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Sept. 16, 2018   The Greatest Gift You Can Give      Deuteronomy 6:4~15

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Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

‘command’ & ‘heart’; / ‘teach’; / ‘diligently’ & ‘children’. Some key words for us today from Deuteronomy 6. The word ‘deuteronomy’ literally means ‘second law’; it’s the 5th book of Moses, where ~thru Moses ~ God repeats the Law given in Exodus, because the people have already disobeyed. God also repeats & comforts them with His Gospel; His mercy to them & promise to be with & carry them into the Promised Land.

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At one time or another, every parent has probably wondered: ‘What is the greatest gift

I can give my child?’   Would it involve travel, comforts, safety, or technology? What about a well-rounded education? == if so, parents might move to a community with good schools, provide some music lessons, encourage sports or other extra-curriculars, & so on.   How about just a happy childhood? == if so, a special effort would be made to spend quality time with the children, to provide a home life with minimal stress & conflict, and to plan exciting family activities & vacations.

What IS the greatest gift you can give your child?  There are a lot of ‘good’ things, important things. The world’s suggestions are always changing. It used to be instilling in your child a good ‘work ethic’, / then it was ‘self-esteem’, / then it was computers & technology, /& now it’s probably ‘tolerance’.   But what IS the ‘greatest’ thing?   What does any human being need, whether in generations long ago, or now; & no matter what household, income level or country they grow up in? =…“Love”?   What would The One who created us say? God would say ‘love’, but by a different name: ‘Jesus.’

I know that sounds a little cliché, & it’s probably what you’d expect me to say; but let’s unpack what that means. In Deut.6 it means: have God’s Promise of the Savior & forgiveness of sins be upon your heart as a parent, so you may impress that Love upon your children. In Deut.6, God says: “I gave you the gift of that child; now = you teach that child about Me.”

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One problem is that parents may fail to recognize the ongoing nature of this task. Sometimes religious education is seen as a kind of ‘inoculation’= like a chicken pox vaccination == a one-time, short-term event that ‘exposes’ your children to Christianity, to get it out of the way at an early age.

Some think that once they’ve been exposed to Jesus, that it’s a lifelong dosage, and we’ve done our job as parents. As valuable as Lutheran school, SS, & confirmation are that’s not the Deut.6 command.

A true story: on a winter day, a new bus driver was on an unfamiliar route for a school’s group of ‘gifted children,’ and got lost. In frustration, she drove back to the school, dropped the children off at the front steps, and told them, “You’re gifted—you figure out how to get home.”   Fortunately, a woman living across the street invited the stranded children inside to call their parents. She said. “I couldn’t just leave them alone out there in the cold like that.”    Because of their experience, those children didn’t want to ride the bus again.

The same thing can happen to children whose parents attempt a ‘religious inoculation’;   they’re left stranded in the cold, with no long-term protection, no direction.   When children are dropped off at the church door, & just expected to experience SS/Lutheran school for a few years, *will it last?

That was not God’s instruction for us, and our old nature is too strong & resistant. Once they grow up, and they don’t want to ride the ‘religious bus’ anymore, *are we surprised? If the parents are not interested in what goes on at church, or making the Faith & the Bible a real part of their home, children will think ‘adulthood’ means not having to go to church. Christianity is treated as ’kid’s stuff’.

It’s still too often that I hear of parents who allow their children to ‘decide’ whether they want to go to church or not. The kids are not old enough to drive; so ~ they’re supposed to get their parent out of bed and take them to church? Our old nature already does not want to do God’s things; *why would a parent leave their child ‘out in the cold’ with their vulnerable & tender faith? We would want that bus driver fired from her job; *what about parents?

See, that’s our old nature resisting God’s command & expectation. God’s command to parents includes to feed, clothe, shelter, and …teach. It’s not a mystery why youth are not able to navigate their lives thru an ungodly world in a wise & biblical way. Every day they get bombarded with evils & immoralities; *but what if their spiritual growth & learning stopped at about age 13 when they got confirmed?

So, the greatest gift you could ever give your child is not a religious ‘inoculation’, but a Christian education. Whether in a Lutheran School or not, it is the weekly regimen of coming out of the world, being in God’s presence, & hearing Him speak to us.   And this faith~ education is found, centered in the teaching of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and the continual learning & taking to heart of his Word-of-Life = Genesis to Revelation.

True Faith is not merely some information to be learned = as if once you‘ve learned it, you‘re done. This Faith is an ongoing relationship with our God thru our Savior, and with the daily help & guidance of His Holy Spirit = who only works thru God’s Word. We are always growing, & facing new things thru the years; so our Lord has new things to teach us on how to handle all those changing things in the right way.

This is, {and always has been} the greatest thing to give a child, any child = yours or someone else’s: to listen to God & learn how to live. This is the education & life God wanted for His people when they came to the Promised Land. *How would they keep the Lord’s 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.”   “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 pouches with Scripture in them on their forehead & arm when they pray; and they put small boxes with Scripture on their doorjamb so they can touch it when they come & 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 an inoculation, but an ongoing education.

If we expect our children to ‘learn something new everyday’ in the world, the same is true with this faith~relationship with our God & Savior; who teaches us to live in his blessed guidance each day, to walk his narrow road, and not lose the heavenly goal.

