Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kicking the Tires of Confirmation

I love – love – teaching confirmation.  Aside from typical middle school stuff – boys who haven’t learned to settle down and stop poking each other, girls who huddle in the bathroom mocking/liking the boys, the occasional forgotten assignment or lost Small Catechism, I’d put these kiddos up against almost any other confirmation class in the country.  When they decide to be thoughtful and attentive, they really are. They can condemn heresy (“Who’d want to be a Zwinglian? Is means is!”) or tell you about righteousness (“believing God not being good”), they ask great, mostly-on-topic questions, and on the whole, they are really just fabulous.  

I love teaching this age, because they’re actually hungry to learn – because it’s me in the classroom with 6 or 8 or 10 of them, and sometimes, once in a while, we have a moment where something just “clicks” for someone, and you can see it.  Their eyes light up, and there’s a second of recognition that this stuff is really real, and it’s really cool.  

I love confirmation because the kids care about one another.  Sure, there’s the requisite teasing and silliness, but at the end of the night, they’ll remember what was said an hour ago, and pray for one another.  They’re great.  

But I still feel like we’re missing something.  I expend a lot of energy trying to tell parents (and kids) that confirmation is not, not, NOT about checking items off a to-do list, or earning enough points to “graduate”.  Confirmation is not a sacrament, and being confirmed, or not, doesn’t make you a Christian, or not.  I try to plan the whole curriculum, and teach each class, around the idea that confirmation is about growing closer to God, about being able to say “yes” to the faith that they’ve been raised in, to “get it” in some perhaps small, but at least somewhat meaningful, way.  Which is why I still have “requirements”.  Even though confirmation isn’t about earning the right to graduate, I’m pretty comfortable saying that if kids aren’t in worship, if they aren’t learning – and practicing – how to pay attention in worship, if they aren’t figuring out how to lead devotions for the group, or taking time to love their neighbors, if they aren’t reflecting on what they’ve learned in class or worship, then it’s going to be pretty darn hard to have a substantial relationship with God.  We believe in a God who is incarnational – a God who came down here to earth and was a real, honest-to-goodness human being.  Who did and said certain specific things.  Who calls us into a relationship with him on the basis of his sacrifice, but who deepens and sustains that relationship over time by engagement with the means of grace, by a desire to “read, mark, and inwardly digest” his Word, by living as a follower and disciple of that God.  

This is what I want my kids to get.  This is what I want them to know.  This is the life I want them to have, even though none of us do it perfectly, and none of us is without sin.  I want them to know that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is for real – those promises at their baptism really did “take”, but that there’s more to it than that – or that there can be, if they’re interested, if they’re willing to take seriously the invitation to “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)  But that’s a really big thing.  A really. big. thing.  I am asking them to try to wrap their hearts and minds and arms around a salvation, and an entire way of living, that is way bigger than them, and is unlike anything they have ever encountered.  And often, I am the only one nudging them in this direction.  

In common Lutheran parlance, confirmation is about “affirming your baptism”, “taking over” the faith your parents placed you into at baptism, “becoming a true adult member of the church”, and other such statements, that are meant, it seems, to make kids feel like confirmation is important and make old people feel like all is not lost and young kids today do still believe in Jesus.  

But there are two problems I see with this, the first being that many of them have no real faith to “take over” or “take charge of” from their parents.  Without being too blunt, a good number of children baptized in Lutheran churches today are brought to the font by parents who love them, and who have a vague sense of wanting them to be “good Christian kids who are nice and go to heaven.”  They bring their kids to church.  Sometimes.  On weekends when there’s not a hockey tournament out-of-town, and the weather’s not too bad, or we didn’t stay out too late at somebody’s wedding reception.  They teach their kids the Lord’s Prayer.  Possibly.  Sort of.  Most nights.  But the Creed? The Ten Commandments? Isn’t that what confirmation class is for?  By my reckoning, if I spend an hour per week in class with the kids, for two (school) years, I have spent 72 hours with them.  That's three days.  Three days may have raised Jesus from the dead, but I can no more teach 8th-graders to grasp the beauty and richness of the Christian faith in 72 hours than I can instill in them a love for Shakespeare in 72 hours.   

