When Meaning Gets Lost Over Time
Originally Published 2019.08.27 as we headed toward a pre-Covid Labor Day. Ah, Simpler times!
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 esv
Monday is Labor Day. When I ask people about this holiday, many tell me that it is the unofficial last day of summer, and a long weekend. Some say that it honors the American worker, as they surmise from the name, but most cannot go further. A handful will make some quip about unions and communists based on something they have heard from pundits. Few know the rest of the story…
Late in the 19th Century, as the labor movements and trade unions rose, they began pushing for a holiday to celebrate the American worker. They insisted it is distinct from the May Day celebrations held in some countries that honor the worker because these had ties to international communist and socialist parties. May Day is also associated with the Haymarket Affair when labor protests in Chicago led somebody to throw dynamite into the crowd killing seven police officers and four civilians and wounding dozens of others. Pushing for a holiday free from all this baggage, people settled on the first Monday of September; in 1894, “Labor Day” was born.
So why the brief history lesson? It is an example of how habits, rituals, and holidays can become commonplace and lose their meaning over time. The same thing happens with churches over generations.
In nearly two decades of ministry, I have experienced firsthand my fair share of people who take God and the church for granted. They expect us to be there when they need something (a baptism, a wedding, a funeral) yet seldom (if ever) worship God, nor do they participate in the ministries of the Body of Christ. When they make an appearance, there is an awkwardness because they have no idea what is going on or are perturbed because changes were made over time, and church no longer matches that which is frozen in their childhood memories, and they become indignant. What this reveals is the profound loss of meaning about faith and community that has occurred over generations.
One of the most challenging is the people shopping for a church to baptize their child. They have no idea what this Sacrament even is or what it means to the different Christian traditions. Sure I try to use it as a teaching moment and explain the meaning within our theological tradition and how we have a sacred call as a congregation as we promise to help the parents raise the child before Christ and within the Body of Christ. But this also means that the parents must also commit to this sacred and holy task. And this is usually where I lose them. Sure some have made and stuck to that commitment, but others have joined only to disappear shortly after the baptism. But many have said “no thanks,” and a few have even turned aggressive or nasty. Ouch!!!
I am very passionate about God’s call on me (it is one of the greatest joys of my life). I expect the parents who present children for baptism to live out their promises to raise them in an environment where faith in Christ can be modeled, explored, and cultivated. I am also trying to make sure we don’t lose meaning over time.
If you need a reminder of why we are here, let me give you One more little history lesson as to why we serve and why we worship and why we baptize in the name of the Triune God of Grace.
Two thousand years ago, God kept a promise. He said for thousands of years that he was going to give to Israel (and all the Nations) one who is the Anointed King, Son of God, Savior, Priest, Sacrifice, and God himself. “42” delivered a child dedicated and raised in the traditions of his faith. As a man, he challenged those in the faith to never take God for granted. He taught, healed, and died for our sins (on a cross!!). Then on the third day (as promised), he rose from the dead to give us our promise of resurrection. Before he ascended to the throne of grace, he gave us a sacred task to baptize and make disciples. (See Matthew 28) He then sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us, inspire us, comfort us, protect us, bind us, and so much more. What we have discovered was that he is God himself in the flesh!
Oh, by the way, when he was here, he labored as a carpenter!
Our baptism contains a promise to serve, worship, and love our God because he first loved us. It also means that we are to love and serve one another and all people. We participate in ministry because we are profoundly thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. And all of this builds us up in faith more and more.
Happy Labor Day Lord!