This is the third sermon in a five-part series written by Pastor Coons titled, “Living God’s Priorities.”
Living God’s Priorities
“The Priority of Faith in the Family”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 23, 2014
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who is responsible for raising our children? That’s a question under some debate in certain circles. Some would answer it is the day care teachers’ or the public school’s responsibility to make sure our children get a good education and a set of standards to live by. After all, in families with both parents working, or in single parent homes, there just isn’t enough time to devote to raising a child. That should be the job of the day care center, the school, or even the church. The schools can teach my children about the world; the church can teach my children about God. Isn’t that what the schools and the churches are for? Can’t I just dump my child on the school or the church and go about my business and let them teach and raise my child?
This prevalent “dump and go” mentality is all wrong. In our society and culture, it is time to get back to the basics. It is the parents’ priority and responsibility to raise their children and to teach their children. Day cares, schools, and churches are there to supplement and not to take over the role. This morning I want to take a look with you at how this applies especially to Christian parents and the teaching of the faith. The pastor, the Sunday school teacher, and the youth group leader do not take that role away from Christian parents. It’s time for us as the Church to get back to basics. Teaching and nurturing the faith of our children must remain the parents’ priority!
Let’s remember God’s number one priority—the priority of faith. The Lord wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth that Jesus Christ alone is our Savior. It is from Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead that we receive the blessings of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit. It is in the Divine Service, here in worship, that God especially meets with us, young and old, to bestow on us these gifts, as well as to strengthen our faith against the attacks of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. But this priority of worship doesn’t negate God’s priority that parents teach and nurture the faith of their families outside of what happens here on a Sunday morning.
God was very clear to His people of Israel about the priority of teaching and nurturing faith in the family. We read from Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut. 6:4-7 ESV)
This is Israel’s historic creed, or confession: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” It is equivalent to our confession of the Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds. And it is this confession of faith that God commands Israel to “teach diligently to your children.” How diligently? In the same way that you would sharpen your blade by running it repeatedly over a grindstone. This doesn’t sound at all like, “I’m dropping the kids off at church where they can learn religion since it’s the church’s job to teach so I don’t have to.” Every Israelite mother and father was to teach repeatedly the faith in Yahweh to their children, the command to love Him and to follow His instruction. Israelite parents were to teach God’s Word faithfully and repeatedly to their children in the home, out and about, at bedtime, and in the morning, so that God would continually dwell with His people through His Word.
And this priority of teaching and nurturing faith in the family did not change with the coming of Christ and the New Testament. Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” A Christian parent’s responsibility is to raise their children under the discipline of God’s Law and Gospel. A Christian parent’s priority is to teach their children the instructions of the Lord found in His Word. This priority and responsibility stems from Christ’s “Great Commission.”
In the last chapter of Matthew, our Lord said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19 ESV) The Great Commission is our Lord’s command to make disciples by means of baptizing—teaching. Christian parents bring their infants to be baptized at Christ’s command because babies need what baptism offers, gives, and seals—saving faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. But the responsibility of Christian parents toward their children’s faith doesn’t end at the font—it begins at the font!
The faith in Jesus that our children receive in Holy Baptism is the faith which Jesus says in the Great Commission that parents teach to thier children as they grow. In this way we fulfill our Lord’s commission to make disciples, especially of our own sons and daughters. Baptizing without teaching simply isn’t how it is to be done. Yet, that’s what happens too often. A child is baptized and you don’t see parents and child again until confirmation class time, when the parents bring their child to the church to have the church teach what they, as parents, have not taught (or taught very little) over the past 11 or 12 years of the child’s life. How sad is that. Let us all repent of our failures to faithfully teach and nurture the faith in our own children throughout their years and receive the abundant forgiveness that Jesus won for us with His cross and resurrection.
Then, in the forgiveness of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us then look at how we can more faithfully live the priority of teaching the faith in our families. What tools does the Lord give us to live out this priority? First and foremost is His Word in the Bible. In His Word is not simply the command to “do this,” but the message of the Gospel which to teach our children. As we ourselves grow in faith and in the knowledge of the Word through the priority of worship, we are better able to teach the truth of Scripture in our families. Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities to talk to our children about what God has done and is doing. Even the most mundane events can be a chance to share with our children the Lord’s Word. For example, if it’s a rainy day and they can’t go outside and play, take a moment to watch the rain as it falls. Use it as an opportunity to talk about Holy Baptism. That even works with the little ones in the bathtub! Or, in a trip to the petting zoo, when you are visiting the sheep, you can talk about how Jesus takes care us as His sheep. As Christians, we can take every opportunity to discuss what God has done for us through Christ, no matter where we are or what we are doing.
Another wonderful tool that we have as Lutheran Christians to teach and nurture the faith in our families is Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther begins each of the Chief Six Parts, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” Notice, it doesn’t say how the pastor or the Sunday school teacher should teach, but “the head of the family.” The Word, and so the Catechism because it is based completely on the Word of God, is there for us to teach in our homes these things of God to our families. Thus we have at our very fingertips the Small Catechism to use for growth in faith and in learning the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. We also have in the Catechism “how the head of the family should teach his household to pray in the morning and in the evening” and “how the head of the family should teach his household to ask a blessing and return thanks.”
It is this foundation of faith taught and nurtured in the home that is then nurtured and supported in the Divine Service through the priority of worship. The family—adults and children—who are the baptized saints of the Lord, comes together in worship, Sunday school and Bible class, with other baptized families to hear the Word and to receive the blessings of Christ so that they might return home refreshed and renewed and continue the learning and nurture all week, at home, as family.
Just consider the lifestyle and attitude changes that would take place in our families by the working of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word! The devil would have an even harder time tempting us and our children because we would be even more rooted in the Word, ever more solidly standing on the rock of Christ. The world would have less influence on us and our children as the Holy Spirit would have increasingly more influence as we grow in faith and in knowledge of Christ. Even our sinful flesh would have trouble fighting against the baptized child or adult who is regularly in Word and prayer because of the work of the Spirit.
Teaching and nurturing children in the faith remains the Christian parent’s priority. For those of us with children, pray that we might repent this day of our failings, receive Christ’s forgiveness, and commit with the help of the Holy Spirit to more faithfully teach and nurture the baptismal faith of our children in our homes through the Word, through the use of daily opportunities to talk about the Lord Jesus, and through study of the Small Catechism. For those whose children have already grown, or for those without children, pray for the families of this congregation. Pray for the families of your children as they and you seek to teach and nurture your grandchildren. Trust that the Lord will do far more than we can even imagine in calling His people back to Himself as teaching the faith finds a renewed place in the homes of God’s people. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.