If “church” is an "extracurricular activity" in a child’s own home – then asking them to “take on the faith for themselves” after 2 years of confirmation class is like hoping they’ll one day decorate their spare bedroom the way mom did hers.  They might – if they happen to have similar taste to their mother, and a similar budget, and it reminds them of their mom and makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Or they might not, you know, because they’re different people.  The vast majority of kids who play on hockey or dance teams will not play in college, and certainly not at the professional level.  If church is no more or less important in a family than hockey or dance, don’t be surprised when it falls by the wayside in college, just like other extracurricular activities.  So, to recap – we say we’re asking kids to “affirm their baptism” and “take on their faith”, but in reality, we are – not always, but mostly – starting from scratch and attempting to convert little baptized pagans.  

Second, we ask kids on their confirmation day, to be “adults in the faith,” or some such thing.  But at the age that most children are confirmed (13-15), they are not adults in any meaningful sense in any other area of their lives.  These are kids who still rely on their parents for transportation to the confirmation service itself.  They don’t pay their own cell phone bill, or buy their own food or clothing.  They are overwhelmed at the thought of having to pick a college and career in just a few years, and most of them cannot articulate with any degree of certainty more than the vaguest sense of what they’d like their life to turn out like.  They don’t do their own laundry, and the vast majority of them, in reasonably functional homes, are well aware that mom and dad are there to pick them up when they fall…or forget homework at home…or need money for that new cheer uniform…or forget to walk the dog…or lock themselves out of the house…or….  Not that this is not a bad thing.  We are talking about kids who are 14 years old.  This is not the olden days where marriage and kids and jobs and full-on adulthood is right around the corner.  But if they don’t do their own laundry or pack their own lunch or call their own locksmith, is it really fair to hand their faith over to them and say, “here you go!” ??  

Not that faith isn’t important.  Of course it is. It’s the most important thing.  Without a doubt.  But doesn’t that mean that we should give kids more support, not less?  Doesn’t it mean we should hold their hand a little longer?  Surround them with strong parental and community “raising in the faith” until later in life?  If you don’t learn how to do laundry before you go to college, you’ll figure it out quick when the bills for new clothes start piling up, or no one wants to hang out with you because your clothes all smell like dirty laundry.  But if you haven’t grasped hold of Christ’s promises, if you don’t really know where to turn when tough stuff happens – well, the situation might devolve more slowly than a laundry crisis, but it’s long-lasting impacts will be far, far worse, and likely far more difficult to correct.  

One of the problems in western society (and this is a whole other topic, so I’ll not dive into it too deeply) is that we largely lack “coming of age” rituals.  The biologic machinations of puberty or the attaining of a particular age used to be cause for celebration, for “entry into adulthood”; now they are a source of shame and embarrassment or wild expensive parties that rival weddings.  We haven’t the slightest idea how to teach our kids to be adults out in the real world – certainly not at the tender age of 14 – and so we settle for telling them that they’re a “real Christian, now” while ceding them zero control over anything else in their lives. 

Obviously there is way more to this than can be fixed in a day, in a year, in a single confirmation class at a single congregation.  There are huge cultural shifts at stake here, and patience, fortitude, and faithfulness is required on the part of parents, pastors, and churches.  But I wonder if we need to start by decoupling confirmation from middle/high school, and perhaps from a formal-program-ending-in-a-special-ceremony altogether.  What if we took all the resources – money, time, people – that we spend on a group of kids who haven’t even fully developed the executive processing functions of their brains – and transferred it to campus ministry, or young adult “programming”?  What if instead of thinking that kids who can’t even drive themselves to church on Sunday morning can honestly pledge to “decide for themselves to be faithful Christians and really believe this stuff and do it and possibly even die for it”, what if instead of that, we let kids be kids – taught them the basics of the faith – the Bible, the Catechism, etc – with no “end goal” besides the promises of God’s Kingdom in sight.  What if we, slowly, over time, taught them what it means to take faith seriously, how to integrate it into their lives, as their lives change?  What if we re-church-ified marriage prep, and spent as much time with soon-to-be high school or college grads as we do with pre-marital couples?

