Bishop and Christian*, August 2011

August is the time when things are about to happen. It’s the transition between summer and fall: all the back-to-school sales begin; children get restless, and the younger ones even start to look forward to school beginning; the harvest season begins with combines and wheat dust.

For those involved in the Church, things there fall back into a predictable pattern with Sunday School and Bible class, confirmation classes and release time. These are the things in the Church that seem to follow along with things in the schools. But that can cause a problem, because school is often about simply passing tests and moving on. School is about getting through and on to real life. (That, of course, would not be the intention of educators, but just talk to a high school student: school is what gets in the way of real life.) And this idea can seep into Christian education as well. Release time is about moving on to confirmation class; confirmation class is about passing tests, getting through, and getting on to real life. Classes at the church, like classes at the school, simply get in the way of real life. Whether it’s Wednesday afternoon or Sunday morning, “church stuff” becomes another item on the list, another event in the space on the calendar, another thing that we have to do.

But when did receiving the Gifts of Jesus and rejoicing in His Word to us sinners become a burden? When did learning about and hearing from the God who made us and redeemed us become something to mark off our to-do list? When did we start worrying about how much time the Things of God are going to take from our “real life”? It is a lie that we have believed as truth: we have exchanged a fake approximation of life (busyness, filling up our time and our calendars) for Jesus Himself, who is Life.

When your children go (or when they went) to school, what do you want for them, above all? What do you want the school to provide for them? What do you think is necessary for them to learn? For most of us, we don’t just want their names on a diploma. Nor is it simply about facts and formulas.

We want them to learn how to live in this world; how to think about what is happening around them; how to deal with people with whom they disagree.

And what if we ask similar questions about our children in the Church? Do you—as parents, as grandparents, as members of the same Body of Christ—want you or your children to be satisfied with having your name on a list? To have some place to call “my church”? To know that there is such a person as Jesus, but to think of Him as an abstraction who has no bearing on my life except that when I die, I go to heaven? But if you are a Christian, you want your children to be a life-long disciple (follower, learner) of Jesus Himself. To actually know Jesus, rather than simply about Him. If you are a Christian, you want Jesus’ Words in Matthew 28:18-20 to be the description of your life and your children’s lives. That is, you want your children to be baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to continue to learn everything Jesus said throughout their lives. Because it is exactly where people are baptized and hearing every Word of Jesus that Jesus has promised to be present—actually, really present—until this age is complete, and the new age of the new creation begins.

You may know that you want this, but maybe you don’t know how to begin or what to do to influence your children in that direction. Parents have far more influence—in word, but especially by the example of your actions—than anything I could ever say to your children. Generally speaking, what you do and how you talk about Jesus and His Gifts will be what your children do and how they talk. The Church exists partly to help parents carry out their God-given responsibilities to train their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord. That’s what we want to do with “Bringing Home the Faith,” starting this fall. We want to give parents, and especially fathers, the opportunity to practice handing on the Faith of the Church: trust in Jesus, no matter what; hope in His death and resurrection; love for the Things of God, His Word and His Sacraments; love for each other. This time, with the whole family, will replace Release Time. Many of you remember Release Time, and many of you probably love and cherish what you learned there. But how many of you spend time talking to your children about what they are learning there? Do you see it fitting into a life-long love of hearing the Word of God? Do your children come home and talk about what they’ve heard? Or is it just one more thing to do, one more thing to get through? We want you involved; your children want you involved; you want to be involved. That’s what Bringing Home the Faith is about. This is going to be unlike anything else: it will have connections to Sunday morning, connections to Sunday school, connections to confirmation instruction, but it will not be any of those (unless your kids are in confirmation instruction, then it will be that!).

Because what you say and do matters more than what the pastor or Release Time or Sunday School teachers say or do, this is your chance to invest in their future, not just for this creation, but for the eternal, new creation in Christ. Learn how to teach them the basic stories of the Scriptures, how those stories revolve around Christ, and the catechism as a map to those stories and what is important in them. Learn that these are not stories you have to integrate into your life, but that they make up the entire Story of God’s salvation, into which He is integrating your story. Come and join us on Wednesday nights this fall (6:30-8:00pm, starting September 14), and invest not just in a part of your life, but in Life itself, Jesus Christ.

If you are on Facebook, we have a group to discuss what is happening and how this experiment can be made better. To join, become friends with Tennille or me, and we will add you to the group.

I pray that God will bless you in Jesus as you hear His Word with your children this year.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


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