Sunday, April 7, 2013


Senior High Youth Gathering
Camp Castaway—April 7, 2013
John 13:2-13 and Ephesians 5:1-2

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
(Note:  at the gathering a PowerPoint presentation accompanied the sermon; those photos are not included in this post--please use your imagination.)
 I have great news to share with you.

Around June 1 Joy and I will become grandparents.    Our daughter Kristen is expecting a little girl—and we couldn’t be happier.

Here’s what the baby looks like right now (PPT: picture of a pineapple).   Well—that’s not exactly what she looks like—but it’s how big she is….

The birth of this little girl will probably be the best thing that happens in our family this year.  

And already this little girl is very much on our minds.    We think about her every day.   We wonder what she’ll be like.   We have hopes and dreams for her. 

And we pray she’ll be healthy…..happy….smart…..loving….strong…..imaginative….and fun!

We’re also already praying that our grand-daughter will be filled with faith in the God we know best in Jesus Christ.

Because I want my granddaughter to know Jesus, I’m planning to start reading to her from the Bible and the Catechism as soon as she’s born.  I can’t wait to teach her some of the wonderful ideas, deep concepts and vital facts of faith.

Of course she won’t be able to take all that in right away.  Newborns are too tiny and hungry and sleepy for that.  So, I’ll wait until she’s about a month old before starting her instruction to be a Christian.  

That should work, because I’m sure our granddaughter will be an amazing child!

OK, you know I’m pulling your leg.   No tiny baby, not even Super-Baby!, can fully understand God or faith or being Christian at the ripe old age of one month.

But our granddaughter will start learning all that, the same way we all started to learn it.   She’ll start to learn as she notices and imitates others doing things that matter.

The first thing my granddaughter will notice are these faces—her Mom and her Dad, smiling down at her, making a fuss over her, giving her a smile she can imitate!  

She will learn that these two persons….and a whole wider circle of others can be trusted….to feed her, cuddle her, bathe her, change her, love her.

When she’s laid down in her crib at night, she’ll start hearing things:  “Mommy and Daddy love you and Jesus will watch over you.”   When a little baby hears that goodnight blessing a couple hundred times, they start believing it.

As my granddaughter grows, she’ll notice how her parents care for her….and also how they care for each other.   Love that’s expressed between a mom and a dad makes a home feel safe and secure. 

My little grand-daughter’s first inklings of what God is like will come through her experience of her own parents as caring, trustworthy, protective, ever-present.

As she grows my granddaughter will be caught up in some predictable routines and rhythms:  getting dressed, eating, sleeping, going to bed.   She’ll notice that when mom and dad eat, they first say a prayer…and when she goes to bed they say a prayer.   

The day will come when my granddaughter will fold her hands for the first time—and that will go into her baby book, right along with her first words and first steps.

Most every Sunday her mom and dad take her to a big interesting place called church, filled with other people who’ll make googly eyes at her and pinch her little cheeks.  At Christ Lutheran Church in St Paul my granddaughter will imitate those people—sing their songs, pass the peace, listen to Pastor Gary, pray the prayers, hold out her chubby little hands when bread and wine is shared.

And so it will go for this little person our whole family is dying to meet.   Before she can really think, before she can truly speak, my granddaughter will know how to imitate…and by imitating others she will start to grow up into her Lord Jesus Christ.      

We sometimes think that believing in God and thinking about faith come first….leading to actions that flow from such faith.

But in reality…..most of us start out our Christian lives by watching and doing and imitating others, long before our brain cells fully understand.

There’s a new word that describes that:   neuroplasticity.  It’s a word that tells how our experiences shape the ways we think and behave, how imitating others even changes the ways our brains work.  

Imitate others….repeat certain actions over time, and those actions will mold how you think and believe and live.

That’s why we talk a lot about faith practices (6 photos)….stuff we do….to help us believe and think with the mind of Christ.   So we say our prayers….we open our Bibles….we give money to church and charities….we serve our neighbors….we show up for worship every week...

…We do all those things, we imitate other Christians doing those things, we do those things even when we don’t feel like doing them….because we know that doing those things, imitating those actions changes us, forms us, molds us into the believers, the disciples Jesus is creating us to be.

“Neuroplasticiy” might be a new word to us, but it names a very old reality.

In the early years of the Christian church, when someone was coming to faith, preparing for baptism, the local church didn’t ask them to read a bunch of books or memorize a catechism (though there was a creed everyone learned and recited before being baptized)….

Coming to faith in Christ wasn’t so much a “head trip” in the earliest church as it was a hand-and-foot trip.   It was not about memorizing facts as much as it was walking on a pathway…..and not walking alone, either.

The first Christians recognized early on how every neophyte, every newborn believer needed a guide, someone who had been walking in the way of Christ for years and years….someone who walked the walk in such a way that others would imitate.

But this whole approach to forming persons in Christian faith and life was even older than the early church.

It went right back to Jesus himself who always let his actions do the talking for him.

Sure Jesus told fascinating stories and delivered deep sermons and taught lofty wisdom….but mainly Jesus acted.   Jesus did things that others picked up on, reflected in their own lives, imitated.

Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river…as we are baptized

Jesus was tempted to sin…as we are tempted.

Jesus invited others to join him….as we form groups.

Jesus ate and drank, often with persons who were unpopular…as hopefully we also do in our schools and circles of friends..

Jesus prayed…as I hope we also do.

Jesus stood up to bullies.

Jesus touched sick persons.

Jesus forgave sinners.

Jesus got angry at things that were just wrong.

Jesus held little children.

Jesus told uncomfortable truths.

Jesus suffered.

Jesus died for us and all people.

Jesus was buried.

And Jesus rose from the dead—Jesus broke out of the grave….as we too shall arise.

Jesus did all that and more so that you and I could see, hear, smell, taste, and imitate the ways of God.

One of the most powerful things Jesus did, the night before he died, was to wash his disciples’ feet.

It was something people in his day always did to themselves.  Not even a slave could be forced to do this!   Jesus got down on his knees and washed the filthy feet of his followers.   This just wasn’t done—which is why Peter, at first, didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet….but Jesus insisted because there was no better way to express his deep, deep love for his friends.

Jesus did that because he wanted them to have an example worth imitating...and we’re still “doing feet” today!

If you Google the phrase “washing feet”…..hundreds of pictures like this one pop up.  

This just happened a week ago Thursday—Maundy Thursday--in Rome.   Who’s the man in white?   Whose feet is he washing?   (young people…in a juvenile detention center….boys and girls….Christians and non-Christians, insiders and outsiders)   The pope didn’t just wash their feet…but he kissed them, too.

I’m thinking that Pope Francis is a different kind of pope.   He doesn’t want to be treated like a king.   He has a heart for the poor.   He “gets down” with folks (his security detail must be having fits!) 

The pope is acting a lot like Jesus.

He’s acting the way Jesus-in-you-and-me acts:   connecting with all sorts of people--especially people in trouble, washing the feet of insiders and outsiders, being a servant not a master, showing love for all.

Dear God, keep our eyes and ears open.  Help us notice you as we imitate those who belong to you.  Make us people worth imitating—persons in whom others can see Christ.  In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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