by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
(A Letter to My Two Teenage Boys)
Okay, guys. I’ve never told you that “you are the future of the Church.” And I never will.
The Bible says the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Jesus is the future of the Church. Jesus is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Jesus has a future, and so every person connected to Jesus has a future.
That’s why, more than anything else, your mom and I want you connected with Jesus. That’s why I baptized each of you. That’s why we read all the Bible stories to you as toddlers. That’s why we have a time of devotion when we can actually eat together. That’s why we’ve prayed for you from day one. That’s why we sent you to a Lutheran grade school. That’s why we made sure you knew the catechism. That’s why we always go to church.
And that’s why we are LCMS Lutherans. The LCMS is simply the best thing going because for orthodox Lutherans, it’s all about Jesus–all about being connected to Jesus.
The Church has a profound responsibility to pay attention to young people. The Bible teaches that all over the place. Today, the Missouri Synod has just less than half the high-school-age young people that it had when I graduated from Sioux City, East High in 1980.
Why? Mainly because we’ve just followed the national trend of European-descent Americans who are having fewer children.
In any case, as LCMS young people, you are a precious commodity, indeed! But don’t let that go to your heads. The Bible teaches that young people are very much prone to particular and serious sins.
“Remember not the sins of my youth” (Ps. 25:7). And I hardly have to tell you what they are. Luther said the sins of youth tend to be sexual, while the sins of old age are greed. All sin condemns.
“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). I’ve never pulled any punches in teaching you what the Bible says about sin. We deserve hell, pure and simple.
“But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23). And so we’ve always spoken forgiveness at home to each other. We’re sinners. We are forgiven sinners.
And so we sinners forgive others who sin against us. We are Gospel people to those around us. Christianity is not about ethics. It’s about Jesus.
The Sunday liturgy shows you why we go to church. Luther said we are beggars who stand before God with an empty sack. What happens in the liturgy? The pastor starts us off in the Name of the Triune God. God’s there to do His stuff!
Then in the confession of sins, “I, a poor miserable sinner . . .” we say, “Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack!” If you don’t think you’re a sinner, if you don’t think your bag’s empty, you’ll never understand why we go to church. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins,” says the pastor. He drops a load of forgiveness, grace and mercy into your bag. And you say, “Amen! Yup! It’s in my bag!”
Then the Scriptures are read, and more grace and Gospel and mercy is dropped in. Then the sermon is preached, and you are told that you are damned by the Law, but that Jesus comes only for sinners. Hooray!
“I came not for the righteous but the unrighteous!” (Mark 2:17). And at the end of the sermon, you say (and don’t leave this to the pastor), “Amen! Got ‘er in the bag!” Then you kneel at the altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus. “Take and eat, Christ’s body and blood for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
And you say again, “Amen! It’s in my bag!” This continues right through the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you, and give you peace.” Amen! Amen! Amen! It’s in the bag. I’ve got it tied up and hoisted on my shoulder as I head out of church.
Now, how shall I live with that big bag of forgiveness, grace and mercy? When my dad sins against me, what do I do? I open my bag and say, “Here, Dad, you misunderstood me and thought ill of me, but I forgive you ’cause I’ve been forgiven.”
Then that teacher at school drives you crazy, and you open your bag again. Then that awful bully harasses and embarrasses you, and when your emotions calm, you open your bag of grace and pray, “Forgive him, Lord. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. And he’s hurting inside big time.”
Then you run into a friend who’s really in need because her home life is chaos, and you show her love and compassion like Jesus. In fact, the mercy of Jesus is the greatest compelling factor for you to live a meaningful life of service and love to others.
This happens all week long. Then comes Sunday morning, and you find yourself in church again confessing, “Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack.”
Honestly, boys, I’m frightened for you. This world is an absolute mess. But I’m also confident. Jesus grabbed you at the font, and He won’t let go. “No one can snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). I’m proud of how you’ve grown. I’m proud of how you’ve stood the test. I’m proud of how you’ve kindly witnessed to Jesus in your young lives.
And I’m absolutely sure the Church has a future because Jesus has a future, and He’s made you His very own for eternity.
“Be thou faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).