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Treasuring the Faith August 21, 2014

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Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Family Ministry Sunday

August 21st, 2014

 

Focus:  God gives us the gift of faith.

Function:  That the hearers pass on the faith to their children and community.

Structure:  Program walkthrough.

 

Treasuring the Faith

 

God has given us a tremendous gift, the gift of faith.  He has been giving us gifts from the beginning.  He gave us the gift of creation and life.  He gave us the gift of His love for us, and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  We have the gift of God’s only Son, and through Him we have the gifts of forgiveness, love, and everlasting life.  All of these gifts are given to us when He creates faith in us, whether in our baptism, or in hearing the Word.

Stop and think with me for just a moment.  Can you remember your baptism, or the first time you heard the Word?  Can you recall that blessed day?  Can you remember who brought you to the font and to the church?  Who spoke the Word to you?  Who gave you your first Bible?  Who taught you how to pray?  Who taught you to serve?  Who do you have to thank in your life for the gift of faith?

There’s nothing more important than that.  I would bet most of you thought of your parents.  That’s the way God designed His creation, His people, to work.  God planned for parents to tell their children about Him.

But in this broken and fallen world, we don’t walk with God.  We can’t see Him in the garden anymore.  And in this brokenness, parents now struggle in growing that relationship between God and their child.  What was supposed to be easy and natural is now anything but.

Who doesn’t find it difficult at least some of the time to share their faith with their child?  Who doesn’t struggle to find the time to read the Word with their family?  Who doesn’t struggle and wonder what am I supposed to say?  How do I lead my family?  What’s that even supposed to look like?

Moses answers those questions in our text today from Deuteronomy.  How do we teach?  We teach by following God’s laws.  We teach by loving God ourselves.  We teach by sharing these words with our children.  We teach by making the Word visible, having it with us, and posting it around our home.

When do we teach?  When you’re sitting down, when you’re walking, when you’re lying down, and when you’re rising.  What other time is there?  I think Moses covered all the grounds!  You’re always teaching, because you’re children are always watching.  Even if you’re not observant, they are, and they don’t miss a beat.

In today’s America, too many parents rely on others to raise their children.  Schools teach them what they need to know, colleges train them for jobs, and the internet answers the tough questions.  And it’s no different with the faith.  As parents have struggled with teaching their children about God, many have handed off the responsibility to the church.  To make it the task of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Confirmation, and of Youth Group.  But that’s not God’s design.  It’s not how He planned for it to be.

We’re starting to figure out what the church’s role is in teaching a child about God.  In the last couple of years, the church is learning how to pass the torch back to the parents.  We are trying to figure out how to help parents reclaim the responsibility God has given them.

We’re partners.  It’s the church’s job to help families, to work with parents, to equip them with the tools and the confidence to pass the faith on to their children.  And by the church, I don’t just mean Pastor Fritsch, myself, Dave and other pastors and leaders out there.  We’re the church.  Everyone gathered together, we’re the church.  And when we baptize a child, we pledge to help the parents bring up their child in the faith.    And that’s not just infant baptism.  When we welcome any new member or when we look at someone who has been here for fifty years, we’re the church together.  We’re accountable to one another and we walk together in the faith.

Our St. John’s community works diligently in trying to raise up our children in the way they should go.  How many of you have volunteered with Sunday School?  How many of you have sent your child to confirmation or helped with it?  What about Wee Care or VBS?  Have you volunteered and helped out?  Have you slept in the church overnight because it’s hard to stay awake at a youth lock-in?  Have you ever donated money to any of these things?  I know all of you said yes at least once.  I know all of you care about our children.

Starting next month, we’re taking another step.  We’re going to be adding Milestone ministries to the list of ways we help partner with parents to pass the faith on to their children.  But the Milestones will be more direct.  They’ll aim at equipping parents to tell their children about God.  To answer the questions of how, when, and what to teach.  If you’re older and no longer have kids at home, or if you’re young and childless, you’ll have to listen harder.  Look for ways to involve yourself.  Listen for ways that you can help God’s littlest children.  Milestones are intergenerational through and through.

For almost every year of a child’s life, these milestones will bring their parents together.  Either for an evening get together, for a weekend retreat, or for a few shorter gatherings over a span of a few weeks.  The first benefit right off the bat is that parents will form a small group with other parents who have children the same age.  They can share ideas, ask questions, make friendships and connections.