What if we stopped pressuring kids to “be adults” about their religious/theological/philosophical commitments and convictions when most of their own parents don’t even have that nailed down? 

Obviously I don’t have all the answers.  I mostly don’t even know where to start.  But these are just a few of the things I’ve been kicking around lately, and I’d love to hear thoughts from others, even as we pray, “Lord, may everything we do begin with your inspiration, continue with your help, and reach perfection under your guidance. We ask through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

30,000 Shades of Green

For those of us who live the Christian life, who see our life's vocation(s) in light of our baptisms, and who are given to believe, teach, and confess in accord with the traditional, historic, orthodox tenets of Christianity, life these days seems to be hard.

Clergy and laity both have bemoaned the fact that the Enemy, through a question as old as time, "Did God really say...?" seems to be winning.  For a great many of us, particularly those in "American mainline Protestantism", things are a mess.  Worship is no longer ordered with regard to Scriptural norms or ancient Church tradition, but rather "what people like."  The Kingdom of the Left is grossly confused with the Kingdom of the Right.  We dare not preach Law, or say no, to anyone or anything that isn't patently illegal, lest we be viewed as "unwelcoming."  Too often, the 3rd use of the law is conflated with the Gospel.  Church has become either a social club or a PAC with a thin veneer of Jesus painted over it. 

And frequently, unfairly, it seems that the laity who are concerned about these trends are stuck with pastors who buy into them, and vice versa.  It's an isolating thing, a situation that can cause anyone with the consciousness to notice and be concerned to feel as though they are trapped inside their own head - that no one understands, that everyone else thinks they are crazy, that maybe they really are crazy.  It can lead to a hunker-down mentality - a desire to close ranks within oneself, or to just...tolerate it, and not make waves.  Surely my pastor will retire soon.  Maybe I should look for a new call.  I'll probably die in the next 10 years, I can hang on until then.  If I just adopt a monastic approach to my ministry...

But as often happens, as depression and despair creeps in, late-night Googling takes hold over one's life.  And sooner or later you start to notice that there are other churches, other pastors, other pastures where the grass seems greener.  You start eavesdropping in coffee shops, or the employee lounge.  You start talking with clergy friends of other denominations, other Christian traditions.  You secretly read books and blogs and download sermons from other pastors, other priests.  They don't seem to have the same problems.  They love their jobs.  The laity love their pastors.  And so you, a lonely sheep, or despairing shepherd, start to stick one hoof, one shoelace under the fence.  You look longingly at the green, green grass.  On days when the wind is blowing the right direction, you can even smell it.  It smells like fresh air, like health and nutrition, like God Himself.  Sure, your pasture is safe, and familiar, and comfortable, but what a thrill it would be to taste that green, green grass.  To be in a flock who knows what good food really is, to have fellow shepherds who nurture their sheep the way you can only dream about.  And you, who loves the Good Shepherd so deeply, begin to wonder if it really is him who is inviting you to this green, green pasture.

