Saturday, April 01, 2006

Families Under the Cross - Growing In Faith Together

Deut. 11:16-21, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Luke 10:38-42
From a Sermon by Rev. Robert Mann
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God created human beings to grow. We all grow. How many of you are the same size you were when you were born? Some of you may wish that you were a few sizes smaller. Well, our waistline aside, that's the way God created human beings. We grow. We grow in body. We grow in mind. We grow in spirit. We know that our bodies need food to keep growing. We know that our mind needs education to keep growing. We should also know that our spirit needs it's nourishment, too. The good thing is, compared to the rest of the world, food for us is cheap and education is provided for everyone. And even more wonderfully than all that God has given us this wonderful place to come and receive all the food we need for our spiritual growth. He provides His Word that nourishes us through our ears, and the Lord's Supper, that nourishes us through our mouths. Here as we gather in the name of Our Lord, He provides what we need to have to grow in our spirit. That's why we talk about getting the kids in church, because this is where God makes and keeps is promises that we will grow in spirit as families under the cross.
This idea of growing together in faith is what the readings tonight are all focused on. Teach them [these words] to your children. (Deut 11) continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed (2 Tim 2) Mary sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching... They are all examples of what we are talking about tonight. Growing together in faith.
In His Word, God tells us that it is necessary for our faith to grow. St. Peter says it very clearly, But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV) It's a challenge to do that in our church family, isn't it. We don't always feel like we are growing in faith together. We might be growing in conflict. We might be growing in busy-ness. We might be growing in being apart. That doesn't seem to leave much time for growing together in faith, does it?
Think about the account that St. Luke brings us, Mary, sitting listening to Jesus and Martha working hard to prepare the meal. Jesus complements Mary and chastises Martha. But how often have we sided with Martha. She's getting done what needs to be done. She's preparing the meal that everyone needs, she's cleaning the church, and taking care of the parsonage. These things need to be done. The school has to be supported. My kids activities are essential to their being able to get on and out of here when they graduate from school. Someone has to be responsible. It's easy to think that Jesus is a little bit hard on Martha. Maybe He just doesn't really understand what needs to be done. After all, things are a lot different then they were when Jesus was around. We just don't have the time to sit at Jesus feet anymore. Martha's hard work is more like what we are doing. When we were growing up church was a priority. Parents didn't have to tell their kids to go to church, everyone knew it was expected. Now school activities have us burning the candle at more than both ends. We've got to keep the community things going and other folks don't seem to be interested. I'm not sure Jesus understands what kind of a life we are leading. Home time is scarce. Dinner at the family table just doesn't happen much anymore. When our days end late, it's very hard to find the time to do anything with our families, let alone devotions and prayer. We just want to collapse in front of the TV or in bed.
And talk about the stuff that's out there that we are exposed to. Parents and grandparents today have got a lot more worries than in the old days. Computers and television might be good in themselves but what about what they tell us, day in and day out. MTV is very good at its goal of influencing an new generation. It's easy just to throw up our hands and say it's useless. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the negative aspects of the culture around us. Not to mention that not just our children are effected. It doesn't take very long to hear people you grew up with saying things like, “Well we all believe the same things, now don't we. Now that's your truth. That may be true for you but it's not true for me. Jesus is your way to heaven, I have my own way.” You don't have to go very far to find Christians who try to reconcile creation and evolution, by throwing out what the bible clearly says is true and trying to reconcile millions of years into six days. And then we hear St. Peter's admonition, and Paul's command, and Moses speaking it very clearly. And we just want to ask... “How are we supposed to do that!”
It's a challenge today for Families Under the Cross to grow together in Faith. But God's Word tells us how it can happen, and how it does happen.
"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.
Moses words here are talking about what happens every day, in every life. As we leave the house, when we return, when we are sitting in front of the television, when we are traveling to school and work. It is our job, not just as parents, but as grandparents, brothers, sisters, and children to talk about God's Word; to apply it to what's happening around us all the time. Everyday life happens, God's Word fits in right where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.
