Christ Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

Who Are You?

“My son, do not forget my teaching...” Proverbs 3:1

As a Pastor, I get to witness things that speak to the core of our faith in Christ.  Many of these moments give sudden clarity to our task as Christians and to the work that Jesus Christ has for us.

These moments also go unseen and unrecorded to all except God and those present.  However, I wish many of you could witness these moments.  They are humbling but also bring great joy to me and thankfulness to God.

I want to share the following story with you to hopefully capture the beauty of what God has given to us in his Word and the importance of a life that is well spent catechized and prioritized hearing the Word and singing the Word:

The 4th Wednesday of the month at 1:30pm, we host a Worship Service over at Stony River Memory Care.

I arrived several minutes beforehand and began to set up.

“Hello!  What is your name?”  asked a female resident who was wheeled in.

“My name is Pastor Andrew Belt.”

“A Pastor?!  What church are you from?”  she inquired.

“Christ Lutheran Church.”  I replied.

“Oh.”  Then a brief pause.  “What’s your name?”

I gave a warm smile, “My name is Pastor Andrew.”

She would go on to ask me those same two questions at least 3 more times in the next couple of minutes.

Soon 5 of us were gathered.  All the residents in the room had some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s.   A couple were still lucid, most though were long gone.  Those of you who have had loved ones suffer from these diseases know the pain when parents no longer recognize you or even themselves.

But something amazing oftentimes happens when a worship service happens.

I began by singing “Amazing Grace.”   Before I began, one resident had been staring off into the distance, muttering to herself.  But we were only a syllable into the hymn, when suddenly, she began booming the hymn out.  She had a beautiful voice, and it shocked her caregiver who suddenly witnessed her spring to life.  Apparently, she hadn’t done that in while.

As we finished singing, soon another resident took the initiative and just began to sing, “Jesus loves me.”  Without any direction we all just followed her lead.  “I love that one.”  She said as we finished.

By this time, the noise we were making had attracted a few others.  Smiles were on their faces as they recognized the tunes.  Now we were a group of 8.

I then pulled out the service I had prepared.  After invocating our Triune God, we did Confession and Absolution.  The smile on their faces when I looked at them and told them that Jesus forgives them their sins is an image seared into my head.

I read Psalm 23.  Without any prompting, everyone in the room began repeating the Psalm.
Remember, most of them are people who don’t know their own name.  But here they could say word for word Psalm 23.

I then read Matthew 3:13-17, The Baptism of Jesus.  Afterwards, I gave a brief sermon on the text, mostly just dramatizing the text and retelling the story.  I made my point that Jesus is baptized because “he loves you.”

At this point, one woman began shaking and crying.  She folded her hands and prayed, “Thank you for loving me Jesus!”  She looked at me, “No one has ever told me that Jesus loved me before.”

Now, I gotta tell you, I was close to tears at her comment.  I composed myself and began asking if anyone had prayers.  Another resident had made this comment a few times, but chimed in again here, “let’s pray that we can actually love people like Jesus does.”  I added that to our prayers, prayed and then concluded with the Lord’s Prayer.    Upon saying, “Our Father…”  you guessed it, everyone had joined in.  Then we confessed the Apostles’ Creed, and they all said it word for word.

Soon I dished out the Sacrament, did a blessing, and then concluded with another song.  By now we were 10 people, and we sang the Doxology and boy did they sing it.

My point in writing this to you all is that the reason they were able to speak verbatim several pieces of the liturgy was because they were steeped in the musical and liturgical context of the Church their whole lives.  Their memories may be gone, but their sense of faith remains.

As we concluded, I went and shook everyone hands.  Some don’t let go, the human contact is precious to them.  Finally, I went up the first lady who had been wheeled in.

“God’s peace to you Audra.”

She smiled and said.  “Who are you?”  

“My name is Pastor Andrew.”

I am certainly forgettable; thanks be to God for that.  But they heard the voice of their shepherd Jesus calling to them through the Word, and you know what?  They recognized their Lord.  That is the promise our Lord makes to us.

As your Pastor, I want that for all of you.  This is why we say the same things week in and week out.  I want you to be able to confess your faith and sing your favorite hymn, long after you have forgotten even your own name.  Make sure you spend your life preparing yourself for that, know the voice of your Shepherd, the Lord Jesus who loves you.

God grant our restoration for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

- Pastor Andrew Belt