If this is you, looking at one of the 30,000 (yes, really) Protestant denominations, to say nothing of the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox of varying nationalities (and thus, personalities), and handful of Uniate and non-Chalcedonians, I want to offer a few words of advice: proceed with caution.  Not "don't proceed," but proceed with caution.  "The grass is always greener" is a cliche for a reason.  No pasture is perfect. Every pasture has cranky sheep who'd rather eat dirt, and shepherds who don't pay attention and lead the flock to a mud puddle instead of crystal clear still waters.  Every field has rocks to trip over and holes to sprain your ankle.  You cannot recover the "pure Church" - it simply doesn't exist, and it never did.  Peter Leithart says it well:
"Eden is not the golden time to which we return; it is the infancy from which we begin and grow up. The golden age is ahead, in the Edenic Jerusalem... And the church’s history is patterned in the same way too. It’s disorienting to think that we have to press ahead rather than try to discover or recover the safety of an achieved ecclesia, disorienting because we can’t know or predict the future. But it’s the only assumption Trinitarians can consistently make: The ecclesial peace we seek is not behind us, but in front. We get there by following the pillar of fire that leads us to a land we do not know."
But there are days when it is more difficult, days when you honestly want to bang your head against the wall, when you find yourself, like Elijah, believing that you are the only faithful one left.  On those days, remember this:
  • God has already won the victory - this much we know.  But it is unlikely, ever, to look as though we are winning, on any of the fronts on which we fight. With the possible exception of the United Kingdom under David, this has always been true of God's people.  Don't expect that to change until the parousia.
  • To steal Morton Blackwell's axiom, do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. There are allies, or partial allies, clergy and laity, if we know where to look. This is the beauty and genius of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. It is very easy for those of us on the front lines to refuse the help of allies because they don't fly the exact same flag.  I have heard well-meaning, orthodox pastors and laity claim certain other pastors or congregations are second rate or "not real church" because...they don't chant the Eucharistic Prayer and/or the entire Gospel reading...or have an organist...or have small groups or enough youth programming (or because they do do those things!). But we do ourselves far more harm than good  when we start playing those sorts of games.  Pastors, remember that God has given you a serious job, and lay people, hold your pastors and fellow parishioners accountable to that task.  But also remember that none of us is Jesus.  We need only do the best we can, with the gifts and resources we've been given, in the beanplots we've been assigned, and support one another in that task as much as possible.  Surely that is enough for each of us to manage on any given day.
  • Don't ever expect to overhaul the whole system.  Again, you have a beanplot.  And given Lutheran polity/ecclesiology, faithful reform and renewal, orthodox preaching and teaching, (re)introducing and sustaining traditional worship norms will take time, and it necessarily has to be done on a congregational basis. Presiding Bishop Eaton may have great respect for the liturgical traditions of the Church (and she did a great job with the Eucharistic liturgy at her installation, even though she seemed a bit nervous - but then, who wouldn't be?), but she has zero authority to make Pastor Olsen out in Podunk, Montana stop killing the Great Thanksgiving because his sermon ran too long. Each of us, in our own beanplots, needs to teach our plants the best that we are able, and pray for opportunities to share gardening tips with the stewards of the beanplots next door. Yet, at the end of the day, we are responsible for preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments (or holding those called accountable to their vows).  We are not responsible for what others choose to do or not do with the Word so preached and the Sacraments so administered. It is God who gives the growth.
  • Discernment over congregational calls or membership, denominational alignment (ELCA vs. NALC vs. LCMS), or wholesale tradition change (L vs. TEC vs. RC) is important, and should be undertaken as the Spirit moves us to do so. As I said earlier, however, no congregation, denomination, or tradition is without flaws, failings, or faithless clergy and laity.  And further, what we earnestly believe, in our well-placed desire for purity, to be "discernment" may in reality be "distraction with shiny things" by the Enemy.  It's easy to waste a lot of time fretting about CAPITAL LETTERS when we could be visiting shut-ins or writing sermons.
  • If the day comes when you must leave your pasture or your flock - when you are compelled by conscience or comfort or the Holy Spirit or just the sheer inability to hold on for one second longer, then go.  Do not look back, lest you turn into a pillar of salt.  Do not lean over the fence, squinty-eyed, looking to see if the green grass has started to grow in your former pasture, and expressing schadenfreude when it hasn't.  Do not gossip about the sheep or shepherds you have left behind, or seek to destroy them - the Eighth Commandment still applies.  If you must go, go with your heart in the right place.  Go in peace + and serve the Lord.