SO, the greatest gift we can give our children IS ‘love’; but true love has a focus: and it is Jesus. /Where our love comes up short, His doesn’t; /where we may neglect or mistreat our children, He doesn’t; /when our child resists us, He has a way to work within them to keep them doing the right things; /when we’re dead & gone, He’s still living = to love them thru-out their lives.

The real love that every parent & grandparent, every school & SS teacher, have taught their children about is: the Savior’s love. It’s the love of a God who cares so much for you & 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’s God’s love for you; and that’s the great gift & the Good News He has given you to teach to your children.

From one generation to the next, God’s salvation in Christ Jesus is passed-on from parent to child, and from teacher to student.   Again & again, the story of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus is spoken & lived-out in the home, & at school, & at work.   In this repetition, we see the on-going nature of our Lord’s love for us. He doesn’t just inoculate us in Baptism, or SS, or confirmation and then leave us;  He intends to live with us, when we’re young and when we’re old.

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It’s simply not possible to learn everything as a child; so God does not zap us once with religion. You know one of the hardest things to teach in confirmation class? The 6th Comm. How does one teach 11~14 yr.olds about all the sins of ‘adultery’ and the proper relationship of marriage & sex? It can’t be done in 1~2 class times to pre-puberty kids. It must begin long before that, but it also must continue long after that; as they change.   Again, it’s simply not possible to learn everything as a child. Instead, God lives with His people so that, in & thru his believing parents and the church, our children will always be learning.

And so the greatest gift is given as the most important task to Christian parents, grandparents, & teachers == not to have ‘one shot’ of Christianity, but to provide for their continuous and ongoing nurture in the Christian faith. They need to know more & more as their lives unfold; as it gets more complicated & involved in a fallen world.

Some time ago, Dr. James Dobson, noted Christian psychologist, was asked why we put children thru 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 the process of learning provides the basic self-discipline & 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 everything, and the most important facts do find a place in our permanent memory;  And finally, we are changed by what we learn; not just at the end, but all along the way.   Dobson said: “Learning produces alterations in values, attitudes, and concepts that do not fade in time.”

All those are true. We didn’t just gather knowledge between Kindergarten & 12th grade graduate, and then start putting it all into practice. We learned, changed, & put it into practice all along the way.   So too with Christian learning, it produces needed changes all along the way; in values, attitudes, & holy-habits that support us being God’s holy people.

That’s why our text says we are to “teach diligently”. ‘Diligently’ has both an urgent and ongoing sense to it.   In the original Hebrew, it is related to the word for repetition.   We teach the Lord’s Word diligently to our children by repetition == we ‘show & tell’ of God’s love for them in Christ Jesus again & again & again from Baptism, and on into adulthood. It’s their comfort in their childhood, their hope in their young adulthood decisions & directions, and it’s their confidence when they are old and facing death.

‘Teaching diligently’ begins in the home as we teach our children how to pray at bedtime & before meals, // as we read them Bible stories from a children’s Bible again & again, // as we discipline wrongs and instruct in what’s right.   Then, the church gets in on the process ==

in Sunday School & confirmation; and parents alongside children in worship. Church is not to substitute for parents, but to support them. Thru their own learning, Christian parents can teach of Christ’s love thru forgiveness & guidance so that children will remain firm in the Christian faith for the rest of their lives.

This is among those things that even the Angels of Heaven rejoice over & marvel at;     to witness the faith~life of a child whose parents have raised him or her in God’s Word, because the parents themselves have believed, taught, & put it into practice. You can see that in people’s lives; faith is meant to be seen.

It’s not that a child will be without sin, making bad choices at times, or not be tempted by the immoral culture around us. But /you will see those ‘taught’ kids actually going against the popular flow of things; /you see them ashamed by their sin, & seeking forgiveness, and wanting to doing better next time; /you see them struggle with their choices, & asking adults for guidance, because they learn to weigh things against what the Bible says; ……..>

/you see them stand up against the sinful actions of their friends & peers;  /and you see them offer real help to those being picked on, or those hurting.   As Jesus said of us all: “by their fruits, you shall know them.” Kids will learn that ‘good people do good things’ because they have taken to heart what it means to be one of God’s people, walking in God’s ways.

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Sometimes parents feel like they’ve blown it; and now the child is not a child anymore, and it’s too late to train them in the faith. But, with God, it is never too late, & we never give up on His help.  As long as that child IS your child, a parent has a responsibility to love & care for them, and to demonstrate the Lord’s Faith. Often, older children will learn faster from what their parents show.   Sometimes teens will pay more attention to other adults at church, so they need good role models in the family of faith.

The point is, Deut.6 applies to ALL of us, and throughout our life; we never give up, and we’re here for each other each Sunday to begin a new week. The Word of God that you teach a child today is a spiritual, lasting Word. Jesus is their rock & refuge; / an ever-present help in trouble; / their Good Shepherd; / their Savior and Lord.

Around Christmastime we’re often in a store asking that question: *what gift am I going to give my child?   Go visit a cemetery and ask the same question. Now ask the One who gave you life, and who gives life to all children. ‘Lord, what is the greatest gift to give?’

Our own love for them will cease;   but Jesus’ love for them will not. By God’s baptismal grace & the mercy of his cross, His forgiveness will be with them always.   By his Word His guidance & hope & peace will never leave them.   The greatest gift is to live with God.

We do this by faith in Jesus Christ, by constantly hearing his voice, and following His Word.  Parents & children doing this together is the greatest thing.

Amen