A Zion Ghost Story…
What does Proverbs 22:6 have to do with ghosts? Do you believe in ghosts? I do. I’ve seen them. I have seen dozens at the Church! But before I talk about that, let’s talk about June 12th, 2011. Were you there? I was! And I saw something wonderful! I saw a beautiful service where we were given the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s true Body and Blood. I saw six of the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet stand before the congregation and confess their faith as steadfast confessors of the Christian faith as professed by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I saw six baptisms being revisited by Christ when He instructed His Pastors to Baptize and teach all nations (Matthew 28:19). In the deepest, most spiritual sense, those kids, through the rite of Confirmation, ceremoniously were presented to the congregation as members who have been instructed in the basics of the faith.
What DIDN’T I see? I didn’t see a graduation or a completion of anything! Too often I hear questions like “How many kids are graduating Pastor?” Or “When will the kids be finished, Pastor?” To these people I say “Zero. Kids don’t graduate from Confirmation and they are never finished learning.” For three years, I have tried to teach parents and kids that confirmation isn’t something you do and get it over with, it is the beginning of your Christian maturity… growing in your faith. Confirmands are not finishing anything; rather they are now at a level where they can start to learn more about their Lutheran confession of faith.
When we look at Confirmation at “finishing” or “graduating” it is no wonder we don’t see them anymore! It’s no wonder they don’t come back to Church… they’re done, right? When I finished my driver’s test, I didn’t try to go in the next day and answer more questions… why should I? I was done… it was over. When I finished / graduated from High School, I saw no reason to go back there, because I was done learning what they had to teach me. As a matter of fact, it would seem weird for me to be hanging around the High School after I graduated from it.
Whenever I am downstairs in the fellowship hall, I look at those photos of all of the previous confirmation Sundays and I wonder “Where are these kids? What happened to them?” I even get a chill in my bones because sometimes it feels like I am looking at ghosts from the past. Some of these ghosts have even transferred over to my own Confirmands. Last year (like this year) my first group of Confirmands went through the rite of Confirmation. It was a lovely day… family was here… the reception by LWML was flawless… a good day. Of course, as the year went on, I even noticed that some of them stopped coming to Church as often… fading away… becoming more ghostlike. How do we catch these ghosts? Is there some form of ecclesiastical “Ghost Busters” who will come and capture them for us? Actually yes… there is. The trouble is, it’s not as easy as calling three physicists from NYU to come in with proton accelerators to zap them as they did in the “Ghost Buster” movies.
Where do ghosts come from?
In the movies, we often see ghosts coming out of the bodies of people who have passed away and roaming around (often at the place they died). In the Bible, this is totally untrue and we’ll talk more on that another day. What I want to talk about are what we’ll call “Confirmation Ghosts”. Confirmation Ghosts are those kids who come to Church (regularly or not) and one day, they are found standing in front of the congregation making vows about faithful attendance as well as giving their time, talent and treasures in support of this ministry. They say a lot of “Yes, with the help of God” and other vows of faith. They are receiving gifts, Bible verses and a party afterward. From here, we see the first signs of them fading. Next thing you know, GHOSTS ON THE WALL! Some will say this is the first step in creating Confirmation Ghosts. The truth is, this is closer to the final stage of creating ghosts. Making a ghost is a long and time-consuming process. It takes concentration and perseverance.
Here is a guide in how to make ghosts out of you and your children:
- Little interest at home in spiritual things (study)- What is the biggest emphasis you place in your home? Christian education? Secular school? Work? Sports? Other Activities?
- Little interest at Church: How much Church are you missing in order to sleep in, do sports, go camping, Music/Dance recitals, etc?
- Let the secular rule over the sacred: It is far too common for me to hear about how much kids always play video games, go shopping, hang out with friends, etc… as if the parent has nothing to do with it. Kids learn and do what they are taught and allowed to do.(See #1 and #2)
- Lousy confirmation experience: As a Pastor, I do my best to ensure that confirmation is both informative as well as enjoyable. As parents, it is good to ask your kids “What are you learning?” and consider talking to them about it or learning it with them if it is new to you.
- No follow-up after confirmation: Here’s where we get to that final ghost stage. When the Confirmands become ghosts. For some reason parents stop bringing them to church. It’s as if they were only coming to church as a requirement for confirmation or something.
Unfortunately this has been the recipe for making Christian “ghosts” for decades! This has not just been an issue in the Lutheran Church either! In every denomination across the board people are finding that they are losing their youth to the world. So now, not only do we have Lutheran Ghosts, we have them across the board. Ghosts everywhere!
Who ya gonna call?!