Finally, above all, and regardless of anything else, we simply must trust that the Holy Spirit will still continue to enlighten and sanctify the Whole Christian Church.  So long as we have Christ - and we do - there is hope for all of us yet.  Despair is not a good look for Christians, and we have no cause for it anyway.  The gates of hell will not prevail.  I love this Sunday's reading from II Timothy: "when we are faithless, He is faithful".  I am faithless on a far-too-frequent basis, and I need to hear, over, and over, and over again that not only does God forgive me, but that His purposes cannot be thwarted by my failures and faithlessness.  When we cannot stand one second longer in the presence of "those people", whoever they may be, we are nevertheless compelled to believe that the same God is just as loving and gracious and faithful towards them, as he is to us.

Faithful service to God and His people, holding fast to the hope we profess is not easy.  But it never has been.  And so, dear faithful, faithless, sinner, saintly ones: as you sift through the 30,000 shades of green, find your allies, and tend your beanplot, remember this: "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

When We Are Faithless, He Is Faithful...

Good morning!  

The gospel lesson we heard today, from Luke, about the ten lepers being cleansed, is one that many of us heard growing up in Sunday School.  And I suspect that most of heard it told something like this: 

“Jesus was walking along the road between Samaria and Galilee, and there were ten lepers who called out to him and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ So Jesus healed them, and sent them off, and only one came back to say ‘thank you’.  Jesus praised that man, but wanted to know how come the other 9 didn’t come say ‘thank you.’  Boys and girls, we should all learn to say ‘thank you’ to Jesus!”

Am I right?

This is a story, which, like so many other stories, we are really, really good at turning into a lesson on “rules for how to be a good Christian.”  As though Jesus hands out healing to lepers the way we hand snacks to preschoolers – “here’s a cookie, now, what do you say?” “Thank you, Mommy.”  “Ok, you’re healed, now what do you say?” “Thank you, Jesus!” 

Of course, there’s an element of trying to encourage gratitude in this story, and the “rules,” if you want to call them that, absolutely would tell us the same thing.  Throughout the Bible, God’s people are constantly expressing their gratitude to God for all of the mighty acts he has done.  In the communion liturgy each week, also called the Eucharistic liturgy, Eucharist meaning “thanksgiving,”, we pray, “It is indeed right and salutary – meaning “correct” – that we should at all times and in all places offer thanks and praise to you, O Lord…” 

And it’s true – if you stop and think just at this very moment, what are the things that we can be grateful to God for?  Well, you’re alive, for starters.  Your lungs are breathing and your heart is beating and the neurons in your brain are firing and your fingers work well enough to fiddle with the bulletin or the candy in your purse, and you have ears to hear what’s being said and a voice to echo your Amen to all of the prayers.  You have clothes and shoes to wear.  You made it to church this morning – whether your healthy legs walked you here in the crisp fall air, or you have been blessed with a car that functions and the ability to pass a drivers exam and get a license and drive here, or whether someone else was kind enough to provide the transportation so that you could come to worship.  In just a few minutes you’ll hold Jesus in your hand and eat the actual Body, and drink the Blood, of your Lord.  And after that, there will be hot coffee and snacks out in the fellowship hall, and who’s not grateful for coffee?  J  So right there, there’s a whole list of things that we can be grateful to God for. 

And that doesn’t even get into, say, salvation, and the fact that your sins are forgiven, that death has been destroyed, and that the power of the devil has been conquered by the Blood of Jesus – on your behalf, and for your benefit.  More things to be grateful for, which are – technically – more important than coffee. 

And really, how many of us remember to actually express our thanks and praise to God for all of these gifts, and for the many, many, many more that we have been given?  It is indeed right and salutary that we should at all times, and in all places, offer thanks and praise to you, O Lord.  But we don’t.  More often than not, we fall into the category of the nine, rather than the one. 