But it’ll be deeper than that, too.  The church will be providing tools and ideas for sharing the faith with your children.  Through DVD lessons and conversations, we’ll grow together and we’ll help equip you for doing devotions in your own home.  Each stage will talk a little about that, about doing family devotions with your two year old or your fifteen year old.

And each stage will also come with a gift.  Something for your family, something you can take home.  Something that will help you talk to your children about God.  I wanted to take the time today to tell you about what each step is and what gifts are given at each milestone.

We start where faith starts.  We start with baptism.  The very first milestone is the birth step.  Parents of newborns and pregnant families will gather together to learn about baptism, to learn what a newborn does, and how we can communicate with them that there is a Savior who loves them.  The gift for these babies is the Faith Chest.  This wooden chest is given to the child and, as they grow up, they can put the other gifts in it, too.  They can put inside it the things that remind them of God, the things that help strengthen their relationship with God.  And it’s a sneaky illustration too, as Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Families can paint ‘em, stain ‘em, or put whatever personal touch they want.

The second milestone is at age two.  Families will gather to learn about the benefits of blessing a child.  I’ve heard many stories of parents who’ve used blessings over their children.  Stories like one little girl who had been blessed every day, and then on the first day of school, she turns around and says, “Daddy, where’s my blessing?”  Families will also receive a picture Bible that they can read to their children.

At age four, we’ll come together again to learn about worship.  To learn about the church, both as a people, and a building.  We’ll learn what the different parts of the church are and why we do the things we do.  And we’ll give out a small worship kit, so that children can use those items to worship God with their families in their homes.

At age five, so kindergarten, we’ll give away the Small Catechism.  Martin Luther originally wrote this for the head of the household, so dads, to teach to their children.  Speaking once with another pastor, he told me that you know your child is ready to learn the Small Catechism the second you hear them repeat something you said or did that you didn’t want them to be repeating.  You know what I’m talking about!  Children mimic, they learn by imitating.  Many kids before preschool are already memorizing stuff we don’t want them to know, so why not Scripture, too?

In 1st grade, we’ll focus on being a good manager of God’s gifts.  We’ll talk about all the various parts of stewardship, but we’ll focus on money a lot, as it helps to have good habits early.  To talk about saving and giving.  To talk about helping others.  Right now, we’re looking at using Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior, but there are many other products out there, and even some free resources from LCEF and Thrivent.

Then 2nd grade we’ll focus on serving.  What does it mean to be a servant?  What does that look like?  And we’ll take the opportunity to go out and serve our community together.  We’ll give families a towel and basin, a bowl, to remind them of footwashing, of when Christ humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet.  As He served us, we serve one another.

We’ve been doing 3rd grade for years…it’s Bible distribution Sunday!  We’ll give kids their first Bible that’s translated from the original Greek and Hebrew.  But we’ll also give parents that opportunity to come together, to grow together in the faith and to ask questions.  And we’ll take the time to help families know the big picture of Scripture and how to use it together as a family.

4th grade families will talk about the all-important topic of computer boundaries.  I wish I could remain naïve on this one.  But back in a 2005 study, 17% of 10 year old boys and girls had seen pornography.  And that industry has only grown.  Those numbers have only gone up.  We can’t wait anymore.  I wish we could, but it would be too late.  The gift here is a customized stylus with Scripture on it to remind them when they’re on their gadgets that God is with them and He’s bigger than temptation.

5th graders will be paired with mentors.  The big Christian study groups have found that children are likely to cherish their faith more if they have a strong relationship with an older person in the church who isn’t their parents.  The gift will actually go to the mentor, some money towards their first outing, whether it’s a game, concert, lunch, whatever they want.

6th graders will be going on a retreat with their parents to somewhere like Camp Omega or Ironwood.  There’ll be separate retreats, a Father/Son retreat and a mother/daughter retreat.  The goal is for our kids to learn what it means to be a man, or a woman, what’s God’s design for how to live your life.  To guys, the gift is an engraved baton, like runners in a race.  It’s something they can display, something their father gives to them.  For the ladies, it’s a charm bracelet, something they can wear all the time as a reminder of who they are as God’s daughter.

7th grade will follow up on that and talk about dating, sex and marriage.  What’s God’s design for our relationships?  When are we old enough?  What’s love about?  What really matters in a relationship?  How far is too far?  The gift here will be a purity ring, again a constant reminder, and also a book on relationships.

