It is the day after Christmas. All those things under the tree that seemed new just 24 hours ago are looking less so. Soon all those decorations around the house will need to be taken down. All the stuff put away and life going back to normal. Maybe even a little dull. Soon the kids will be bored with their toys and other things they got for Christmas. It will all lose the luster of being new.
The day after Christmas reminds me of my own faith walk. Often what seems new each day gets a little dull. It is so easy for me to forget the newness of the gospel. The beauty of its work in my life. It is so easy to look at our faith and miss the point. When we focus on how we feel or look at something it can so easily dull in our minds.
So what can we do. How do we make it seem new every day? Well the answers aren’t simple. They don’t have an easy answer. We don’t have some simple way to make everything seem new. The reality is our emotions have little to do with the faith we trust in. With the God we believe came near to us. Time can sometimes make us lose focus on this. We can get caught up in the emotion of this moment. Yet God has promised he is near. In our baptism he came and claimed us as His own. In the Lord supper we experience the Grace of God in the Body and blood. In Worship we hear about the one who shed his blood for us. This is what helps us be new every day.
So today as you begin looking at the rest of the year. The decorations and presents look a little dull remember the one who was the reason you celebrated. Remember the God of the universe coming down for us. Remember the work of Christ to be near so that he could die for you and me. It is so simple; it isn’t a new story to hear or a new gift. It is the gift we received long ago, the gift that changes everything for you and me. The Gift of the Son of God coming to be with us, to die for us, and to rise again.
This past Sunday I got to experience one of my greatest moments as a Dad. My daughter stood before the congregation of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Big Rapids Michigan and confessed her faith in Jesus. It was an amazing moment in her faith life and I couldn’t be prouder. Standing next to her while she did it will be something I cherish for a long long time.
Confirmation is an important event. Sometimes I think we forget the importance of this event. It isn’t however the end of our faith journey. For some this can seem like graduation from our time of formal education with the scriptures. I have heard is said by adults “I learned all I needed to about the scriptures in confirmation so I don’t need to go to bible study!” My response typically to this lovely moment is you must have miss understood what confirmation is all about. You must have thought confirmation was about making sure you know everything in the Bible! (This by the way isn’t even possible in a two year program) Heck I studied the bible for four years in college and can tell you with out a doubt in my mind, I know very little. So confirmation is not about teaching you everything but about teaching you what you will be confessing before the Church.
You see Confirmation from a Lutheran perspective is standing before the congregation and confirming what God promised to do to you in your baptism. God promised you in our baptism that he would bring you and conform you to himself. He would connect you forever with Jesus. You are standing before God and the congregation and proclaiming you believe in the one who saved you. You are confirming your baptism is at work in you through the work of the Holy Spirit. We have you study the scriptures so you know what that means. Our prayer is you grow in faith more and more. You study the scriptures daily. We pray you come to God’s house to hear his grace for you in the company of other believers, and when offered, receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
As a dad that promise to walk with my daughter didn’t stop. I will continue to challenge her to be faithful to what she confessed. I will remind her of her baptism, continue to bring her to God’s house and remind her to partake of Jesus. She is a major part of the family of Christ.
So for those of you who are reading this and haven’t been to Church, opened your Bible or received the sacrament since confirmation I invite you back. I invite you to remember the words of Jesus that worked in your heart that day so many years ago. I remind you of the promise of Jesus who is going after the one lost sheep. You are love and forgiven. In your baptism he claimed you and wants you to return.
For those reading this who have someone they love who has walked away from all this, I invite you to walk beside them. To love and care for them enough to want to see them come back to this faith they confessed.
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:26-33 ESV
I have a confession to make. This past Sunday I missed most of what happened in Church. In fact I apparently missed my Brother in-law Pastor say that we worship three Gods in one person.(All pastor’s have slips of the tongue) It was trinity Sunday and apparently he made this mistake during the opening announcements of the service. I tried to pay attention, I really did. However for this service I had one job in mind. I was going to keep my niece occupied so my Sister-in-law could enjoy the service of the baptism of her son. My self appointed job was sitting with my niece and trying to keep her quiet and distracted. She is what I would call a wild child and I love her for it. During the service I asked her in my quiet voice if I could suck her thumb that she was sucking. I don’t know why I did it except she was starting to get noisy and point to Mom, and I though maybe it would make her smile. It did and for the whole hymn she kept trying to stick her disgusting thumbs into my mouth. (By the way she has a tendency to stick her hands in her diaper quite often just for the visual) This was the beginning of probably the most amazing worship service I have been a part of in awhile.