All God is telling us is that everything we do teaches... and not just our children and grandchildren are watching us. If we act one way in church and a different way at home, people around us, especially children, see it and they learn. If we talk one way to the pastor and another way to our neighbor it teaches something else. If we tell people they should go to church and give the idea (by word or actions) that they should do it as something they owe to God, or something that they owe to us we've been setting the wrong example. We shouldn't expect people to have a good opinion about our church when what we talk about all the time is the problems that we've had here. One wise old pastor asked, “Who do you expect to say good things about your church? People who go to other churches? If you don't, no one will.” And we don't teach what we believe when we refuse to forgive people who have hurt us. That speaks more volumes about what we believe than what we say. People around us, especially our children, know what the Lord's Prayer says and they know what it means. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We show that we believe in Christ's forgiveness for us when we give it away, especially to those who hurt us, even those who don't deserve it.
Setting examples of faith in every day life, isn't easy. There is so much going on that pushes us in the opposite direction. But we can't blame it all out the influence of the culture. Our biggest problems in not being a good example to our families comes from inside. No matter how hard we try we will always fall short of God expectation for life in our families. We're always going to get caught not “living up” to what we confess and believe. We're going to miss lots of perfectly teachable moments. And how many of us are guilty of telling ourselves it's someone else's job to do not mine. “If the parents won't bring the kids to church, I can't do anything about that.” Well, that's that old ugly evil inside of all of us poking his fingers into our lives. That's sin making its presence felt again. That's the thing that threatens to push all of us away from God completely. In spite of how much we want our sinful nature to be gone, it's a struggle we'll have every day of our lives. That's what growing in faith is all about. When we hear God's Word preached as is should be our sinful nature is hit with the law, again. We learn, again, about how helpless we are to help ourselves. And we also hear of God's great rescue for us. When we sit at Jesus feet, He tells us of His great love for us. We see our sin clearly, and we see the cross clearly too. When St. Paul says we have been crucified with Christ, he's talking about our sinful nature. Jesus has put it to death in His death. Sin doesn't hold the power in our lives, Jesus does. St. Paul was talking about this when he said that Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Growing in Faith means seeing Jesus on the cross as the only answer to our sin. Growing in faith together means gathering as families, and as a church family at the foot of the cross to receive the forgiveness that God gives through faith in Jesus, on the cross. Our faith won't grow unless it is fed by God's promise of forgiveness and life through Jesus. When we hear those promises in His Word we are made wise, we grow together in faith.
It's God's Word that tells us that we can and do receive forgiveness for our sins and failures. Especially those sins that effect our family, both our church family and our home family. Jesus died on the cross to forgive you for the lousy example you set. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of staying away from church, and not taking advantage of the opportunities to study His Word. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of not saying good things about this church. Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sin of letting the negative things in our culture stand without saying that that's not how God would have us live. That's what living under the cross means, being forgiven when we sin, forgiven when we fail, forgiven because of Jesus death on the cross for us. Through Jesus, God accepts us just as we are, sins and all, saint and sinner. He takes those sins and washes them away in the water of Baptism.
When we hear about our sin and our Savior in this way it makes us want to hear more... and that's exactly what growing in faith is. When we know what Jesus has done for us, and how great His forgiveness is, we what other people to know it, too. There is no greater joy than pointing people to Jesus and telling them that He hung on the cross to take away their sin. There is no greater joy than to point children to Jesus as their Savior and Friend. That's what Families Under the Cross do, too. As we live out our everyday lives, as “life happens” all around us we have chances to point each other to Jesus. We we take the time to sit at Jesus feet in here we see how His cross makes a difference out there. When the TV offers us one way to live that challenges what God's Word says, we can point to it and say, “What do you think God would say about that?” When the computer brings that not-so-good stuff into our homes we can challenge it together because we have God's Word close to our hearts. When the culture tells you and your family that God's ways are “old fashioned” and even offensive, we can support each other with the wisdom of living by God's Word, instead. And most importantly, when we do cave in to any of it (and we all do at one time or another), we are equipped in our families through growing together in God's Word, to offer God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Living in the forgiveness of Christ as Families Under the Cross makes it possible us to pick up the pieces and go on.
That's what Growing together under the cross brings. It's not that when we go to church life is going to be easier. I don't expect the cultural pressure is going to get any less. I don't expect God is going to make the earth rotate slower so we can have more time at home or even more time studying His Word. And Satan is working full time to find new ways to wreck peoples lives. He's going to find new ways to influence our children and try turn them away from Jesus. That's why we need to continue to take every opportunity we have to hear the Good News of Jesus' forgiveness. That's why we need to hold each other accountable for bringing the children back to church. Because that where we get the nourishment our spirit needs to grow. When we grow together in faith, through God's Word we are equipped to live life in this world, as Families Under the Cross. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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