September 13, 2015
“What is the Greatest Gift?”
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9,
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD 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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
At one time or another, every parent here today has probably wondered: “What is the greatest gift I can give my child?” And I don’t think just parents wonder this, but grandparents, aunts and uncles as well. Think about it! What might that gift be? Is it a well-rounded education? If so, special effort would be made to ensure that their child studies hard, takes piano and dance lessons, plays sports, and so on. Do they want the children to have a happy and pleasant childhood? If so, families might emphasize quality time together, to provide a home life with minimal stress and conflict, and to plan exciting family activities and vacations. While a well-rounded education and a happy and pleasant childhood are important, I suggest the greatest gift you can give your child is the gift of Jesus. Let God’s Word of forgiveness in Jesus Christ be, as our text says, upon your heart as a parent so you may impress that Gospel upon your children.
When Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine to inoculate people against polio, it was hailed as a miracle. One shot would keep a child safe for the rest of their life from a dreaded disease that caused paralysis and death. While other one shot vaccines have been developed for diseases like chicken pox, there has yet to be discovered a one-time shot that will inoculate children, and adults for that matter, against the devil. We don’t baptize our children and then not teach them God’s Word or bring them to church, because baptism isn’t a one-time shot against the devil and hell. We don’t bring our kids to Sunday School for a year or two to expose them to the Christian faith and then they’re set for life. Rather, all Christians need to receive a regular dose of God’s Word to aid them in their daily lives. A Christian exposed to a minimal dose of Jesus and His life giving gifts will struggle and may wander from the faith. We need to take this healing medicine daily, all the days of our lives. And when we do, we’ll find spiritual health that will far exceed our expectations and imaginations.
This the education God wanted for His people when they came to the Promised Land. Our text is what God told Moses to tell the people. Note the ways in which they are to keep the commandments on their hearts: “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.” And two things Jewish people still do: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Devout Jews wear small leather packets with Scripture in them on their forehead and arm when they pray, and our Jewish neighbors in Seattle put a small box with Scripture on their doorjamb so they can touch it when they come and go. Teaching children to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” is not a one-time event but an ongoing education.
The love that every parent and every teacher of the faith throughout countless generations have told their children about is the Savior’s love that has no bounds. It is the love of a God who cares so much for you and me that He sent His only-begotten Son to a cross, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. In Christ Jesus, your sins are no more, and His forgiveness is yours forever. That is God’s love for you and that is the joyful Good News He has given you to teach to your children. This is the Truth that our young Agents of Truth learned this morning, and it’s the truth that this congregation will seek to teach young and old all of their lives.
From one generation to the next, God’s salvation in Christ Jesus is passed from parent to child and from teacher to student. Again and again the story of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus is spoken. In this repetition, we see the continuous and ongoing nature of our Lord’s love for us. He doesn’t just inoculate us. Rather, He sticks with His people until the end of time. And so, also, we begin to see the nature of our task as Christian parents and teachers—not to inoculate our children with Christianity but to provide for their continuous and ongoing nurture in the Christian faith.
Recently, Dr. James Dobson, noted Christian psychologist, was asked why we put children through the agony of learning when the human mind forgets some 80 percent of whatever it has learned within a few months. He listed four reasons: first, because it provides the basic self-discipline and self-control needed to function in adult life; second, that even if a person can’t recall the exact material needed at least he knows where to look for it; third, we don’t forget 100 percent of what we learn since the most important facts do find a place in our permanent memory; finally, perhaps the most significant reason that learning is important is because we are changed by what we learn. He writes: “Learning produces alterations in values, attitudes, and concepts that do not fade in time.”
Ongoing Christian learning produces changes in values, attitudes, and concepts that will not fade in time either. That’s why our text says we are to “teach diligently” the Lord’s words to our children. “Teach diligently” has an urgent and ongoing sense to it. In fact, in the original Hebrew, it is related to the word for repetition. We teach the Lord’s Word diligently to our children by repetition—by telling of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus again and again and again from Baptism to adulthood.
“Teaching diligently” begins in the home as we teach our children how to pray at bedtime and before meals, as we read them Bible stories from a children’s Bible or storybook again and again, and as we conduct family worship. Then, the church is enlisted in the process—through Sunday School, confirmation instruction, and through the Divine Service. Through these means, Christian parents can teach their children of Jesus Christ and His precious love and forgiveness so these beloved children will remain firm in the Christian faith for the rest of their lives.
And what a glorious thing it is to witness the faith life of a child whose parents have raised him or her in God’s Word and have themselves believed and taught it. St. Paul charges the young preacher Timothy to stick with what he learned long ago as a little child. Paul says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings.”
Perhaps your child, or grandchild, is well beyond the infant stage. Perhaps you feel it is too late to start training him or her in the faith. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is never too late. As long as the Lord has given you that child’s body and mind to love and care for, He has also given you that child’s soul to nurture and strengthen in the faith. Today is the day to begin. Saint Paul says, “Behold, now is the favorable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.” The Word of God that you teach children today, whether you are a parent, grandparent, sponsor, friend, or Sunday School teacher, is the one thing in their lives that will truly last forever. As Isaiah declares: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Long after you and I are gone and our children have raised their children and have seen their children’s children come also to the baptismal font, nothing else will matter but that we here today taught our young ones to know Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. Nothing else will matter—certainly not the money we saved, the businesses we ran, the houses we lived in, or even the friends and memories we shared—none of that will matter. The only thing that will matter will be the Gospel—the saving Truth of Jesus Christ, which has brought life to us and to our children. That is the greatest gift you can give your child—the gift of life, real life, in Jesus Christ.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.