Sermons : 2015 : August 30, The Next Generation - Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

On the webpage of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, there is a statistic that says that as of today, we have either missionaries or working partnerships in 90 countries throughout the world. Currently, our church sponsors international missionaries in four countries-Peru, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and Hong Kong. Fulfilling the Great commission has always been important to us and the amount of missionaries we’ve sent overseas over the last five years has been on the rise. But sending missionaries isn’t the only way that a church seeks to fulfill the Great Commission and see the kingdom expand.

In Deuteronomy today, Moses is talking to the Israelites about the commandments of God and the last thing he says in our reading is, “make them known to your children and your children’s children.” See, the faith is meant to be passed down. It’s meant to be delivered to the next generation through the instruction and teaching of parents. It is an old joke of the church that reproduction is a tool of evangelism, but it’s true and that’s not a bad thing. God had said to Adam and Eve at the beginning of Genesis, “Be Fruitful and multiply” and this was intended to mean that Adam and Eve would give birth to descendants who would acknowledge and worship God.

Last week in our Bible class, we had a discussion about seeing the faith individually or communally. A community is a close knit group of people who have things in common, the most important of which is being the people of God. In the Old Testament, Israel was regarded as a national community. There was not a division between people living in Israel who were God’s people and people who chose not to be. If you were born in Israel, you were raised in this faith. You were circumcised on the 8th day of your life while you were still an infant as a public profession that you were a part of this people, that you had now become a part of the covenant community.

The church, likewise in the beginning also held to this understanding. If you were born to Christian parents, you were raised in the Christian faith. You were baptized into this faith. Baptism, for a long time, was understood as the entrance rite into Christianity. Parents brought their child to the church for a baptism that was often witnessed by the entire community. And if you’ve been here for a baptism, you know that the congregation still has responses and participates when someone is baptized.

It’s not until later when infant baptism gets rejected in favor of a baptism that comes when someone is older that this understanding changes. See, and that’s not really a community understanding of baptism. That’s much more of an individual understanding; that one comes to the faith independently. The community would support such a journey, but the emphasis and power is really placed into the hands of the individual. But see in that understanding, the community’s role is reduced to more of an advisory role with the individual ultimately choosing whether or not he wants to participate. But when the community brings the child to be baptized, there is more of a nurturing role. There is more of an understanding that the faith isn’t merely presented so that one can decide later, but is in fact, handed down and passed on to the next generation.

Martin Luther always saw the importance of the church’s role of passing the faith on to children. This was why he wrote the Small Catechism. In fact, if you open the first page of the catechism, you see the instructions, “As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” The first exposure to the faith was meant to be encountered at home, in the context of father or mother sitting down with children and teaching them the fundamentals of the faith. In today’s society, there is the expectation that parents should just drop off their children at church and delegate that responsibility to the pastor. Parents say they don’t feel qualified to teach or they don’t know enough or they don’t feel confident. But biblically, the faith always begins with mom and dad. “Make them known to your children,” Moses says today.

Here at Holy Shepherd, we have a good confirmation program in which we have children memorize Bible verses and meanings to the Creed and definitions. And when it comes time for the big exam at the end, they will recite these things to me. They will pass the test. But I’ve come to see through the years that that doesn’t mean they’ll stay rooted in the faith. The key to that really seems to be found in the family. Do mom and dad come to church after confirmation? Is the faith a priority in their life? Is it a priority in their marriage? Is it something that as the Book of Deuteronomy says elsewhere about the Commandments, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This makes the difference, when the faith is passed on through the mom or dad and especially through both.

I think parents in our culture today are always expected to follow a certain paradigm with their children. We have these phrases that tend to overly influence us more than they should. I’m talking about expressions like, “cut the cord,” “When you turn 18,” “Leaving the nest,” “you’re old enough to make your own decisions.” In our culture, we have the expectation that our children will become completely independent from us at some point and we often interpret that to mean that they’ll go on to develop separate beliefs. We put such a high value on independence that we sometimes think our influence as parents is supposed to end at some point in our children’s lives and even if they renounce their faith later on, we’re somehow still just supposed to be ok with that and say well, it’s their decision. It’s their life. In some ways, we’ve been conditioned to see such separation as acceptable, if not normal.

But you know, that’s not how a true community should practice its faith. You can still tell your kids they’re doing something unacceptable when they’re 35 or 45, especially if it relates to their salvation. You can encourage them towards the faith and talk to them about the importance of Christ because who else is going to do that? I know some of you here still do even in your 70’s and 80’s.

Now Jesus also had a community during His earthly ministry. It was the disciples. Even though He is God, He doesn’t carry out His ministry alone, but He does so in the context of community. As the community grew, she continued to cherish the things taught to her by Her Lord while He was with us. Her foundations were built upon His Words and upon His death and Resurrection. Her foundations were built upon His promises forgiving sins and bringing us us to be with Him in the life to come.

Today, the community continues to pass the message of Jesus Christ on to the next generation by incorporating newborns into Him through baptism and raising them in the faith by sharing with them the Scriptures and later the Lord’s Supper. We make such things known to our children and to our children’s children as some of you seek to bring your grandchildren to church even if your children aren’t presently coming.

In fact, some people say that the biggest reason why the church is shrinking is not for lack of evangelizing, but for lack of children. And the reasons for this are numerous ranging from people getting married later because of careers or infertility or just less of a value put on children altogether and all you have to do is look at the latest videos put out about Planned Parenthood and how little outrage there is to understand that.

Our salvation is built upon the sacrifice Jesus made when He gave His life for us on the cross. That sacrifice is valid every bit as much for a newborn as it is for an adult. Jesus places no age restrictions on His atoning work and the Bible’s teachings on Original Sin establish that even newborns enter this world soiled with sin and in need of a Savior. And that’s who Jesus is for them. And so we do not withhold the grace in baptism as children are united with Christ to make them a part of His community of Saints, but we embrace and practice this through the means of grace.

We can evangelize the world by sharing the Gospel and we can also evangelize by passing that Gospel on to the next generation. In this way, the love of God in Christ is received by people of all ages without restriction for the glory of His name and salvation of His people. In Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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