You see next my niece went up with all the other little kids and saw the baptism. It was a very cool moment. When she returned, we spent the rest of the service quietly talking about it. Most of the message I spent pointing at the hymnal I was holding and showing her the baptism picture on it. I quietly sat and talked with her about how she was baptized when she was a little baby and that one day she would be with Jesus. I talked about how I would be with Jesus because I was baptized too. She smiled such a great smile and laughed her little laugh all very quietly. She would point to the baptismal font and then to herself and laugh. It was pure joy. We went to communion and I got to share with my niece about Jesus again. She smiled and we had the best time together. I held her and sang a hymn to her. At the last hymn she was tired and fell asleep in my arms. When the service was done the lady behind me said “What I did with that little girl was a miracle.” I am not sure it was a miracle but It was a great day as an uncle because I got to share Jesus with my 2 year old niece.
It was not a miracle. It was a good weekend. It was a good day. Two things I hope everyone takes from this story. First it is ok to give up a worship service to help a little one know Jesus and allow others to hear about him. It is ok to just pack it in and say you know what today is about my niece and everyone else in the room. I know parents who miss a lot in the service because they are devoting their lives to help their kids hear about Jesus.
Second and here is my challenge for congregations. Maybe next week when you see that mom or dad who are struggling with their small child to listen to the sermon you can sit next to them. Offer to hold one of the young ones during the service so they can hear about Jesus. Take time with the little ones who are squirmy. Share Jesus with them. It can be a blessing for all involved.
but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14
This past weekend I was asked to speak the message at a former student’s wedding. It was truly an honor to be a part of her, and her husband’s special day. It really made me think about all the students God has lead across my path over the last almost 12 years. It has made me think about what I love most about being in ministry. I love walking alongside people. I get the greatest joy of walking along side people and sharing Jesus with them. Sometimes with great joy and sometimes with great sadness. Most of the time it is both.
Speaking at Emily’s wedding reminded me of the messiness of walking with people. You see at Emily’s wedding it rained during the whole outside wedding ceremony. I am not talking about that kind of rain that just gets you wet but the kind that leaves you drenched. My suit was dripping and I couldn’t see for part of the message because water was just running down my face. I was reminded that walking with students isn’t always easy. It can be quite messy. You know when it is all said and done it is quite rewarding. You get to see two people join as one to follow Jesus together. You get to see lives changed and you get to laugh at the craziness of life and enjoy the moments for what they are. Moments where Jesus can bring joy in the midst of hardships. It did make it much easier to talk with them about being children of God through baptism because I had such a great object lesson.
This weekend also marked another tough moment in ministry. A student who I met a few times and is friends with some of the students I know well, ended his life. It was a tough way to end a weekend. I also thought is was emblematic of ministry. God lets us walk with students in the good times and we also have to walk through the tough stuff as well. I am reminded that Jesus calls us to walk in the lows and the highs, in the sorrow and joys but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will have another post later about this week with students and about this young man. So as I end I would ask for prayers first for the couple who is starting a new life and second for the family grieving today. Ministry is tough and walking with families isn’t always easy but Jesus reminds us of his unfailing love through all of it.
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance
Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV
Tomorrow I get to lead chapel at my Church School. Tomorrow is ash Wednesday and that has me thinking deeply today. Many of the children who will be here will experience imposition of ashes. My prayer tomorrow is that many of our students will take the time in worship to remember their sin and more importantly be reminded of the eternal life won for us on the cross, and given to us in our baptism as we are connected to the cross.
I know many people don’t like the imposition of ashes because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 about keeping our prayers and fasting to ourselves and not to show it off. Jesus is obviously right, and if the goal of ashes is to show the world we are repentant or how good of a Christian we are we have failed.
The purpose of the ashes placed on us is to remind us of our sin, remind us that without Jesus we are dust and without him we will continue to be dust forever. I love that in that moment. When we are brought to the realization of our brokenness. The part I think is more important and often overlooked is we are given the sign of the cross. The same sign we were given at our baptism. That this is not our end. We are not just dust but we are God’s child. We are the ones who are connected by baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have eternal life today in Jesus and forever more. As we spend the next 40 days in a time of reflection on our sin we must not forget these two truths.
Tomorrow as you are reminded of your sin, and the death it brings, remember the life that comes in life with Jesus.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:21-6:2