And yes, we could argue, trying to justify the nine, and ourselves, that Jesus tells them all to go show themselves to the priests – because having been lepers, and excluded from the community, there’s a whole religious ritual of being reintegrated into society that starts with the Jewish priests verifying that you, are, in fact, healed of the disease.  So we could say, well, they were just doing what Jesus told them to do.  They were obeying the instructions.  And, well, yes. 

But at the heart of all religious ritual and observance, at the heart of the liturgy, and the order of worship, and the Sacraments, and the rites and rituals, the core of all of that is Jesus.  It is Christ himself, crucified and risen for you.  And so the nine healed lepers, while they certainly weren’t wrong to go do as they were told, to follow the religious process they had been given, well, in forgetting to say thank you to Jesus, in forgetting the One who actually had healed them, it seems like they maybe kind of missed the point. 

And we can be in danger of doing the same thing.  We can come to church and sing the songs and pray the prayers and listen politely and sit down and stand up and so on and so forth, we can serve coffee and help usher and share the peace nicely with the people sitting next to us, and we can do that every single week – heck, we could do it every single day – but if we trust in those rituals, instead of trusting in the person that all the rituals point to, the Christ who is the object, the target of our worship, the one who instituted the Sacraments and brings us life and healing and salvation through them; if we miss Him, then we miss the point. 

“Church”, at the end of the day, is not about church for the sake of church.  It is not, primarily, about “hospitality”, or about how often you come or how much money you put in the offering plate.  It is not about who sees you here, and it is not about coffee and treats.  Church is not about the building, or about how popular any given congregation is in town, or about being nice, or whatever else.  Church – this particular congregation called Our Savior’s, and the Church that is composed all the believers, across all time and space, church, is fundamentally, primarily, always and only, at its core, about Jesus. 

Hymns and songs, prayers and processionals, confession and Communion – all point to Jesus.  Hospitality and welcome and fellowship – all derive from, and point to, the hospitality and welcome and fellowship that Jesus offers to us.  Service projects – inside and outside the church building – come from, and point to, the Jesus who loves us, and serves us.  Religion is good.  “Go and show yourselves to the priest,” Jesus says.  Jesus doesn’t come to destroy religion.  He comes to make it known that He is the one who undergirds, who is both the foundation of, and the object of religion.  The Church’s One Foundation…is Jesus Christ her Lord…  If we miss that, we miss the point, and we become part of the nine. 

So by now, it may look like all is lost, and returning to memories of Sunday School, if you grew up in Sunday School, here comes the rest of the lecture about “being more grateful.” 

But what about this? What about, instead of a lecture on being thankful and “counting your blessings”, what if we turn to the second reading, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy?  And let’s look at one line in particular.  Paul is in the middle of quoting some sort of hymn or something about Jesus, and comes to, “when we are faithless, he is faithful.”  When we are faithless, he is faithful.  Even when we are faithless, he remains faithful.  
Look, the remaining nine lepers, say what you want about them – they weren’t appropriately grateful, they got so caught up in the machinations of religion that they missed the One who sent them to the priests in the first place, whatever else you can think of – but they weren’t unhealed because of it.  Yes, Jesus asks where they are, but he doesn’t chase them down the street and make them be lepers again.  God’s love and God’s grace and God’s power and God’s forgiveness – all of God’s gifts – are not dependent on us, and on our gratitude, or our ability to get everything right.  And thank goodness.  Because if they were, we’d be in real trouble.  But when we are faithless – when we don’t trust God, when we don’t offer him the thanks and praise he deserves, when we’re good at following religion but not so good at following Jesus, when we doubt that all the promises to keep us and love us and protect us might not really be real because they certainly don’t feel real in this moment of being diagnosed with a terrible illness or abandoned by the people I love or not knowing how I’m going to put food on the table this week or being overwhelmed with grief after someone’s death or swallowed whole by guilt and shame about what I’ve done or not done…when we are faithless, God is still faithful.  His promises and gifts and blessings still stand.  You can’t make everything fall apart because of your faithlessness – God simply won’t let you.  He doesn’t unheal us or take away what He’s already given.  He doesn’t stop showing up at your side each morning, or quit watching over you every night.  He doesn’t take away forgiveness or hand you over to the powers of evil.  When we are faithless, he is faithful. 