8th graders, teenagers.  Adults you know this is when parenting gets rough.  The rebel years!  The focus of this evening is to talk about honor and conflict.  How do we love our parents, how do we love our children?  How do we still manage to get along when we disagree?  The gift is a box of “u talk, I listen” cards, a game meant to help you get your point across and still be respected at the same time.

9th graders will go through the milestone of “What’s God Been Saying to You Lately?”  They’ll receive a journal to help them as they try to listen to God, as they try to see God’s hand at work in their life, as they try to see God’s guidance, His strength and His comfort.  While I’m not expecting anyone to become a prophet, God still loves us and He’s promised He’s always with us.

10th graders get two events!  One about driving and all the independence that that brings…but also all the accountability and responsibility that comes with it.  They’ll be given a key chain they can attach to their car keys to remind them of God’s plan for them.

They’ll also chat about life after high school.  How do you decide what comes next?  Where will you go?  What will you do?  Who do you want to be?  And parents will have the opportunity to pick a few words that describe the character of their young man or woman, and they’ll put a plaque or picture frame together that will help them remember that’s who they are striving to be.

11th graders have the pleasure of talking about how they can keep God in all of their relationships, whether with their parents, friends, coworkers, classmates, significant other, whoever.  What’s a relationship look like if God is in the midst of it?  The gift will be a carabiner, you know, one of those metal hook things, with the phrase “Climb Together” on it.

And lastly, 12th graders will come together to remember their spiritual roots.  They’ll get the reminder that even though they’re graduating from school, their journey with God is only beginning.  The gift here is a prayer blanket that they can keep with them at college or in their apartment as a constant reminder of the faith community that loves them and is always lifting them up to God in prayer.  We may also give them a Lutheran Study Bible.

As you may have noticed, these milestones and their gifts depend on all of you.  We could start small, only do one or two and slowly add over the span of a decade.  But I think it’s too important, faith is too important, to not try to do them all.  All of our children matter, I don’t want pick who gets left out.  And as we aim to do them all, we’ll need to work together.  These milestones aim to build up families, but we do it as a church.  We’re equipping them, we’re partnering with them, to make Christ the center of their homes.

This is intergenerational.  I am looking forward to starting a men’s woodworking group, a time where we can gather together, whether you’re 15 or 90.  Let’s have the elders pass on their knowledge and skills to another generation.  We can build Faith Chests, but we can also take requests or simply build things to bless our community and our homes.

We need mentors.  People who are willing to help build up the faith of another.  We need people who are willing to show a child that they love them, that they care about them, that they matter.  People who are willing to have fun, to be serious, to listen, to laugh, to learn, and to share.

We need crafty folk.  We need people who can make prayer blankets, and by that, I mean a full-sized blanket big enough to cover a young adult that they could have on their bed or couch to stay warm.  We need people willing to pray while these are being made, hence the name.

So we need volunteers, we need to work together to pass on the faith to the next generation.  Because every generation matters to God.  He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for all of us.  And He rose again to give all of us new life.  I’m excited by the possibilities here, the possible new relationships, the serving, the gift giving, the connections.  I’m excited about the Holy Spirit’s work.  I already love what He’s doing here at St. John’s and I can’t wait to see what He’ll do next.

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Wait…Beautiful Feet? August 10, 2014

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Romans 10:5-17

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

August 10, 2014

 

Focus: God is Lord of all.

Function: That the hearers preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

Structure: .

 

Wait…Beautiful Feet?

 

How many of you think feet are gross?  Go ahead, raise your hand.  There’s no need to be afraid or ashamed.  Alright, so I don’t have to convince you, as you already think being a foot model is one of the craziest things you could spend your life doing.  But for the rest of you…I need to convince you!

Imagine what your feet go through in a day.  All the sweating from the hard work of carrying the rest of your body around:  10,000 steps?  A few miles of walking, perhaps some running?  How many things do you step in or kick every day?  And did you shower this morning?

Now take those thoughts back two thousand years ago and remove the closed-toed shoes.  And socks.  All you have are open leather sandals.  Now remove the tiled floors, the hardwood, the carpet.  Remove the concrete sidewalks and streets.  Everything’s dirt.  Everything.  Now imagine trudging around in your labors all day.  Imagine walking a couple of miles because you don’t have a car, walking through the dirt, the dust, and the mud.

I probably have those of you who raised your hands earlier queasy already, so I won’t go into too much more detail about wounds and sores and infections and bathing only once a year, or we might make Jim’s job of cleaning up around here harder.

