Thursday, July 14, 2011

Higher Things Coram Deo Debrief: A Few Thoughts Post Vegas

“Pardon me, Coram, what?! What is Coram Deo?” Well, it’s much more than fancy-pants Latin boys use to impress friends at school and girls at parties. Coram Deo is Latin for, “before God,” as in before his face, in his presence, under his reign, and so forth. Remember your catechism: “that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom. That’s what Coram Deo means, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.

Now that we have the Latin down, Coram Deo was also the title and theme of this summer’s Higher Things youth conference hosted on the campus of University Nevada Las Vegas (and two other sites nation-wide). For those of you who haven’t heard much about Higher Things, this is the best thing to happen to and for Lutheran youth since the Walther League (before it got weird). Check out Higher Things youth organization here. Quite simply, Higher Things gives our youth a faith to grow into not a faith to grow out of. And in an age that is teaching our youth to be anything but Christian, Higher Things' motto is a bold confession of fresh air: Dare to be Lutheran.

So, Coram Deo is Latin, it’s a youth conference, but it’s also our status, our standing, our station before God. That’s what the conference – during worship and breakout/plenary sessions - was all about.
What does our life look like Coram Deo, before God? Under the Law, our life before God is full of terror, sin, death and condemnation, uglier than the pestilence of cockroaches running around UNLV at night. Apart from Christ our life before God is more like a living in a wack-a-mole, we deserve nothing but punishment and wrath. Sin changed everything. Just read Genesis 3 again: sin, shame, guilt, pride, disobedience, curse, thorns, outcast, death. The tree given for knowledge of good and evil became a tree of death for Adam, Eve and all humanity. In Adam, life before God is no life at all, quite the opposite in fact. Capital “S” Sin is the problem, not simply sins we commit. The disease leads to the symptoms not the other way around.

As St. Paul writes in Romans: “the wages of Sin is death” (Romans 6:23) therefore, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because  all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:12-14).

But don’t stop at Genesis 3. Because, that’s only half the story. More importantly, we live before God (Coram Deo) under the Gospel, where life is a gracious rescue and a glorious restoration of what God had intended before the fall into sin. Or, in the words of St. Paul, “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18-19).  In Christ, Coram Deo you are no longer a son of Adam but a son of God through Baptism, his own dear child, crying out Abba! Father!  In Christ, Coram Deo, you are no longer dead but alive, no longer condemned but justified freely by Christ who was crucified for you. In Christ, Coram Deo, you are no longer eat in disobedience and wrath but in righteousness and innocence as God himself comes to before you with his own body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. You stand, kneel, and worship in joy and peace, Coram Deo, because of the gifts Christ has given and continues to give in his church for the life of the world. Now in Christ we are at peace Coram Deo, freed to stand before (coram hominibus) our neighbor in need with love and mercy.

What is Coram Deo? It is to confess that we are poor miserable sinners but more importantly, to confess that we, poor miserable sinners, are justified freely by Christ through his death and resurrection that come to us in Word, water, absolution, bread and wine. And that means that we can live coram hominibus – before man – in joy and service.

What does Coram Deo look like?  In Baptism, Coram Deo looks like the new creation proclaimed in Revelation, especially chapter 7: white robes drenched in the saving blood of the Lamb, tears wiped from our eyes, death gone forever and life in eternal wedding feast – all of that is yours in Christ.  In the Church, Coram Deo looks like God’s people coming week in and week out to inwardly digest the Word, to drown the old Adam through daily repentance, to receive the absolution, to give thanks and praise, to kneel at the Lord’s Table and depart in peace and joy.

What is Coram Deo? In Las Vegas, Coram Deo was over 500 youth attending Divine Service twice in a week to receive Christ’s body and blood for their forgiveness. Coram Deo is praying Matins, Vespers and Evening Prayer as Christ is proclaimed in hymn, liturgy and sermons. Coram Deo is the joy that our youth are receiving the same teaching and message at this conference that they receive week in and week out at Redeemer. Coram Deo – thanks to Higher Things - is challenging our youth to continue in growth and knowledge as they learn the pure doctrine of the Christian faith. Coram Deo is breakaway sessions on a wide variety of topics ranging from Islam & Christianity to How to Plan a Lutheran Wedding, and How to Talk With Non-Lutheran Friends to dealing with tough issues in our day, like Pornography and Dating, Relationships and THAT (i.e. sex).  Coram Deo is outstanding and engaging plenary (full group) sessions on the book of Romans and Reformation history. Coram Deo is hearing things like: “Pastor, I want a Lutheran wedding when I grow up or pastor, when can we use incense and have Vespers at our church?;” teenage youth humming the Magificat as they walk; or even a simple thank you to any one of the many presenters and youth leaders.

Coram Deo is enjoying the air conditioned student union after a long, sandal-melting walk across campus, eating hot dogs and pizza every lunch and dinner for nine meals (just kidding), making a non-criminal visit to the security office (sorry, inside joke), listening to our youth discuss the day’s classes and adventures over a refreshing In N Out milkshake, spending joyous hours and sleepless nights playing, learning, singing and joking with our youth as they show us how to dare to be Lutheran. Seriously, we adults have so much to learn from these dedicated youth. We underestimate them far too often. They love the liturgy; they love our hymnody; they love the catechism - because they love Jesus and all that he has given, and continues to give, them. And for all of this - their participation, humor, joy and fidelity at the conference this year - the youth have my endless admiration.

Higher Things Coram Deo is best summarized by the three “W’s”: Worship, Word and Fun – that’s the serious business of our youth group (and our Christian life) as we believe, teach and confess Christ and Him Crucified. He is our life Coram Deo. In this way, Christ makes us ready for life coram hominibus, so that what happened in Vegas, won’t stay in Vegas.

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