Many people think Luther’s Small Catechism is just for the pastor, just a tool the pastor uses to teach confirmation. In truth, the Small Catechism is for every Christian but foremostly for “the head of the family” to teach their children. If the household does not have a father then the Small Catechism is to be used by whoever is the head of the household to teach their children and others in the household. If the father is not a Christian or refuses to teach his children the ways of the Lord, then the teaching task falls to mom or other family whom God has given to the children.
The Small Catechism is just that, small. Catechism means teaching, and the Small Catechism encapsulates the basic teaching of Christianity. It is always trying to answer the question "What does this mean?" The first three chief parts of the catechism are found throughout Christendom, even before Luther, namely, the 10 commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. These are familiar to most Christians even if they are not Lutheran. Of course, Luther also includes his explanations to open up the full and rich meaning of these words. The last three chief parts are perhaps more uniquely Lutheran, but are drawn solely from the Bible. These are the doctrines of baptism, confession and absolution, and the sacrament of the altar. In a sense, the first three chief parts teach the basics of the Christian faith, and the remaining parts describe the Christian life in that faith.
Every Sunday, we read a portion of the catechism during the Divine Service. This should be review for most of us who had to memorize the catechism at one point (albeit, likely with slightly different words!). I would encourage you to also read parts of it yourself during the week, with your children and grandchildren of course, but also to yourself as part of your devotions. A great place to start is to get in the habit of praying Luther's morning and evening prayers each day and of course the Lord's prayer. Then you can recite the Creed and the 10 commandments. Then add on reading some of Luther's explanations and the remaining three chief parts. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can review the synodical explanations in the back of the catechism book. Meditating on the catechism only reinforces our own understanding of the faith, but it also gives us words we can use to answer others who have questions about what Christians believe.
As mentioned last week, one of the tenets of moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD) is the belief that the primary purpose of life is to be happy. It's not difficult to see that this opinion is rampant in our culture. Of course, we want to be happy. We are even conditioned to believe that we must be happy. How many times have you heard the sentiment, "God just wants me to be happy." Or perhaps you've heard or said about your children, "I just want them to be happy." Social media promotes this belief with all its pictures of happy shining faces. Everybody posts pictures from their happy moments for all the world to see. It would appear that everyone on social media is above average when it comes to happiness. Advertising is designed to promote products that will enhance your life in some way, will make you happy.
The idol of happiness can be used to justify almost any behavior. Not happy in marriage? Get a divorce. Not happy with something in your church? Find a new one. Not happy with someone God has placed in your life? Shut them out. Of course, relationships with other people are often complicated and they may indeed cause us at some point to be unhappy. Dr. Biermann writes in his recent article on this topic, "but the lure of the therapeutic is also manifest in the unwillingness of Christians to take up the cross of suffering in the name of following Jesus in service to others. Personal sacrifice and even a little discomfort are antithetical to self-care and maintaining personal health and well-being. The therapeutic mindset of individual fulfillment and happiness is utterly opposed to the scriptural truth, that God calls us to die to self and live for the neighbor."
It's important to remember that nowhere in Scripture does God promise us that we will be "happy." This life is full of difficulty, misery, and tragedy, all things that would cause unhappiness. But God also promises that He will give us a blessed life, a life full of joy, and abundance, as we follow Him as disciples. As the Psalmist writes, "Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you." We live lives in service to our neighbor, and while that service may bring discomfort, sadness, and even persecution, we do it gladly and with joy because we know it is the work of our Lord through us. We also know that in eternity our joy will be complete as we live in the presence of Christ's glory forever.