Rev. Michael Keith
I didn’t grow up going to church. At all. Ever.
But then in my late teens I did start going to church. I’ll not bother you with the details of how that happened. But it did. I started going to church. I went to a lot of churches. Lots. I checked out churches from all different kinds of denominations and talked to the pastors. I needed to find out what they believed and why they believed it. At first I started going to some evangelical style churches with some friends. I was so ignorant of what went on in a church that one Sunday I walked in and they handed me a little piece of a cracker and a little glass of grape juice. I thought that was weird, but kind of nice that they were handing out snacks, so I went to my pew before the service began and ate my little cracker and drank my juice. Everybody around me looked at me like I had just farted. Apparently there is this thing called “Communion” that this church did a couple times a year and you eat and drink the cracker and the juice in the pew later on in the service to remember Jesus. I didn’t know that. I felt pretty stupid and just faked it when it got to that point in the service.
Later I ended up attending a Lutheran church and staying. I’ll not bother you with the details of how that happened. But it did. However, that experience with the cracker and the grape juice made a big impression on me. I never wanted to feel stupid like that again. So, I asked my Lutheran pastors questions about everything. Everything. Why do we do this? Why do we do that? What does this mean? What does that mean? I wanted to know and understand. I had to learn the ABCs of Church.
One of the first things I asked about was the sign of the cross. I noticed that some people in the pews around me would make the sign of the cross at certain points in the Divine Service. I thought only Roman Catholics did that! What’s going on here? So I marched up to my pastor after Service one Sunday and asked what that was all about? He explained to me that was a way to help remember your baptism and the gifts that Jesus gave to you there. That blew me away. I had never heard that before. That seemed to me like a good thing to remember. I’ve made the sign of the cross several times daily ever since.
Why is it so important to remember that you are a baptized child of God? Because the devil wants you to forget. The devil wants you to doubt it. He will raise up the guilt of sins past and ask: “Would a child of God have done that? You must not really be a child of God.” He will work on you to cause you to question God’s love: “Sure, God loves her – she is pretty and nice and comes from a good family – but His love is not for you. Of course God loves him – he gets picked first for all the sports teams – but God isn’t really interested in you at all.” The devil continues to ask the question “Did God really say?” today to raise doubt and uncertainty just as he did in the Garden of Eden.
In Holy Baptism Jesus gives you something solid to hang on to. When everything else in life seems shaky – Jesus gives you something solid. In Holy Baptism Jesus gives you something that is sure and certain. You are a child of God because God said so in your baptism. And God does not lie. If He says it is so, it is so. Don’t argue with God. His Word stands forever! You are a beloved child of the heavenly Father!
In Holy Baptism your sins are washed away for the sake of Jesus. Your sins are removed from you as far as the East is from the West. When doubt creeps into your mind about God’s forgiveness of your sins remember His sure and certain promises given to you in your baptism. Through water and the Word He made those promises to you, personally. Directly. The water was poured on your head. Not someone else’s. God’s promises in Holy Baptism were made to you. God made those promises to you in a specific place and at a certain time. Making the sign of the cross reminds you of what God promised you at that time and place.
The devil deals in doubt and uncertainty. Jesus deals in the sure and certain. By remembering your baptism and the gifts Jesus gave you there you are on solid ground.
I had a lot to learn as I began attending church. By God’s grace I have had opportunities to learn from a lot of very faithful people. I still have lots to learn. Maybe we can talk about some more of the things I have learned along the way sometime in the future.
Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, AB Canada. He can be reached at email@example.com.