You see, feet were gross.  They were one of the most shameful things about your body in that day.  They just weren’t clean and it was impossible to keep them clean.  That’s why only the lowest of servants had the job of washing feet.  That’s why Peter at first denied Christ the opportunity to wash his feet.  That’s why Christ tells His disciples that they should wash other people’s feet.  They were filthy and it was a humbling experience of service to clean them.

This is what makes the prophet Isaiah’s statement so powerful, so meaningful.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Beautiful feet?  That phrase was an oxymoron in those days.  But that’s the worth of the gospel.  That’s the value of the good news.  It is so marvelous, so wonderful that it makes even the worst of things beautiful.

Because no matter how far that messenger had traveled, no matter how much wear and tear those feet had seen, that man was bringing you the message of salvation, the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  That He died on the cross to forgive your sins and that He rose again to give you life everlasting.  There’s no better news than that.

Our text today from Romans is about faith.  It’s not something we can do.  We didn’t bring Christ to the earth to save us.  We didn’t raise Him from the dead.  God did those things for us.  Thus faith is a gift; it’s a free gift for us.

And so through this gift we “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead.”  And thus we are saved.  We call upon the name of the Lord and He saves us.  What a gift!  How beautiful the feet!

But this world’s not perfect, we’re not perfect.  And so Paul tells us how this happens.  We can’t call upon the name of the Lord if we don’t believe.  We can’t believe if we’ve never heard.  And we can’t hear it if no one preaches it.  And no one can preach it unless their sent.

That’s us.  We’re sent.  We’ve spoken about this before, how God is a missionary God, how it’s part of His nature to send us.  He has sent us.  Whether it’s the words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 “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 and teaching them to obey all the commands I have given you.  And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” or the words He spoke in Acts 1, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” or in John 20 when Christ says “as the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.”

We’ve been sent, so that the Word can be preached, so people can hear it, so people can believe it, so people can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  So they can proclaim, “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

And yet, this is difficult for us.  We struggle with the idea of going and being sent.  We struggle within the comfort of our own lives, within the comfort of our own friends.  We don’t like to risk our friendships.  We don’t like to step outside of our social or economic statuses.  It’s not easy.  It’s not comfortable.  But it’s precisely what God has called us to do.

I’ve used this example before, and I’ll use it again, because I truly believe it says all that needs to be said.  As I was thumbing around on the internet a month or so ago, I ran across something really cool and really valuable.  The kind of information you really want to have.

Did you know that you can file for a property tax refund in the state of Minnesota.  Whether you own or rent a home, if you pay property taxes, you can request a refund.  There’s a tax return form for it.  Sure, there’s a few hoops to jump through, but you can get some of your money back.  You have less than a week before this year’s August 15th deadline.

It sounds too good to be true, right?  So we weren’t expecting much.  Maybe they’ll give us like $50 and we can go out to eat sometime.  So, Hannah and I filled it out.  We had paid $2600 on property taxes for this year, and based on our income and family setting, they’re giving us over $1200 back.  $1200!  That’s a lot of money.  That was a shock to us.  But it’s great news!

In fact, that news is so terrific, I feel like I should it share it with everyone.  Who wouldn’t want this free gift from the government? Let’s say you made $40000, and paid $1200 on your property taxes.  You’d get $278 back.  Or if you made $90000 and paid $3000 on property taxes, you’d get $466 back.  Why not give it a shot?!

This is how we should feel about the good news of Christ.  We should be so overflowing with joy that we want to share it with everyone we know.  I mean, what better gift is there than salvation through the blood of Christ?!  There isn’t one.  If they don’t want it, like the Jews didn’t want, there’s nothing we can do.  I told one of my neighbors about the free money and he just shrugged it off.  That’s on him.  That’s on the Jews.  But we still try to tell them!

That’s what we’re called to do.  We’ve been sent to tell the world about the free gift of life and salvation in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  That’s the goal of Rebecca’s Garden of Hope, that we’d go to children in at-risk settings, and we’d use tutoring to share the gospel.  That’s the ultimate goal of our Wee Care and VBS programs.  That’s the goal of the Evangelism board this week in grilling out and handing out free burgers at the park.  That’s the goal of Orphan Grain Train, of our Backpack program, of so many other things we do, and you do in your daily life.  Because that’s what we do as Christians.  We have a wonderful gift, so wonderful that we want to share it with everyone.  So go: get your feet dirty, so that they might just be called beautiful.