Tomorrow (Wed.) we leave for the National Lutheran Youth Gathering! Hurrah! It has been years in the making - as are each of the Gatherings. The Gathering is sponsored by the Youth Ministry of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and is the only national gathering sponsored by them. There are others but those are sponsored by RSOs (Recognized Service Organizations) and while they are worthwhile, they are nothing like the NLYG. Perhaps I betray my thoughts on this whole setting within our church body.
The NLYG is just that - it is National. It is for Youth. It is Lutheran. And it is a Gathering.
National - youth from all over the nation, even from around the world, attend these gatherings. It is a time to see that you are not alone in your walk of faith. Too often, the devil, the world and our own sinful nature lead us to begin to think that we alone walk in the faith. Much like Elijah, we run with terror at the things that are taking place around us and we feel that no one else is holding firm to the faith in Jesus Christ. We run and hide. We begin to withdraw. The NLYG changes that. When we sit with 20,000 (used to be 25,000 but some of the other youth events have pulled our youth from the NLYG and taken them elsewhere) and see that they love the Lord as much or more than you, it lifts you up. It encourages you. It says to you, "Go back to your hometown for I have reserved thousands who have not bent their knee to other gods or kissed other gods." Those who attend the NLYG realize that our Lord is still the Lord of all and learn to stand firm and tall before the onslaught of temptation and sin.
Youth - youth are the focus of this Gathering. All the Bible studies, workshops, concerts, etc. are geared for youth. Adults love to go the Gathering because of the energy they feel while they are there. But it is meant for youth - high school youth, youth that are in the midst of the battle for the faith, youth that face struggles daily as they try to walk as Christians through the halls of their highs schools. To see so many youth excited about Christ in one place (back to National) is an overwhelming event. I praise God for the power He brings through Word and Sacrament to these youth. I rejoice to see these young men and women on fire for the Lord. No one should look down upon them because of their age nor should anyone pooh-pooh this event as merely being fluff and worthless for the growth of the spiritual life. Those who do are stuck in themselves and their own desire that others be like them. Our youth are strong Christians who are strengthened even more at the NLYG. Go youth!
Lutheran - the NLYG is Lutheran. It is Lutheran in all it does. It might not be like the local congregation in how it goes about being Lutheran, but I thank God for that! I have heard it said that the NLYG leads our youth away from LC-MS Lutheranism, to which I say, "Baloney." It is LC-MS in all it does. It focuses the youth on their life as Lutherans. It teaches as Lutherans. It celebrates the Sacrament as Lutherans. If you prick it, does it not bleed Lutheran? If you attack it, are you not attacking Lutherans? The answer is yes! I am proud of what the planners, presenters and youth do at the NLYG. When we arrive, we are Lutheran. When we are there, we are Lutheran. When we return home, we are Lutheran. Can you find fault in the NLYG? Of course, when you look long enough and hard enough, you can find fault in anything and everything. That can be done in the local parish, no matter who the pastor might be. Why search so hard to find fault? Why not use that energy for the positive and find the good and right things that are done and build upon them? I will not give in to the anger or hatred of others that seek destruction of that which is different from them. I rejoice that the NLYG is decidedly and completely Lutheran.
Gathering - need I say more? It is a Gathering, a gathering of Lutherans in one place, a gathering of Christians around the cross of Christ, a gathering of people who are hurting, a gathering of those who are lost, a gathering of those who are in need, a gathering around Word, a gathering around Sacrament. We gather to grow. We gather to love. We gather to serve. We gather. It is overwhelming to be in the midst of the gathering. it is more than you get at home. In the local parish, life is wonderful. I love St. Paul's in Troy, IL. I rejoice to gather with them each and every week in worship and Bible study. I revel in the life we have together in this place. And yet, when you gather at the NLYG, there is something amazing. To gather with thousands of other Lutherans/Christians in one place is wonderful.
WE BELIEVE - in one God, triune, holy and just, loving and gracious, redeeming and sanctifying. WE BELIEVE, together as one body. Christ is the head of this body. Youth and adults from around the nation are the body of Christ in their place. We are drawn together for 5 short days to confess before the world, "WE BELIEVE!"