Activities

It’s easy to overlook the blessings we have. When I moved to the Gorge 37 months ago (already!), the whole place was strange and new. For months, I heard it repeated, “This much rainy weather is really not normal for us this time of year.” But I didn’t know any better. My first impression was that the Gorge is a beautiful place to be, especially when cloudy. But now when I travel through the Gorge, I give the traffic and roads more attention. The scenery is still beautiful, but sadly, it doesn’t make the same strong impression as at first.

Wouldn’t it be great if our church offered some activity for high school youth, or for grade-school age kids? Wouldn’t it be great of we could support a high-quality Christian education program? Wouldn’t it be great if we had something to which we could invite our friends and the people in our community? Sure it would.

Actually, we do have all those things, but we probably take them for granted. Sunday School and Catechism (“confirmation”) class are high-quality courses in the history and meaning of the holy Bible. Sunday School is taught by dedicated, unpaid volunteers who rightly consider it a worthy use of their precious time. Catechism is taught by an ordained minister with 8 years of training and 10 years of experience. What’s more, adult Bible study continues that learning opportunity from confirmation until death.

We’re planning a Thursday evening event at Concordia for fun and fellowship around the Bible, to include kids who are younger than 11 and confirmed youth. What would you like to do on Thursdays?

Lutheran Family Fellowship On Tuesday, August 26, Bethany will hold its next “Lutheran Family Fellowship” night, from 5:30 to 7 PM. Granted, it’s not just for kids. It’s better than that: it’s for whole families. (And this time, we’ll launch [safe] rockets!) It includes free supper too, so you don’t have to prepare anything.

You see, I believe that our families are split up enough already. To keep kids out of trouble, they usually have so many things piled into their schedules that the whole family has to work around it. For many families, a 10-minute dinner together is a luxury.

It’s no wonder that our parents with children have little energy left to spearhead a church youth activity! It’s too much to expect them to support all the secular activities, and then organize something at church to boot. Instead, why not just bring them all for 90 minutes, for simple fellowship and fun with our other families? The trick is to keep it low-key, not demanding. You just show up. That’s Lutheran Family Fellowship.

I’d love to engage kids at church, without competing as entertainment against other activities. Is it a matter of offering more? Looking at what we already offer, I don’t think so. As small churches, we can easily spread ourselves too thin. But if we invite and help each other to use — really use — the blessings we already have, we’ll find ourselves the richer for it.

Unlike in some churches, kids are always an important part of our Divine Service. We don’t send them somewhere else during that time, because the point is God’s forgiveness, and it’s for everyone. May we never take for granted the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, or the Word and Sacraments He uses to bring us forgiveness. That’s the Church’s most effective program for youth and children.

Incongruity

Here’s an exercise to informally measure the strength of your spiritual radar. How long will it take you to identify what’s wrong with this picture? It’s cropped to protect the “innocent” and to make the exercise easier. I may have made it too easy. (I took the photo today.)

Hitched

Jesus’ Own Church Attendance

You already know that Jesus lived a sinless life. That means that He made full use of the synagogue meetings, and also faithfully made the journey to Jerusalem for the feasts of Unleavened Bread (Passover), Weeks (Pentecost), and Tabernacles (the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur). It was on one of those journeys to Jerusalem that Mary and Joseph mistakenly left Him behind and began their trip home to Nazareth. They returned in a panic, searching for days. When they found Him in the Temple, He innocently asked them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). His Father’s business was naturally at the Temple, where God had promised to be found by His people (1 Kings 8).

Jesus attended synagogue on the Sabbath, at whatever synagogue He was near. He began his ministry with a visit to the synagogue in Nazareth, where He performed the office of a rabbi, or teacher, by reading from the Bible and commenting on it. This pattern of teaching was repeated at other synagogues, sometimes accompanied by miracles to demonstrate that what He taught about himself is true.

At Nazareth, the Bible verse He read to announce His ministry was Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then, when all eyes were fixed upon Him, He said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, Isaiah wrote those words to describe what Jesus was doing at that moment. In fact, the Lord continued the same activity at every synagogue meeting, and for all who came to be with Him.

Then Jesus died. For obvious reasons, that usually means a person will no longer be attending Church. Not so in Jesus’ case. The night He was betrayed, He established a gift for all Christians: the meal of His body and His blood. “This is My body,” He said. “This is the New Testament in My blood, shed for many for the remission of sins.” His command was to “do this,” including the eating and drinking, “in remembrance of Me.” Afterward, Christians knew that every time they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, Jesus was in attendance, just as surely as He was there at the Last Supper.

Jesus also defeated death and rose from the grave. This is the key fact that upholds Christianity. Without it, we may as well believe anything that interests us. Without it, we may as well skip church on Sunday in favor of other commitments: social activities, work, sleeping in, etc.

But if we believe that Jesus died *and rose again*, then why would we ever want to miss out on the Divine Service? The body and blood of the *living* Christ — the One who defeated death — are there as His blessings to us. *He* is really there for us! Even now, Jesus is in attendance at Church for our benefit every time the Lord’s Supper is offered. I shudder to think what it must mean if we prefer to be somewhere else.

Yet Jesus’ Church attendance is even better than that. Before He ascended to heaven, He also promised in connection with His Word and Baptism “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 19-20). The evangelist Mark describes how things went for the infant Church after that (Mark 16:20): “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Since the Divine Service has always focused and centered upon the Word of God, specifically the message of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), we may be certain of Jesus’ promised presence *every* Sunday, wherever the Gospel is preached and His Word is taught, especially where this is done faithfully and accurately.

So we should ask ourselves — we, who must still struggle with our sinful nature, and are so good at excusing ourselves from God’s blessings: where is the best place for me to be? Should I be in the gracious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who faithfully attends Church even now, in order to bless me with His forgiveness? Or should I allow other things to rob me of the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and receive the blessing I need (Luke 10:40-42)?

It may seem like a no-brainer, but then why do we often make the other choice? Are you really convinced that you *need* Jesus’ gracious presence? Are you convinced that Jesus has truly risen from the dead, and now bestows upon us the favor of God and the medicine of immortality? Maybe that’s the problem: we don’t firmly believe these basic truths that define the Christian faith. But then, that would mean we are “wavering between two opinions,” like the unfaithful Israelites in Elijah’s day (1 Kings 18:21).

If we were truly convinced that we are hell-bound sinners, but also that the Son of God died and rose again to redeem us from the grave, and that He attends the Divine Service every week to provide us with the forgiveness of our sins, then the Divine Service would be our own highest priority. Since it is not always our highest priority, but just another thing we’d like to do when convenient, we must conclude that our faith and eternal life are in grave danger.

What can we do? Take comfort in this fact: Jesus is still there for you in the Divine Service, week after week. He’s there for you, even when you’re not. Like the prodigal son, you have the opportunity to repent and return to the arms of your loving Father. Take advantage of that opportunity, while it lasts. Jesus still invites you to receive His Word of forgiveness, the bread of life. He still wants to feed you with His own body and blood, the price of our redemption. Because He loves you, Jesus’ own Church attendance is perfect.