Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children have a unique way of both delighting and embarrassing their parents. The delightful moments are countless. It’s the gurgle, the smile and the innocence of a touching word. After an elementary teacher had given her class a science lesson on magnets, she gave them a quiz to see how much they had learned. One of the questions read: “My name starts with ‘M,” has six letters, and I pick up things. What am I?” Half the class answered with the six-letter word, “Mother.” Perhaps, it’s your child’s novel perception. A Sunday School teacher tried to communicate that Jesus is always with us, even though we can’t see him. One four-year-old claimed to understand the concept. He said, “I know who Jesus is. He’s the one who opens the doors at the grocery store.” Unfortunately, the embarrassing moments are often simply in the waiting as well. There was the pastor who was invited to dinner and asked to lead the prayer before the meal. After a brief prayer, the young lad said approvingly, “You don’t pray so long when you’re hungry, do you.”
Fortunately, for our children, and our pride, the delightful experiences of childhood do outweigh the embarrassing moments. As loving parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents and godparents, we rejoice in the gift that God has given. We laugh and cry and swell with pride, and whisper, “With you I am well pleased.” But for a moment, I would like to turn the focus from you and your unconditional love for your child, to another thought. Someday when your child leaves your home, and begins their adult journey of faith, will they say to you, “You are my beloved mother, my beloved father, my uncle, my aunt, you taught me the old, old story of Jesus and his love, well, and, with you I am well pleased”
Of course, this isn’t a theme limited to the roles within the family. This past week, I attended the funeral of my hometown Boy Scout leader, a scoutmaster who encouraged and led over 50 young men to become Eagle scouts. My two brothers and I were counted in that number. The pastor, in his homily, made a comment which struck me poignantly. He said, “God accomplished much” through this man. It is a thought worth contemplating this day, “What has God accomplished through you?”
My friends, what lessons are you teaching your children? This morning I would like to share with you three thoughts on the legacy of a childhood faith. They are drawn as a reverie from the words spoken at Jesus’ own baptism and an essay entitled “An Interview With God.” Consider these thoughts. 1) Faith begins in the home, 2) it is hard work, and 3) ultimately, it is the old, old story that will give life and hope.
Faith begins in the home. Now, you may wonder, why I have placed such great emphasis on the home? Why not look to the Sunday School program, the work of teachers, and the pastor? Surely, someone else can take this pivotal role. After all, J. Edgar Hoover, the father of America’s FBI once said, “Mothers and Dads that take their children to church never get into trouble.” To which someone added, “But going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage makes you a car.” So why when we wonder whether our children will have faith, do we look to the home? For one simply reason. Within the sheltering arms of your home, within the cradling arms of loving mothers and father, within the safety of a healthy marriage, Jesus is blessing your children every day, and he is blessing you. There is no more important place for the spiritual development of your children, than in your home. For it is in your home that they experience the wonder of sacrificial love. It is in your home that they experience forgiveness. It is in your home that they experience protection. Yes, it is in your own home that they experience the truth of the Christian faith.
In the essay, “An Interview With God,” an anonymous voice characterizes the lessons that children learn today in many homes.
“They get bored with childhood. They rush to grow up and then long to be children again.”
“They lose their health to make money, and they lose their money to restore their health.”
“By thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present –such that they live in neither the present nor the future.”
“They live as if they will never die, and die as though they had never lived.”
What lessons are you teaching your children? Many of us pride ourselves, on our ability to give and provide. You can be successful in this world and provide much. You can leave behind stones, and brick and mortar. But have you left your children with the old, old story that last? Faith begins in the home. What has God accomplished through you?
Of course, there are parents who do not believe that spiritual development is their responsibility at all. They defend the notion that faith is a personal decision. They state openly: “I want my child to learn to make his or her own decisions after being exposed everything. Dr. Ross Campbell, in his best selling work, “How to Really Love Your Children,” writes, “One of the chief complaints we hear from teenagers today is the failure of their parents to give them ethical or moral standards to live by in their formative years.” Youth, you see, are searching for the meaning of life; they are running towards new teachers and new teachings hoping that they may discover a secret, but children look first to their parents for the direction that allows them to develop healthy and meaningful values for life.
For better or worse, our children are watching and listening to us every day. They are modeling their own faith and spirituality upon our own words, deeds and prayers. And every loving parent, grandparent and dutiful godparent prays that their involvement in the life of a child will foster growth and maturity. Yes, God can accomplish much through you- if you are willing.
Let us turn now to the second characteristic of faith- telling the old, old story is hard work. Rejoicing in the gift that you have been given may not be painless. The mother of three notoriously rambunctious kids was asked, “If you had it to do all over again, would you have children?” “Sure,” she said, “but not the same ones.” Parenting is never easy work. Indeed, many have discovered the truth of the old saying, that, “The joy of parenthood is what you experience when all the children have gone to bed.” For some parenting is the regrettable and tedious art of discipline. Two husbands sat on a park bench watching their children play while their wives strolled along in the grass. One man commented on his wife’s temper. He said, “She gets mad at little things… like, children.”
Telling the old, old story is hard work, and some of the lessons, we need to teach over and over again, year in and year out. In the essay, “An Interview With God,” the anonymous voice asks God, “As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?” He answers:
“To learn that you cannot make anyone love you, but that all you can do is let yourself be loved.”
“To learn that it is not good to compare yourself to others.”
“To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness.”
“To learn that it takes only a few seconds to open profound wounds in those you love, and it may take years to heal them.”
“To learn that a rich person is not one who has the most, but is the one who needs the least.”
“To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently.”
“To learn that there are people who love you dearly, but simply do not know yet how to express or show their feelings.”
“To learn that it is not enough that you forgive one another, but that you must also forgive yourself.”
These are not easy lessons, and for some of us they take a lifetime to learn. It is a part of telling the old, old story. But when your children have learned such wisdom, they will whisper into your ear, “Thank you. With I am well pleased.”
Now, you may be wondering, but if sharing the Christian faith is such a long process, if it is such hard work- than why bother? Simply said, because it is in the old, old story of Jesus Christ, in the wondrous story of his life, death and resurrection, that you are offering your son and daughter, your godchild and grandchildren, a living of hope. You cannot protect a child from all the trials that they will encounter. You cannot save them from all the evil of this world. But in the midst of darkness, a light can shine; in the midst of desperation, hope can abound, and in the midst of the mundane, wonder can arise. This morning’s gospel, the story of Jesus own baptism, reminds us that Jesus came into the world and walked with those who were seeking to turn their lives around. He appeared and was baptized with those who were longing to begin life anew. Faith in Jesus Christ, you see, has a way of coloring your todays and tomorrow.
At the close of the essay, “An Interview With God,” the anonymous voice asks, “Is they anything else you would like your children to know?” And God answers, “Just know that I am here. Always.”
My friends, you cannot tell the old, old story of Jesus without telling the tale of a life without sorrows. But you can leave them a story of faith in Jesus Christ that will triumph over all life’s troubles. May you rejoice in the gift that God has given to you. And every night, may you whisper into their ear the promise of Jesus Christ, “You are my beloved child and I am with you always.” And in return, may you hear, one day. “This is my beloved, mother, father, uncle or aunt. In you I am well pleased.” What are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn? God can accomplish much through you. Amen.