The promise is for you, for your children, and for everyone. That is why we are here in Wesley Chapel. 30 years ago, the then American Lutheran Church had foreseen that many people would soon be moving here. They bought a 13.3 acre property on State Rd. 54, then a 2-lane road through the sleepy rural countryside. They called a pastor who was serving in Montana, Matthew Cox and his wife Debbie, to come to sunny Florida with their young boys James and Joel, to start putting together a new congregation. And so began Atonement, a local outpost of mission and ministry amid the gator-ridden forests and swampy savannahs north of Tampa.
This month we are celebrating the work began before Atonement was officially founded. We are marking the 30th anniversary of the first worship service, which began in what was then J. F. Hunt’s Restaurant, on All Saints’ Sunday, November 1, 1987. When Atonement officially began as an organized congregation on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1988, there were 117 charter members. They were part of the newly organized Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which had just started on January 1st of that year. Their original mission statement read:
“We the people of Atonement Lutheran Church, called by the Spirit of God in our baptism, claim the gift of being a people touched by the grace of God for the purpose of sharing His unmerited love and forgiveness in our world…We live in a broken world as people of the cross. We follow our Lord, the servant Christ, into the brokenness: We welcome the stranger; We feed the hungry; We shelter the homeless; We visit the prisoner; We bless the sick. This is our vision for mission!”
Today’s Atonement continues to carry this mission forward - Sharing the love of Jesus, Glorifying God and Extending His Kingdom. We are here because of that promise Peter spoke of in the book of Acts – the promise of Christ’s healing and love for us and all people. It’s just as real today, and just as needed today. But today the world is still full of people just as unfamiliar with who Jesus is and what it means to know Him as people were when Peter got up and invited: “Repent and be baptized…”
People look for answers from YouTube or Alexa. People look for community in their coffee clutches and golfing groups. People look for strength from bottles of pills or alcohol. People look for hope everywhere but miss the one place they can truly find it: our Lord.
Bringing God’s forgiveness to the world begins with receiving it ourselves. It is our job to forgive one another and treat each other with respect and gentleness. Bringing God’s Word to the world begins with knowing it ourselves. It’s up to us to know God’s story in Scripture and how it enfolds our own stories. Sharing God’s love with the world begins with the common caring we do for each other – and then recognizing that those around us need it just as much… Peter’s call to “Repent” is actually your invitation to a new life… one that begins with Baptism, continues with discipleship, and goes on into eternity “with all the saints in light.” This is the promise.
And this is why we are here. After all, what good is a promise unless someone shares it? That’s where you come in. As part of that unending parade of saints that marches on to the kingdom of God, you too have a calling. Yours is to give hope to someone. Shine your light into a dark place and let someone know God is with them. Find a way to encourage, uplift, and accompany someone…whether that means getting to know a stranger, helping someone in need, inviting them to church, giving generously, or just being a encouraging presence. Then, don’t stop…!
Our most joyful and fulfilling moment comes when we share Christ’s love and be what God calls us to be. Jesus calls us all to love God and love your neighbor – and that is what we’re all about. 30 years have gone by -- the forests and gators have given way to shopping malls and subdivisions, but Atonement is still an outpost of hope to Wesley Chapel and beyond. We are here to stand together on the frontier of God’s kingdom to bring God’s Word, prayer, and the support of a church family to anyone who needs hope.