JANUARY 2, 2024
By Matthew C. Harrison
Did you make a resolution at the start of the secular New Year to somehow be a better person? Lose some weight? Get back to the gym? Spend less time on social media? Eat healthier? Drink less? Read more books? Self-help resolutions nearly always fail. Such is the nature of our fallenness.
If you gathered with your congregation on the seventh day of Christmas (New Year’s Eve), maybe you sang this, the second stanza from Lutheran Service Book 899, “Across the Sky the Shades of Night”:
Before the cross subdued we bow,
To You our prayer addressing,
Recounting all Your mercies now,
And all our sins confessing;
Beseeching You this coming year
To keep us in Your faith and fear
And crown us with Your blessing.
And our Lord does crown us with His blessing. St. Paul wrote, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:19–20). All the promises God has made are “yes” in Jesus.
The Lord never breaks what He has resolved to do for us. He keeps us “in faith and fear.” He crowns us with His blessing. This is what the catechism teaches us. “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed, Third Article meaning). “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers … . Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body” (The Lord’s Prayer, Fourth Petition meaning).
Luther’s Small Catechism has an incredible richness that can never be exhausted. Of the catechism, Luther taught, “But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment.
“Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning — and whenever I have time — I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so” (Large Catechism, Longer Preface, 7–8).
Let this be the year we all return to being pupils of the catechism. Let us commit to learning the text of the Six Chief Parts by heart, to pray them and confess them to one another. Let us spend time daily in study of the explanation questions and answers. Let us ground and root ourselves, our families and our congregations deeply in the boundless treasures in these simple, foundational truths.
Will you resolve with me this year to spend time in the catechism daily? Get a copy of the “new” 2017 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Purchase a copy from Concordia Publishing House or dust off your old copy from your days in confirmation instruction.
Maybe you’ve heard me tell you of a friend I made while I was at the LCMS Nebraska District convention. After I spoke there, an older gentleman, a farmer, asked me if I had just a couple of minutes to spare. He took me aside in the hallway and told me of all the success he has had using the Small Catechism as an evangelistic tool.
“I can see it, Pastor. I see these people are hurting, especially young people. I give them a catechism. I keep a stack in my truck.”
I said, “You mean you give out the little pamphlet of Luther’s catechism?”
He responded with intensity: “No, Pastor, I give ‘em the whole thing!” He was referring to the 2017 edition. “It’s just brimming with the Bible and answers to contemporary questions!”
We gave “the whole thing” to all the delegates at the convention this year. We’re going to give “the whole thing” to some pilot congregations for them to give to their friends and family members, along with an invitation to church, as a simple outreach tool.
If you make this resolution, of course you’ll fail. There will be days when you forget to recite the Six Chief Parts or study the explanation of the catechism. But the Lord, whose Word the catechism preaches to you, never fails to keep His promises.
In Jesus, all the promises are “yes.” And one of His promises is that His Word never returns to Him empty (Isaiah 55:10–11). Every second you spend studying the catechism will be a blessing to you and to others around you. It will be the means by which the Holy Spirit keeps you in His faith and fear. It will be a channel through which He grants blessings too numerous to count.
Whatever resolutions we make or break hardly matters. We are kept. The Word keeps us. The Spirit keeps us. “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Creed, Third Article meaning). Let the Word of God hold you fast this coming year. May the Lord’s blessings to you in the study of His Word be as boundless as His love.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Posted Jan. 2, 2024