Nov 5, 2009

Two confirmed on Reformation Sunday

Yovany and Dexi Torres
Dexi Yovana Torres Ortega and Yovany Javier Torres Ortega were confirmed as members of our little flock on Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2009. The siblings were baptized together at La Caramuca Lutheran Mission on March 30, 2007. Since 2004 we have had 11 baptisms and seven confirmations here.

This was the first time I presided over the rite of confirmation (prior to my ordination in December 2008, baptisms and confirmations were conducted by visiting pastors when they had the time to travel to La Caramuca).I have attended many confirmation ceremonies in my life (my own was 37 years ago), so I was familiar with the order of service, but it was like looking at it from the other side of the looking-glass, so to speak.

Since it was Reformation Sunday, our hymns included the Spanish versions of "A Mighty Fortress" ("Castillo Fuerte") and "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word." ("Sostennos Firmes, Oh SeƱor"). I do not have recording of our congregation singing "A Mighty Fortress", but I do have one of the members of El Redentor (Redeemer) Lutheran Church in San Antonio de Capayuacuar singing it on Reformation Sunday 2004. Their version sounds a lot like that of La Caramuca Lutheran Mission.

My sermon text was John 8:31-36, which contains the often misinterpreted saying of Jesus: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." In fact, the text itself indicates that Jesus' original listeners misinterpreted His words. They thought he was referring to political liberty. To live as free citizens under a just government is a great blessing from God, as are things like plenty of money in the bank, many friends, a nice house, a happy marriage and children. But the greatest gift from God is the spiritual liberty that we have through justification by faith in Jesus Christ.

Rite of confirmationJustification by faith alone is the central doctrine that had nevertheless been almost forgotten by the time of Martin Luther. As the epistle reading (Romans 3:21-28) said, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

This truth frees us from the most profound slavery, the slavery to sin. We may have this spiritual liberty even in the absence of all the blessings mentioned above, including political liberty. As the hymn says, "Take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife, the Kingdom ours remaineth." On the other hand, without this spiritual liberty, we will not find lasting happiness in any of the other blessings of life. In fact, the power of sin will in time destroy them all.

We also gave thanks for Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the moveable-type printing press. During the week I had talked with the preschool children about this in terms that I hope they understood. I told them once upon a time, books were very expensive, about the price of a house or a farm, because every copy of a book had to be written out by hand. So many people did not bother learning to read and they did not have copies of the Bible translated into their own language. Then a man made a machine that could print many copies of books at one time. The first book he copied with his machine was the Bible, because so many people wanted to read the Bible for themselves.

Soon there were many translations of the Bible, and many people were reading it and talking about it. And their faith was greatly strengthened. Soon many other books were being printed and people were reading them. That is why it is a blessing from God that we all have the opportunity to learn to read, and study the Bible and other books for ourselves when people in the olden days could not.

A day of the living, not the dead

The following Sunday was All Saints Day and also in Venezuela, the Day of the Dead. The Day of the Dead celebration originated with the ancient indigenous cultures of the Aztecs, Mayas and others who for 3,000 years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus observed rituals in honor of their ancestors. It is a relatively innocuous custom in Venezuela, the day on which people honor the departed by bringing flowers to the cemetery to adorn the graves, which they also take the time to clean. There are no important rituals or feasts associated with the Day of the Dead outside of the privacy of the home.

Remembering friends and family members who are no longer with us is not itself a sin. But, as I explained, in other Latin American countries, like Mexico, where the Day of the Dead involves graveside altars and offerings of food and drink to the ghosts of ancestors, the people have crossed the line from respect for the dead into idolatry. Likewise, the Bible says there is a great gulf between our world and where the souls of the departed await Judgment Day. So it is wrong on the one hand to consult witches and mediums, and on the other, to pray for the souls of departed Christians or to ask them to intercede with God for us, for we cannot help them and they cannot help us.

Also as Christians we need not fear the power of ghosts or fallen angels. Halloween is gaining ground in Venezuela as an "imported" holiday. The custom of "trick or treat" seems harmless, but in its cultural context it is based on a belief that is contrary to the Bible, too. That is, on one night each year, the spirits of the dead and other supernatural beings are able to enter our world and do harm to those who do not offer them food and other gifts.

So why as a church do we celebrate All Saints Day? In part to remember those Christians have gone before us into God's kingdom of glory as examples for us to follow in our own lives. but more to celebrate our own hope for the future. For the word "saint" does not mean someone who is more righteous than anyone else, but all who belong to the Body of Christ through baptism. For us, All Saints Day is a day of those who are living, now and forever, not a day of the dead.

Education for older children

Not only do we have 20 children, ages 2 to 6, in our preschool every morning, every afternoon Luz Maria is tutoring 18 older children (ages 6 to 11). Many in this age-group in our community need remedial classes in reading, writing, arithmetic and other subjects. Most of our confirmed youth (Dexi and Yovany Torres, Noel Marquina and Sandro Perez) are helping Luz Maria with this project.

We are thankful that we have been able to continue the preschool and the tutoring despite that the fact that power outages have continued, plus the community was without a public water supply for 15 days. Because of our water storage system, we were able to weather this storm by conserving our drinking water and pumping water for washing from our well. Fortunately, we were not struck by the double whammy of the electricity being down when we needed to pump water (our pump is electric).

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