This is a tough life.  None of us – not a single one – have it easy.  It’s hard to be faithful in a world that doesn’t value faith.  It’s hard to trust Christ when everything around you says the only person you can trust is yourself.  It’s tough to remember to say thank you when there are just so many other things to do.  It’s difficult to keep our eyes fixed on Christ when the Sunday School rooms aren’t as full as they used to be.  And it’s easy to be wracked with guilt when we contemplate our own faithlessness. 

But when we are faithless, He is faithful.  God’s promises to forgive – to offer grace and healing and salvation and new life – they are not contingent on you.  You do not earn those promises in the moments when you are faithful, and you cannot stop them when you are faithless.  When we are faithless, He is faithful.  Your sins are forgiven, and you have been healed.  Go and show yourselves to the priest, and may God be praised!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Righteous Will Live By Faith

Good morning!  It’s monsoon season, apparently, so I’m glad to see all of you here, and see that none of you have drowned!  You know, I absolutely love these Bible texts we have to work with today because they are just so full of God’s grace and goodness!  I want to start by highlighting the very beginning of the second reading, of Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Pau writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

This, folks, is what Vibrant Faith is all about.  The Vibrant Faith system, if you could call it that, the Vibrant Faith way of looking at church, is one that takes these verses seriously.  Timothy and Paul were coworkers for the Gospel, but Paul was the…supervisor…mentor…trainer?  He brought Timothy up, taught him how to be a pastor and an evangelist, and sent him out – these 2 letters we have are some of Paul’s instructions and encouragement to his young protégé.  And so what Paul is saying to Timothy here, that we get to listen in on, is “I know that the faith you have was passed on to you from your mother and your grandmother, and that very sincere faith lives in you just as did in them.” 

What Vibrant Faith says is, “Faith is caught, not taught.  Yes, “church” and pastors and youth groups and Sunday School and confirmation and all of those other things are good and helpful and important.  But the number-one predictor of whether a child will grow up to be an actively faithful Christian is parental involvement, normalizing the life of faith, integrating it into the entire workings of the family, rather than just, “Oh, and we also go to church and do some stuff there.”"  As it says in the Habakkuk reading today, and St. Paul reiterates in his letter to the Romans, “The righteous person will live by his faith.”

This is why we put the Taking Faith Home sheets in the bulletin each week.  This is why there are suggestions for ways to engage the Four Keys (Caring Conversation, Ritual and Tradition, Service, and Devotion) going out to you in the newsletter.  It’s why we practice them at Council Meetings and Confirmation class and send ideas home after confirmation.  Because we’re giving you as many tools as possible to integrate faith into your home – whether there are kids living at your house or not.   We all need this – not just kids.  Adults and young adults.  Babies and the elderly.  Those who are healthy as a horse and those who are dying.  Those of us who just can’t seem to get our lives together, and those of us who are only pretending like we do.  We all, every one of us, need faith.  And not just “faith” in some vague, ethereal sense that has a sort of…generic justice of the universe as its object.  But faith that holds Jesus Christ, and his promises, as its object.  The righteous will live by faith. 
And it’s true, this faith comes from the Holy Spirit.  You or I or anyone else cannot create faith in someone – but we can do our darndest to pass it on.  And when we engage the rituals and traditions of the faith, when we start having more and more conversations about God, when we read the Bible and, yes, actually sing along at worship (I know, crazy!) and receive Holy Communion, when we love and serve other people after the pattern of Jesus, those are all footholds for the Holy Spirit to grab on to, to build and deepen our faith, they are ways of fanning into flames, as Paul says, the gift of God, the gift which is our faith.  And when our faith is fanned into flames – mustard seed-sized or anything else – it bleeds out onto the people around us, it gets passed around to family and friends, neighbors and coworkers.  Yes, the righteous will live by faith.  

