Meet Pastor Joanna Mitchell. She is the associate pastor of Shepherd of the Hills in Edina, Minnesota. Below is her post on January sixth’s story of Matthew 2:1-23, on passing down the faith, and how this all intersects with “Why Jesus?”
When I entered the ministry, I read studies, heard sermons and attended seminars that addressed the importance of partnership between families and congregations. Over and over again, I have in preaching and in teaching shared that the primary teachers of the faith are not pastors and youth directors. But, it is the parents or main caregivers! Our baptism class and the family worship service I lead are designed to create a shared experience for both parents and kids with the hope that the conversation would carry on at home – a conversation about faith in daily life. My belief is still that parents or main caregivers are the primary teachers of the faith; grandparents can have a huge role, too. But what I have learned is that as many tools as I have given to parents, grandparents, and caregivers to talk about faith at home, there is one tool I have not provided: to create space and encouragement for people to articulate their own faith. In fact, I am convinced that one of the reasons that households do not talk about faith at home with the children and grandchildren is because parents, grandparents, and caregivers are not completely sure what they really believe.
So the question becomes tangible: Can we pass on the Christian faith to our children if we are not really sure what we believe ourselves? I admit; this is complicated. People as a community of faith confess their beliefs every Sunday using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. They confess to believing in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, and a lot of things about each of the persons of the trinity. But if we dig deeper, could the average Jo(e) sitting in the pew answer the question of “Why Jesus?” Meaning “What do you believe about Jesus?” or “How does Jesus make a difference in your life?”
Here is a story:
A few years ago, I attended a conference at Luther Seminary that focused on faith formation. One of the speakers was an administrator for Luther Seminary. She actually had never taught a class though she was deeply engaged in the life of the church, this woman had not gone to school to be a theologian. She shared that when her children reached their mid-twenties, they stopped going to church. She was upset and worried about this, and finally had the boldness to ask them: “Why don’t you go to church any more?” Instead of answering her question, her kids responded to her with a question in return: “Mom, why do you go to church and what do you really believe?” Strangely although she was a life-long Lutheran and an award winning Sunday School student (due to her perfect attendance), she did not have an answer.
The speaker said, “I sat in silence and prayed for God to give me an answer, but I didn’t have one because no one had ever asked me that question before. The answer I wanted to give was because I always have gone and I was taught to believe, and yet (she confessed) that answer was not sufficient for my children.” She went on to encourage all of us — to really think deeply about that question. “What do you really believe and whether or not we are helping people articulate their own faith?” Can your people in the pews answer the questions: “Why Jesus?” or “Why church?”
Back to reality.
Now, my daughters are in the tween to teenager years. Their questions of faith are much more complex than they were a few years ago. Their awareness of other faiths is so much deeper than my own was at their age. Their school is diverse with students who are open about their Jewish and Muslim faith or lack of faith from atheist friends. No doubt that faith is complicated. It often feels like there are a lot of things we are supposed to believe because our family or the church has told us so. But I wonder if our thoughts of what we are supposed to believe get in the way of us developing a genuine faith? My hope is that we in the church can have these hard conversations about what we do and what we do not believe and respect each other enough to be both vulnerable, accepting, and honest.
This Epiphany, I hope that you will join around 50 other congregations from Twin Cities, Minnesota to Sand Point, Idaho, from Santiago Chile to places in Australia and New Zealand in asking the question: “Why Jesus?” The first story of the “Why Jesus?” – The Epiphany Project on January 6 reminds us that God went to great lengths to save baby Jesus. The truth of Jesus’ story has a difficult beginning, but throughout his life Jesus will enter right into the difficulties of humanity again and again. What is your story? Has there been crisis, difficulty, an unexpected invitation, an unmerited forgiveness? Who went to great lengths to bring you to worship today?
Ask yourself: Why Jesus? Because Jesus is…[you fill in the blank]?
That is the goal of this sermon series for Epiphany – for people to answer for themselves of “Why Jesus?” makes a difference in their lives. So we will look to the Bible stories to give us examples of “Why Jesus?”such as that Jesus is light, Jesus is love, or Jesus is relationship. After all, his life is a witness of the ways that Jesus makes a difference in the world. The hope is that you and your congregation will join in this adventure of asking the question of “Why Jesus?” And even though people will respond with varying answers with the Because Jesus is…[you fill in the blank],” it is their answer – one that speaks to their hearts, and their souls, and to connect them more deeply with Jesus. It’s then they can pass on the faith to the next generation.
What is the Why Jesus Project? Check out the FAQ on Why Jesus? Home Page.