These Things Teach the Christian Faith

I pray all is well and that as the shades of fall are in full swing, you are enjoying the explosions of color across the Michigan landscape. I’m not necessarily a fan of the cold weather that’s on the very near horizon, but I am a devoted observer of the autumn landscape. There are times when the back roads of Michigan are more than breathtaking, and for that, I’m thankful. And for some reason, it always takes me back to my childhood, the days when my brother, sister, and I would bury one another below piles of leaves from a particular tree in our neighbor’s yard. Those were unforgettable moments.

There are other, equally unforgettable moments that are almost always ready and waiting at the edge of my memory’s landscape. And most often the key to their freedom is a familiar song. I think that’s one thing I like about the series of “Guardian of the Galaxy” movies. Part of their charm is that the main character, Peter Quill, has an assortment of music that his mother gave to him as a kid before she died. It’s a collection of favorites from a bygone time. When those songs are playing in the various movies, they are far too familiar to me, too—songs like “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Brandy” by Looking Glass, Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” and a good number of others. The one that resonated the most for me was at the beginning of the second film. The Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” No matter what was on the screen at the time, it almost immediately reminded me of trips to Arkansas with my family to stay at my Papa and Granny’s house on the lake in Cherokee Village. I distinctly remember Jeff Lynne’s voice being one of the last pieces of the north we brought with us before only being able to tune into the car radio the sounds of folks like Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams, Jr., and Elvin Bishop—which by the way, I still love listening to today, as well.

Those days are still with me. The music is a big part of what keeps them cemented in the little compartments of my mind. The funny thing is, I don’t remember really liking the songs all that much back then. But now, I can’t get enough of them.

I suppose that while I’m saying this, a portion of the discussion we had in the adult Bible study yesterday comes to mind. I spoke at the beginning about the particulars of Lutheran worship and how important it is that we retain who and what we are as we so often find ourselves facing off with a culture trying to strip away our Christian identity and heritage. This stripping away can include seeing the liturgy as less than a blessing, as something boring and uneventful, rather than designed to set us before a loving God who desires to feed and care for us with His loving gifts. It can comprise a lack of embracing the church’s hymnody as precious, as something that becomes a part of us in ways that eventually allow for us not only to know favorite hymn stanzas, but to know the very hymn numbers, too. I suppose I would add to this that from a child’s perspective, just as the songs I mentioned above carry me back to good places in my life, the liturgy and hymnody have the potential for doing the same in a most important way.

But we have to be in the liturgy with regularity for this particular aspect to be true. I learned and remember all those songs because I heard them over and over again time after time. They are now so ingrained in my fiber that I can literally describe the various landscapes of my childhood by the end of the very first verse of each. The same goes for our lives in liturgy and hymnody. They connect us, and believe it or not, they find a way of working into and staying with us. In fact, just ask your kids to sing a part of the liturgy or to sing a portion of their favorite hymn. Even if they don’t necessarily show a glowing love for either, if they are immersed in it, they’ll do it with ease. If not, they’ll struggle. And either way it goes, it will be a valuable lesson for you as to the importance of the liturgy and hymnody of the church. These things teach the Christian faith. They put the Word of God right into the hearts and minds of parishioners in ways that are hard to forget. And when the kids hear them years from now, they’ll remember those days in the pews beside mom, dad, brother, and sister. And while they may not have necessarily liked it all that much then, they’ll most likely have a fondness of heart toward it, will have a lasting sense of the importance, and will want the same for their own little ones.

Keep At It, Mom and Dad!

I love the fact that we have so many children in worship these days. Indeed, it serves the heart well.

This is true because it means that when you look around the room, you’ll see moms and dads taking very seriously the Lord’s words in Matthew 28:19-20 where He instructs and emphasizes that Christians are actually made through the two-fold event of washing with water and the Word (Baptism) combined with a regular diet of all that the Lord has given (teaching). Baptism and teaching are inseparable parts of the same mandate.

To put this into perspective, if someone were to come to me and ask that I baptize his or her child, and yet would state an unwillingness to raise the child in the Christian faith, I would say no. I’d have to. Baptism and teaching go together. You can’t have one without the other.

So, when I look around the church during worship and I see the little ones with their parents, it always makes me smile. It reminds me of the living faith that Christ gave those parents in their baptism, and it points all of us to a horizon where we see the next generation equipped to do the same.

It also makes me want to help those families with children in any way that I can. It’s one reason why we supply the pews with those Kids in the Divine Service booklets, which are designed to be a helpful resource for teaching the “why we do what we do” of the life of faith in worship. It’s also why we encourage parents to take the kids out when they get a little rowdy but then to bring them back in as soon as they are ready. Sure, every kid gets restless, and so when they decide to bang the hymnal against the pew, or shout at the top of their lungs, or run their Tonka truck up and down the hardwood pew, that can be incredibly loud and distracting and it’s a good idea to take them out in respect of others. But once the appropriate recalibration has happened, get them right back into the church as soon as possible. The little ones belong in there with the rest of their Christian family—with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Are there other things that we can do as a community to help parents? You bet! We can be sure to give mom a hug and say, “Keep at it, mom,” or give dad a pat on the back and say, “Good job, dad.” These gestures and words make a difference. I know they helped us when our kids were smaller.

Another thing to keep in mind (and it’s something that many folks with older children already know so well) is that so often parents of little ones feel as though they are working so hard and doing all they can just to get to and keep the child in worship, all the while feeling as though as parents, they aren’t getting anything out of the service because they’re so busy with the child.

This is a very real concern, and it’s one that when I hear it, I not only do what I can to encourage the parents—reminding them that this is a very important time in their life when faithfulness to Christ in holy worship looks and feels less like something spiritual and more like riot control. Still, they are being faithful to Christ in their service, and He by no means intends to leave the parents out of the blessings being bestowed to the whole Christian family in the worship setting. With this, I also try to remind them that the Word of God is so much more powerful than we often give credit. When it comes to worship, just being there, just being immersed in the liturgy which is entirely comprised of God’s holy Word, is by no means an empty experience for the Christian. To this, in a practical sense, I try to add that for most who come to worship regularly, the liturgy gets written into the heart and mind in a way that allows a mom or dad to do mom or dad things and still receive. Because of the liturgy, the service becomes more or less memorized, and now mom and dad can follow along and be fed without needing to juggle a hymnal, ordo, baby bottle, and infant all at the same time. They become people who live and breathe the words of worship, and what better example do we want to display for our kids than this?!

Thanks be to God for the little ones in our midst. Thanks be to God for the parents who stick with it, who give it their all to make sure that their baptized children are being raised in the Christian faith. “Therefore, my beloved brothers,” Paul said, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Of all efforts in the church, perhaps the job of parents doing all they can to get their kids to and keep them in worship is most appreciated by this text.

To such folks I say: Know that I’m rooting for you, and so are many others in our midst.