace-glory of our Lord as we review His merciful ways with our church during the past century. It is good for us to speak of how He has preserved His saving Word and Sacraments among us in spite of the weaknesses of pastors and people.

The Lord’s Gracious Working

When our Lord invited those three disciples down from the Mount of Transfiguration, it was not to stay or to quit the work, as if all was finished and they had attained the blessing intended for them. Neither does He intend that those whom He has brought to celebrate one hundred years of His grace should sit and quit. We have not all attained the heavenly glory He desires for all the sheep of His flock. We have not even seen “all the sheep” of this flock! Others are yet to be added to us and to the invisible sheep-fold of Christ’s church through Word and Sacrament. Much work remains!

The fraternal insurance issue took many children and several young families from the congregation in 1979-1983. It appeared to some in the community that St. John’s membership was becoming “old” and outdated as its Bible doctrine. However, since 1983 nearly 30 members have been transferred by our Lord to heaven’s glory while almost 50 children have been brought into His kingdom through baptism.

There is more evidence of the Lord’s gracious working among us. Over the past 40 years adult Bible Class attendance has increased from 25-30 per Sunday to 40-45 per Sunday. In 1964 our communicants attended the Lord’s table an average of four times per year. By 1994 that number had doubled. Ten miles was a long way to ride a horse-drawn sleigh or buggy on a Sunday morning in 1895. In 1995 more than half of our membership live at least eight miles from church, and 20-30% of the congregation travel from 15-50 miles nearly every Sunday.

Church, Bible Class, and communion attendance all demonstrate the continuing activity of our Savior’s Word of grace among us. The dedication of our Sunday School and VBS teachers, church officers and committees, organists, janitors, choir members and directors, etc. shows the power of Christ’s Word to move our people to joyful service in the church through the years. The resolve of St. John’s membership to reestablish a Christian day school in its midst (one was operated in the years 1904-1908, and again in 1912-1916) indicates the high value placed upon the thorough instruction of their children in the Word of Truth.

Looking To The Future

For all of the above, and much more, we give most humble thanks to our God. We boast of nothing in ourselves. Neither is it our desire as pastor or people to sit on this mountain in the tents of self-satisfaction, just remembering the past. Our Lord went down from the mountain because there was work to be done for the salvation of sinners — a work of terrible suffering on His part before the victory and eternal glory. When the three disciples wanted to sit in religious comfort on the mountaintop and choose their own works for Christ (“We will make tents!”), the Father’s voice thundered from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Mt. 17:4-5)

There is one work for St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in the next century as in the last — the hearing and sharing of Christ’s Word. It is true that rural America is shrinking in population; many of our members have left the area over the years. Furthermore, in a small community like ours it is especially hard for a church to defend the “hard sayings” of our Savior’s Word (Jn. 6:60) without being falsely accused or labeled as a “strict” or “unloving” people. There is no place to hide.

On the prairie flats of southwest Minnesota our God has made us a “city set on a hill, that cannot be hidden” (Mt. 5:14). Rejoicing that we cannot be hidden, let us not hide! The same light of life we have so freely received must be shared with others of our community, that they too may be saved. We need to go out with the gospel if we want them to come in to the Body of Christ.

To share the Gospel for the salvation of sinners, that is why the Lord and His three friends came down from the mountain. Neither the Son of Man nor His disciples had finished their work or attained the eternal glory that awaited them. Nor is it time for us to sit, quit, or hide. “It is good for us to be here!” But it will be far better there, when our work is done. So help us, Lord, by Your enabling Word!

–Pastor Vance Fossum