It's not just a clever title; it's a way of life; it's who you are as a baptized believer in Christ. To be Lutheran is to be Christian. The two are synonymous.
It's also the motto of Higher Things, a Lutheran organization whose sole purpose is to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications, and the internet.
Logan, Utah may seem like a strange place to dare to be Lutheran, but that's exactly where our youth group spent a week at the end of June, on the campus of Utah State University attending GIVEN 2010, this year's Higher Things conference.
You've all heard the cliché - the youth are the future of the Church – but most clichés have a grain of truth in them (oops, sorry, another cliché). Of course the youth are the future. That's kind of like living on a farm and saying, "These cows and chickens will be my dinner." Duh, thanks captain obvious! All kidding aside, the youth will grow up, go to college, get married, have kids of their own, settle down, go to church like good little Lutherans – oh, wait, that is, unless their professor, boyfriend or girlfriend, friends (or a host of other things) give the devil a foothold in high school or college by telling them things like, "You're faith is a joke; Christians are such fools. How can you believe in the Bible, it's full of errors? How can you believe in Jesus, there are plenty of people who claim to be God?" And on and on and on and on.
This is why the Church must dare to be Lutheran. There are plenty of temptations to be something or someone else in the world around us. Sadly, this perception has crept into the Church as well: the temptation to be something other than what Christ has called His bridegroom the Church to be, namely, a Church that confesses Christ Crucified boldly through hymn and chant and song, that preaches and teaches the Word with such clarity that the scandal of the Gospel is plain to all, that rightly administers the Sacraments, and is merciful to the neighbor in need. Let's face it; being Lutheran isn't always very popular. Thankfully, daring to be Lutheran isn't a popularity contest. It's about seeking, knowing, learning and sharing the truth: Christ Crucified for you and for your sins.
This is why we give the youth something to grow into, not something to grow out of. Read that again; it's worth repeating, even memorizing: The Church must give the youth a confession of faith to grow into, not a confession and faith they will grow out of.
Higher Things does exactly that. At GIVEN, they boldly and loudly sang hymns from Lutheran Service Book. They gathered for services following the historic liturgy and even sang along after 4 hours of sleep (at best). They sat through and enjoyed "catechism" classes on a variety of topics from the Theology of the Simpsons to God, Marriage and Sex, from YouTube and Colossians to God's Gift of Vocation and they soaked it all in, even the incense that rose during Evening Prayer. So much was given at GIVEN, from opening to closing Divine Service our youth were fed with the hymns and services that have nourished the Church for millennia, taught the Gospel and its doctrine in Break-Out, In-Depth and Plenary sessions. And they also had a lot of fun along the way, because of, not in spite of, the rich treasures of the Lutheran Church.
At Logan it was evident that our youth are not only the future of the Church, they are much more. I was humbled by their dedication in attending chapel and the teaching sessions. I would dare to say that they put a lot of us "life-long-old-Lutherans" to shame by their enthusiasm for the Gospel and how it comes to us in Word and Sacrament. At GIVEN, the youth proved to be leaders, capable of showing the rest of the Church how to Dare To Be Lutheran. It's not that difficult, as one pastor said at the conference: "At Higher Things, we follow the three W's: Worship, Word and Fun."
Worship. This is where it all begins; and by "it" I mean God's divine serving of sinners with His saving gifts in Word, Absolution, Baptism and Communion. Worship is not about you or what you bring to God on Sunday, Wednesday or any other day. Hopefully this doesn't burst too many bubbles, but you don't come to church on Sunday morning to love God. For the Christian life, everything begins at the altar and returns to it. You love God by serving your neighbor in the places He's called you – your vocations. When you come to Church, Jesus is doing all the work. Yes, you respond with thanks and praise, but who do you think opened your lips that your mouth might declare His praise?
The gifts Christ gives in the liturgy lead us to Jesus and His forgiveness. The Divine Service, Evening Prayer, Matins, Morning Prayer, and Vespers – the services attended at Higher Things – are all about Jesus and His gifts being given to us. The liturgy proclaims the Gospel, teaches the faith, orders our services, protects us from error, connects us to the whole Christian Church throughout the world (a.k.a. the church catholic) and even better, we are joined in song with the angels and archangels and all the saints who have died in Christ. Worship is all about Jesus and Jesus is all about giving His gifts to us in Divine Service.
Word, the 2nd "W," is all about teaching and preaching. Faithful worship leads to serious and engaging study of God's Word. In fact, what we believe, teach and confess says a lot about how the services at our congregation will look and sound. Flip it around and it's still true…how we worship also says a lot about what we believe, teach and confess. So, we attended a lot of catechesis at Higher Things. For those of you who don't "sprechen sie Latin," that means teaching. That's how we get the word "catechism." And our youth will be the first ones to tell you that confirmation is not graduation from catechesis, but the beginning of the catechetical life (yes, you can use that phrase to impress your friends). This is exactly what Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19…teaching them to keep, guard, treasure everything that I have commanded you. Yes, Jesus loves doctrine and so do our youth. Just ask them about some of the amazing Break-Out and In-Depth sessions they attended.
And Fun, the third "W." Everyone likes to have fun. Just as we take worship and studying God's Word seriously, so too, we take our fun seriously, no kidding! And Redeemer's youth are a lot of fun. You'll have to check out the pictures and watch the video for a better idea of what kind of sanctified mischief we can get into. Who would have ever thought that a 12-15 hour van ride could be fun, but it was. Whether it's laser tag, roller skating, bowling, comedian hypnotists (no minds were altered), t-shirt swaps, or silly made up games and songs – we had it all, even a little gravy on top just for good measure. Because everyone knows you can't have fun without food. These young Lutherans were fed by Christ in His Supper and sermons, His hymns and liturgy, His Word and teaching and then received their daily bread with joy from In N Out, yes even in Utah and Angies (it's where the locals eat); and special thanks to the Aggies' Dairy Science Department at Utah State for the great ice cream. Fun, like food is a gift of God's creation. God gives us these gifts to enjoy and to rejoice in the life He's given us. For on account of Christ Crucified, we are a new creation and we've received all the gifts of heaven and even the gifts of His creation: laughter, fun, food, and after the conference, sleep. Everything we have in this life – from the 1st to the 3rd article - is a result of Christ's all sufficient saving death on the cross.
At GIVEN, the youth of Redeemer – and all 500-plus gathered – were given a treasure trove of God's riches. The best gifts we can give to our children are the same gifts Christ has used to sustain and grow His Church throughout the centuries: the historic liturgy and hymns, the catechism and the Scriptures. Our Lord taught us that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). The treasure of the Church is Christ and His gifts GIVEN to us: Holy Scripture, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution. These are the treasures that are GIVEN to our youth – in Logan, Utah (and next year Las Vegas!) and here at Redeemer, Huntington Beach. Rejoice in these gifts. Treasure these precious jewels.
It's not just a clever title; it's a way of life; it's who you are as a baptized believer in Christ. Our youth will show the way: Dare to be Lutheran.