Next week’s sermon: Youth Sunday!
For previous weeks’ sermons, please contact Pastor Vince
“PARENTING-PLAIN AND SIMPLE”
When you are parent, there are moments of clarity. You are sure of what to do. But those moments are few and far between. Parenting is mostly one scary journey of faith. You bring an infant home, and you are terrified. You don’t know what to do. So you hold them a lot and feed them and change them and get up in the night with them.
Before you can get a good night’s sleep, they need school clothes. They go to school, and you discover you have to learn the state capitals and the multiplication tables all over again. And on a percentage basis, just how much of a parent’s life is spent as a spectator by the swimming pool, the baseball field, the soccer pitch?
Before you can turn around, they are teenagers. The door to their room is closed more times than not. In public, you can embarrass your teenagers just because you are breathing. Then you wake up one morning with a list of things they need for their dorm room, which will make you long for the days of diapers and sleepless nights. They go off to college, and you think that your job of parenting is over, just when you were getting the hang of it.
How do we parent in today’s world? The world is changing so fast. How do we protect them? How do we guide them? How do we parent? I am far from being an expert. Nothing has made me feel more inadequate than parenting. I have stumbled through it and continue to do so. I want to talk about parenting today, not just because it is Mother’s Day, but because I believe parenting from a faith perspective is a particularly good thing.
I have found guidance in the words of Deuteronomy. It says, “When your children ask you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the commandments of the Lord?’ When they ask you, ‘Why do we live the way we do?” When they ask you, “Why do we have to go to church?” In that moment, tell them the story.
Friends, every time parents bring their children for baptism, we ask them this question: “Relying on God’s grace, do your promise to live the Christian faith and to teach that faith to your child?” It is important to recognize that we do not ask parents to promise that their children will believe; no parent can make that promise. We ask parents to promise that their children will know that their parents believe. If you are like me, you worry about that. It is also important to remember that at a baptism, we as a congregation make this promise to the child: “We promise to love, encourage, and support you, to share the good news of the gospel with you, and to help you know and follow Christ.”
About 30 years ago when I was a student pastor, a woman in the church came to me and said, “Pastor, my children don’t like church very much. It’s a real battle every Sunday. I want to come, but I don’t want to force it on them. I want them to choose church.” That made sense to me. And since I am a people pleaser, and I was inexperienced, I said, “ You are right, you don’t want to force it.”
My parents did not have that outlook. My father got us up for Catholic Mass every Sunday at 8am. We could have gone at 9, 10, or 11. My father made us get up and go to 8am Mass. When a fire broke out and our Catholic Church burned down, I was elated. God had answered my prayers. No one was more disappointed than myself when the following Sunday, we were in the gym of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, on the basketball court, at 8am, worshipping God.
Deuteronomy tells us today that the most important thing we can do for children is to keep the promises we make as parents and congregations at baptism. They need to know what is important to us about Christian faith. And by the way, even if you are old and gray, have you ever told your children, even if you are adults and they are adults, why your faith matters to you?
Kenda Creasy Dean, professor of Youth, Church, and Culture and Princeton Theological Seminary, says that the most significant influence in a young person’s faith is the faith of his or her parents. That woman said to me long ago, “My children don’t like coming to worship, so we don’t come very much.” At the time, that made sense to me. But I have changed my mind. I have learned. My kids didn’t care much for broccoli or algebra or flossing either, but they were made to try broccoli, and do their algebra and their teeth. Sometimes it was my job to tell them what mattered, not just ask them what they liked. Parents, when you bring your children to church, that is essentially what you are doing. You are telling them that God matters, that the Gospel matters, that the community of faith matters. We belong to one another.
As I said, I never felt like I was a very good parent. Parenting did not come natural to me. My friend of 30 years, Roger Harwerth, always felt did a better job of balancing the endless demands of ministry and the joys and challenges of raising a family. I asked him recently, (he has been calling me, checking up on me), what he said to his children as they were getting ready to leave the nest. You know, “the talk.” This is what he said that he said to his children:
“If you don’t remember anything else from me, I want you to remember 4 things. First, I need you to know that you are responsible for yourself. You are the only one who can live your life in a way of honor and faithfulness. Do not place the realities of your life on someone else’s shoulders. You are responsible for yourself.”
“Secondly, the older you get, the more decisions you have to make. Some of them are big, like where you go to college and who you will marry. Some seem small, like what you will eat today or whether or not you will do your homework. But every decision has consequences. Sometimes the consequences are good, sometimes not so good; but they are a part of every decision, so you want to think about that as you make your decisions.”
“Third, I love you. But I want you to understand something. If you ever have a child of your own, only then will you really understand what I mean when I say I love you. When you have a son or a daughter, there is a part of your heart that is born in that moment. If and when you discover that part of your heart, only then will you fully understand what I mean when I say I love you.”
“One more thing. It is even more important than me telling you that I love you. I want you to remember every day that you are baptized.” Those were my good friend Roger Harwerth’s words to his 3 children, Chris, Amanda, and Hannah. Those words preach. So I stole them.
Friends, have you ever told your children about their baptism? Have you told them who was there? Have you told them how you felt? That is still something you can do today. Even if your children are old.
Friends, at almost every wedding I do, there are tears in the eyes of the parents. Part of the reason for the tears is that it is one more parenting moment when we let go. In fact, one of the constants of parenting is letting go. It doesn’t just happen when they marry or go off to school or go down the street to school. It wasn’t when they started making their own decisions about who their friends would be. It wasn’t when they began to learn things that I still don’t know. It was when we brought them to the baptismal font and proclaimed before the whole church that our children are really God’s children. They belong to God. They have never been ours to possess; they have always only been our children because they were gifts to us from God.
Parenting is hard. That is why we don’t do it alone. I am very grateful to you for keeping the promises we make when children are baptized. You teach them the stories of Scripture. You provide preschool. All summer there is camp, and every Sunday and Wednesday there is time for children to learn the songs and stories of faith, there are opportunities for them to serve and give. There is time for them to be included in worship, even if they are noisy and wiggly. They belong here because they belong to God.
You have no idea how grateful I am to you for teaching my children what it means to be the church. And I am very grateful for how you have continued to support the childrens and youth ministries even after your own children have long grown and gone. Because when the children ask, “Why is faith important?” I can tell them the little I know. But I can’t really answer their question, until I point to you.
LET US PRAY.