Now I know, that there are a goodly number of you, who in your heart of hearts would prefer to believe that “the righteous will live by working hard and leading a moral life.”  I mean, YAY American Protestant Work Ethic!  Thank you, Mayflower Pilgrims and/or Scandinavian immigrants, for gifting us with this rich heritage, yes?  Deep down, a good many of us suspect that if we just work hard enough, and lead a reasonably moral life (you know, like don’t kill anybody or do anything else too terrible), and if we help usher or serve communion once in a while, well, we’re serving the Lord, and God will look with kindness on that, and then, everything will be fine.  God will love us, and smile upon us, and bless us, because of how nice and sweet and Midwesternly-charming we’ve been.  God helps those who help themselves, and others, right?  That’s totally in the Bible!  Except for, wait, it’s not.  But what is in the Bible, is Hebrews 11, verse 6: “without faith it is impossible to please God.”  The righteous person will live by faith.  

And it’s a darn good thing, too.  Because look at Jesus’ words about those who are servants.  There never seems to be a break, and there isn’t even really a reward for a job well done.  You’re only an unworthy servant, who has done your duty.  Look, you’re welcome to try to work for your reward, to be a good servant in hopes of some sort of divine pat on the head, but Jesus is pretty clear that at the end of the day, what you’ll hear is, “You want me to thank you for…doing…the job you were supposed to do in the first place?” Annnnnnd let’s be honest – how many of us can truly say, “I’m an unworthy servant who has only done what I should have”?  It’s really more like, “I’m an unworthy servant who hasn’t even done my assigned duties.”  Welcome to sin.  Even the righteous can’t claim to live by their service.  The righteous will live by faith.  

I know this is hard to hear, and hard to absorb, but it's true - good works won’t really get you anywhere.  They are what you are supposed to do, as a follower of Jesus, and other people need you do them (your kids need you to be a good parent, your wife needs you to show that you love her, your customers need you to charge fair prices – and that’s just in your own immediate circle, that’s not even counting strangers).  Yes, good works are important.  But they are important in this world only.  When it comes to righteousness, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to our relationship with God, they don’t amount to a hill of beans…or mustard seeds.  The righteous will live by faith.  

And when we live by faith, when we cling to the promises of Christ, which include eternal life, victory over the devil, and the forgiveness of sin.  So that when we are forced to say, at the end of each day, “I am only an unworthy servant who didn’t do what was asked,” we can count on Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Not overlooked, or excused, or brushed off with “oh, it’s okay.”  Forgiven.  Done, over, ended.  Washed clean.  Taken as far away as the east is from the west.  Forgiven.  Jesus has already done the hardest work of all – dying and rising again, for us, and for our salvation.  What’s left for us, the unworthy servants to do, is to believe – to have faith – that this is true.  The righteous will live by faith.  

How much faith?  Well, as much as you’ve got.  Maybe a mustard seed.  Maybe a tiny little orchid seed or a big old avocado seed.  You can’t judge the dimensions of your faith, and you sure can’t judge the dimensions of somebody else’s.  Anybody who tells you to “believe more” or “have more faith” doesn’t know what they’re talking about, because they have no idea how much faith you have.  And anyway, it’s a gift from God, given out by the Holy Spirit, so it’s not like you can control what size your seed of faith is.  The righteous will live by faith – however much they’ve been given.  

So be righteous, then.  Live by your God-given faith.  Fan it into flames by engaging it, through worship and fellowship and service and prayer, and then pass it along, not as some sort of accessory to your life, but as something that is integral, and woven into, everything that you do.  We are all unworthy servants, who sometimes have, but usually have not – done what we were told to do.  But our sins are forgiven, we are under the power of the Holy Spirit, not the devil, and we have been promised eternal life.  Yes, the righteous shall live.  They shall live by faith.  Blessed be the Lord.