Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sermon for fourth mid-week Lent service: Table of Duties - To Parents and To Children

                                                                                Mid-Lent 4
                                                                                         To Parents and To Children

If you are an adult in general, and in particular a parent, you may have been waiting for us to finally arrive at the topic in the Table of Duties that we take up tonight: To Parents and To Children. Certainly here we have the Fourth Commandment before us, and we talk about how children are to be obedient to their parents.

This is a theme that we need to hear – and we will – because we live at a time when our culture leads youth to show far less respect toward adults, including parents. You see this in the way children and youth address adults. When I was growing up, it was unthinkable that I would call an adult by their first name. It simply was not done because addressing an adult by their first name breached the distance and respect that was maintained towards adults. Today it is not at all uncommon for this to occur. And to be fair, adults in our culture foster this as well by encouraging children to address them as “Coach Bob” or “Ms. Jane.”

However, if you are an adult you are in for a surprise tonight. The Table of Duties are set up so that those groups that have authority and responsibility to act as God’s agent are listed first. The whole point of vocation is that God puts us in stations in life – in callings – in which he uses us to enact his will and care for our neighbor. The vocations are not about us. They are about God and our neighbor. They are about service as we follow in the example of our Lord who gave himself on the cross in order to serve us – in order to save us.

Under “To Parents” we find listed Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” The first thing Paul says is that parents are not to act in ways that make their children angry. Now to be sure, the apostle is not talking about the response parents may get when they tell a child to clean their room. Instead he speaks about those times when we act in ways that are not motivated by love. He speaks about those occasions when parents do the right thing in ways that we know are not really necessary and are sure to upset our child. He speaks about those times when in frustration or anger we do things in the knowledge that it will anger our child – and we enjoy this.

Parents have been placed by God to act in his stead. They are God’s instrument by which he provides for the physical needs and well being of children. They are also the ones who instill God’s will and ordering of life in their children. Parents teach God’s ordering reflected in the Ten Commandments. They restrain wrongdoing and guide behavior. As Proverbs says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

Generally speaking, parents understand this. However, what they often fail to grasp is that this is not even their most important job. Instead, Paul expresses this when he says that parents are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Certainly this includes the moral discipline I just mentioned – the Ten Commandments. But in these, it is the First Commandment that is foundational to all the rest. And along with this God then lists his name and his word in the Second and Third Commandments. 

This word that we are to teach children is not just Law. More importantly, it is Gospel. God emphasized the need to teach children his word in the Old Testament. He told Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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.” The very first of those words said this: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
All of God’s word in the Old Testament can only be understood in the light of his saving action in the Exodus – the very thing the Passover celebrated and caused Israel to remember. And in the same way, all of God’s word in the New Testament era can only be understood in light of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection that has saved us from sin, death and the devil. It was God’s plan that Jesus the Christ would die at the time of the Passover, because the Passover lamb pointed forward to Jesus. Just as the blood of the lamb caused God’s judgment to pass over the Israelites, so also Jesus’ blood shed on the cross causes God’s judgment against our sin to pass over us. Just as God acted in the exodus to free Israel from slavery, so also God acted in Jesus to redeem us from sin.
Your most important job as a parent is to teach your child the Christian faith. It is to teach them the Law and the Gospel. It is to teach them about Jesus Christ and his Means of Grace. It is to teach them God’s Word. Martin Luther strongly emphasized this in the Large Catechism. He wrote: “Instead, they should keep in mind that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it.”
Parents show great interest in the education of their children. They expend tremendous time and energy in the sports and other activities of their kids. But how much effort do you invest in bringing your children “up in the training and instruction of the Lord”? Do you read Scripture with your children? Do you pray with your children? Do you review the teaching of the Small Catechism as the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to the household? And if not, then I ask you the question: “What are you going to do after tonight to change that?”
Under “To Children” the Small Catechism lists the previous three verses from Ephesians where the apostle Paul writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and your mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”

Now kids, God is very clear: You are to obey your parents. They are the ones God has put over you in his place. They are his representatives. Obviously you are to love them. But you also need to honor them. Martin Luther said, “Honor requires us not only to address them affectionately and with high esteem, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and body, that we respect them very highly, and that next to God we give them the very highest place.”
Your parents aren’t perfect. You may find that they have embarrassing quirks and failures. But that never changes the fact that God gave them to you. They are the ones through whom God cares for all your needs. In a thousand ways that you will never fully understand until you are a parent they have put you ahead of themselves.
In Ephesians the apostle Paul emphasizes the fact that God has attached a promise to the Fourth Commandment – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” God promises that obeying parents brings blessing. Sometimes, living according to the way God has set up his creation seems like the harder way. But in the end it is always the best way because it is the way God intended for things to work.
Certainly, children are to obey parents because it is right and it brings blessings – because it does things in keeping with the way God ordered creation and set it up to work. But ultimately, that is not the most important reason. It is not the reason that the season of Lent calls to mind as we get closer to Holy Week.
Instead, Paul expresses it when he says “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” “In the Lord” means that you are someone for whom Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead. You are someone who has been buried with Christ in baptism, and now you walk in the newness of life provided by the Holy Spirit. You are someone who has been served and helped by Jesus, and so now you seek to serve and help those around you. And the first people Jesus wants you to serve and help are your mom and dad.
You do this by obeying them – by doing the things they tell you to do and by not doing the things you aren’t supposed to do. You do this by doing these things without being asked and without complaining. Because when you do this you cannot begin to understand how much you are helping them. You are making their life better and supporting them.
And guess what? You aren’t the only one who needs to do this. Your parents do too. For adults don’t cease to be the child of a parent for a very long time. In an era when people live longer than ever, many adults find themselves in the situation where they must care for and look out for their parents. The same reasons that are true for their children are also true for them.
But the most important reason for all of us at every age is the fact that we live our lives “in the Lord.” We live as those who through baptism have shared in Jesus’ saving death. We have been born again through water and the Spirit so that we now live our lives in Christ. We live according to the words that Jesus spoke before entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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