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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. And then there are the endearing moments. 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 same six-letter word, “Mother.” Perhaps, your child was one of those perceptive children. 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 pride, the delightful experiences do outweigh the embarrassing moments.
By contrast, in this morning’s gospel, it is an old man who provides both the words of delight and embarrassment. We read of the aged Simeon, who first blessed the mother Mary, and then predicted that many would hate her son and fight against him and that because of their deeds, her own heart would be pierced and scarred. As Martin Luther once wrote, “What a congratulations this was to offer the mother of six weeks.” Yet, it is in this old, old story of Jesus and his love, that our children receive their greatest hope and treasure.
My friends, what lessons of faith are you teaching your children? I would like to share with you today three thoughts on the legacy of a childhood faith. They are drawn from Jesus’ presentation in the temple, and an essay entitled “An Interview With God.” For it is my prayer that as you laugh and cry and swell with pride, and whisper, to your beloved child, “With you I am well pleased,” that one day when your child leaves your home, and begins their own adult journey, they will they say to you in return, “You are my beloved mother and father, godmother or god father, who taught me the story of Jesus and all that I need to live, with you I am well pleased”
Consider these thoughts. Faith begins in the home, it is hard work, but ultimately, it is the old, old story that will give hope.
Faith begins in the home. Now why do I place 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 any more than going to the garage makes you a car.” So why look to the home? For one simple reason. It is within your sheltering arms, within the embrace of your cradling and supporting arms, that Jesus is blessing your children every day, and he is blessing you. There is no more important place for spiritual development than in your home. It is in your home that your children 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 your own home that they experience the truth of the Christian faith.
Unfortunately, these are not always the lessons children learn today in the home. In the essay, “An Interview With God,” an anonymous voice characterizes the lessons that many children learn instead.
“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.”
My friends, what lessons are you teaching in your home?
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 notorious 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.” Telling the old, old story of Jesus and his love 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.”
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 offer your son and daughter, your godchild and grandchildren a living of hope. Simeon’s painful word to Mary reminds us that 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. Simeon’s blessing of Mary and the baby Jesus reminds us that Jesus was being sent into a troubled world to bring hope and consolation. Faith in Jesus Christ, you see, has a way of coloring and giving light to our todays and our tomorrows, and that promise of a life eternal. Not all will want this gift or receive it. But your task is to share it.
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.”
You cannot tell the old, old story of Jesus without telling the whole tale of his life with sorrows and those who hated him. No, you cannot leave your child a story of faith in Jesus Christ that triumphs over life’s troubles by only telling of his wondrous birth. That is why Simeon, Mary and the baby Jesus are at the center of our Festival of the Presentation of Our Lord. They remind us that we cannot tell Christ’s story without remembering Christ’s death and resurrection, and so we must all turn to the painful portion of the mother Mary’s own journey, “And a sword shall pierce your own soul also.”
My friends, may you rejoice in the gift that God has given to you. And every night, may you whisper into their ear offering the promise of Jesus Christ, “You are my beloved child and I am with you always- in joy and in sorrow.” And in return, may you hear one day. “This is my beloved, mother, father, uncle or aunt. In you I am well pleased.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.