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. Unfortunately, the embarrassing moments are often equally innocent. Sometimes, these occasions are simply in the waiting. A pastor was seen making repairs on his home when he noticed the neighbor’s little boy paying very close attention to the job. The pastor asked, “Are you getting some pointers on carpentry?” “No,” the boy replied, “I’m just waiting to see what a preacher says when he smashes his thumb with a hammer.” Or there was the farmer who invited the pastor over for lunch after Sunday service. Since the farmer and his wife lived in a rather hard to find place, they left their seven-year-old son to ride with the minister. As the pastor and boy started out for the house, the pastor asked the boy what they were going to have for lunch. The boy answered innocently, “Buzzard.” The minister was surprised, “Are you sure? Buzzard?” The boy nodded emphatically, “Yes, Dad told Mom we were having the ol’ buzzard for lunch today.”
Fortunately, for our children, and for our pride, the delightful experiences of childhood do outweigh the embarrassing moments and so we whisper into their ears as we kiss them goodnight, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.” As loving parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents and godparents, we rejoice in the gift that God has given. 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 will they the lesson of faith you taught them, and say, “You are my beloved mother, my beloved father, my uncle, my aunt, with you I am well pleased.” Have you imparted on them an enduring legacy of the Christian faith they will need in the years ahead?
Today’s sermon may be intended for the families celebrating the gift of baptism for their child, but it really is a lesson for each one of us. For I believe that we all have a role in raising a child in faith. A child needs the voices of parents, grandparents and godparents, uncles and aunts in order to be strengthened for the challenges they will face in life. And regardless of our own age, we can offer words of inspiration that keep those we love focused even when the world seems to be going off in a host of directions. So, on this Candlemas morning, let us meditate on the role you and I play in the raising of a child in faith.
St. Luke begins the story of Jesus’ presentation with the gentle underscoring of Old Testament scriptures. We read that it was out of remembrance and honor to God for his delivering the nation of Israel out of the hands of the Pharaoh, that Jewish parents were required to go to Jerusalem. There they were to make an offering to the Lord, both for a safe childbirth and for the healthy birth of child. It was not a choice for Jewish parents. Surprisingly, it was a command. I am reminded of that every time I look at a stuffed pillow in my office a parishioner gave me years ago. It says, “The Ten Commandment are not multiple choice.” God has expectation for our lives- even in our role as parents nurturing children in faith.
So we read that after 40 days after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, ion obedience to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph went to the Temple in Jerusalem. Now if anyone could have been forgiven for failing in their duty and obligation to journey to the Temple, it would have Mary and Joseph. After all, they had already played their own important role in the story of God’s salvation, but Mary and Joseph went to the Temple to honor and worship God, and to do according to the law of Moses.
It is an important message. Their journey to the Temple reminds us that faith doesn’t just happen. Parents play an active role in telling the story to their children. Some people today, fear that that is a lonely choice, but my friends, let me assure you, within the community of the church, you are never alone. God is surrounding you with a host of witnesses of all ages, who will nurture you in the moments most needed.
This past week, someone described the role of parents raising their child in faith on the ELCA webpage. It is worth sharing. “Bring them to church. Saturate their lives with the Word of God. Even if they lay on the floor. Even if they need 437 goldfish and a sucker to be quiet. Even if you stand in the back swaying back and forth holding them. Even when it’s hard. Even when your row looks like a small hurricane just came through. Bring them to church. Let them see you worship. Let them see you pray. Let them see you running toward the Savior because if they don’t see and learn these things from you, who are they going to learn them from? The world will teach them it’s not a priority. The world will teach them it’s okay to lay out, not to pick up their Bibles. The world will direct them so far off course, confuse them, and misinform them that just being “good” is enough. The world won’t teach them about Jesus. That’s our job.”
Unfortunately, the task of nurturing the faith of faith of a child doesn’t end when they are baptized. Nor does your responsibility for their faith cease when they are confirmed, or turn 18, or graduate from high school. Regardless of our age, you and I are always on the job offering a lasting, living witness- even when it is to someone else’s kids- or to our own adult children.
So where do you begin in sharing your faith? Simply said, begin where a child is most easily drawn. Begin with Jesus. Talk about him. His name should not be the name never mentioned in your home. Tell them that he is the light of the world, and your light too. Remind your children that you love them you so much, and that Jesus loves them too. It is perhaps one of the two most important lessons you can teach small children. One, that God made everything, and two, that God loves them. Regretfully, we often feel as parents that our love alone should be enough, and so we deny our children God’s strength and grace. Remember to give your little ones a hug at night, and tell them, how much you love them, and then add that God loves them even more.
Rejoicing in the gift that God has given to you in a child is not, however, painless or easy. 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. So often along the way, you may need the support of an aged Simeon to provide you with the right words at the right time- and to strengthen your faith as well.
Ten years when I began my ministry here at Lake of the Isles, there were still a number of elderly Simeons and Annas in my life who provided words of consolation and comfort when needed. Now I find myself as one of the elders. I would like to blame it on the pandemic, but it is just a part of life. I’m not quite to the vintage of comedian George Burns, but I can appreciate the sentiment. “You know that you’re getting old when you stoop down to tie your shoes, and you wonder what else you can do while you’re down there.”
Regardless of your age, my friends, God can use you as his servant. It was no coincidence that Simeon was in the Temple that day when Mary and Joseph arrived with the infant Jesus. Simeon was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to meet them. It is no coincidence that the Spirit is guiding and encouraging you this day as well. Day after day you are being placed at the right time and the right place to offer a word of blessing to those you love. Do not be anxious, self conscious, embarrassed or afraid of the task. Never forget the Jesus is the light no darkness can overcome. The words you say, will leave those you love with the hope that in Jesus Christ all will be well. And what a legacy of faith that is. It was with that confidence that after his final words were spoken to Mary and Joseph, Simeon could depart in peace. May that same faith and assurance allow you to whisper words of blessing to those you love. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.