The famous theme song to Ghost Busters (Sung by Ray Parker Jr) has a famous line “Who ya gonna call?” and the response is “GHOST-BUSTERS!” These are the people who come and take care of the problem of ghosts. Why? Because nobody likes ghosts. They are sometimes creepy… sometimes scary… but they are always sad because the represent a mere shadow of their former selves. They aren’t really there… they are more like a memory, even a painful memory of what was once there but now is lost. Who would want something like that hanging around? People in church shouldn’t like ghosts, either. I believe it is safe to say that almost everybody in Church would love to have the ghosts in those pictures removed and replaced with the actual people they represent.
So “who ya gonna call?” First, call on God almighty who has rescued you on account of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. He is “your shield” (Genesis 15:1) to guide and protect you in your vocation as a parent. From there we can follow the line. Who does God call to the vocation of “training up their children”? PARENTS. Yes parents. When you had children, you were called to be their caretakers of body and soul. You are the first line of defense against the devil. They take their lead from you. This is an important and a seemingly daunting tasks. I have met MANY parents who say “I’m no theologian… how am I supposed to teach my kids this stuff?” That’s a good question with a long and wonderful answer. You see, back in 1529, Lutheran parents were asking that same question. Not only PARENTS, but as Luther found out while visiting churches in his area, even PASTORS were lacking the basic skills of teaching the faith. To answer to this problem, Martin Luther wrote the “Small Catechism”. The Small Catechism is a six-part basic instruction in the Christian faith. For many years it was referred to as the “layman’s Bible” because not everyone could afford a copy of the Bible, but they could afford this.
Now days it seems that people can afford Bibles, but they can’t afford the time to read them, let alone the Small Catechism. Our time goes toward football, basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, ballet, hunting, fishing, camping, watching TV, playing video games, going on dates, movies, vacations, homework, etc… Maybe this is a good time to get back to Proverbs 22:6. It reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” How have we trained our kids in the past? How are we training them now? Have they been trained to go to Church… read the Bible… pray… have devotions… etc or have they been trained to get to the sports game… get to their favorite video game… get to their favorite hangout place… and if Church comes up they’ll go as long as they don’t have somewhere else to go.
Parents, you aren’t alone. You see, I understand that you might have some concerns or worries about leading in this manner. It’s understandable because you have been entrusted with caring for and giving your children the most important thing they will ever receive, namely a good, spiritual upbringing. Going to Church is a central part of that but the stuff you do the other 6 days a week is also important. If you aren’t sure where to start… start with the parents of the last 500 years. Start with Luther’s Small Catechism. Don’t have one? No problem… I have a bunch. Come and see me. Don’t know HOW to teach it, no problem, I do. I was called by God to prepare His people in this exact way! You can come and talk to me about the basics of the Catechism. I would love to give an overview of it. This way, when you put your kid in my class, you will have something to talk about. The interesting thing about the Catechism is it was intended to be taught at home and I believe one day it will be again.
What am I doing? As it stands, this year I have decided to start the first Communion classes earlier than in the past. I have decided to invite pre-teen kids to begin learning the basics of the faith found in Luther’s Small Catechism (10 Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Lord’s Supper.) Currently I have a few parents who are interesting in having their 10 year olds in this class. I have also met some 9 year-olds who I believe are ready for this. The pace will be a little slower and a little longer, and the lessons will involve more games, arts and crafts and things, but in the end, the children of Zion will be brought into the faith in the way which is closer to how it was done in the past.
NO MORE GHOSTS!
Brothers and sisters, we have just come off a wonderful Pentecost Sunday! The Confirmands looked wonderful. The ceremony was elegant and the day was filled with joy! This year after I had the picture of the Confirmands developed, I had all the photos from confirmations-past moved from the basement back upstairs where we can all see them. When you are getting your coffee, have a look and see if you recognize those faces and consider giving them a call. Invite them back to the place that has cared, nurtured and educated them in the faith in years past and will do so again. We are a family which has had some of our members drift away. When we see this happening, we should be also reminded of two things:
- The Gospel: When Jesus saw a lost sheep, he went after it and brought it back. That sheep was you and me.
- Our oath: Whenever we welcome new members, we are asked if we see them falter or fall away from the faith will we call them back to turn away from that and back towards the Church. To this we answer “Yes, with the help of God.”
The time is now to start busting those ghosts, because they aren’t ghosts. They are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, cousins and friends. They have been away too long. Zion is their home and home is where they belong. As we begin bringing them back, let me leave you with the words of St. Paul: 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
God bless your ghost-busting!
In His service and in yours,