TELL THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. Deuteronomy 6:4-9. June 13, 2004
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when your rise.
– Deuteronomy 6:6-7a
Somewhere in our house is an old, dark blue book with worn covers. When I was a child, my mother would read to me from this book and show me the beautiful colour plates. The name of the book is Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible, and the colour plates are depictions of biblical characters such as Elijah, King David, Jesus, and Paul. Since the book was published in the western world, needless to say, the people look more like westerners than like people from the Middle East. Of course, as a child I was not sensitive to these things – that came quite a bit later. But at that time, those colour plates held my interest, and helped me to be interested in the Bible stories that my mother read to me from the book.
Last Sunday we baptized young Evan. And today we have blessed and welcomed Anna and Grace and Katherine into the church. But how do children learn the stories about the love of God for them? How do they grow up knowing that they are beloved children of God? Obviously they learn these things because we tell them. We who are their parents and their grandparents. We who are their sisters and brothers in Christ. We who are fellow members of the family of faith here at Trinity.
The Old Testament reading this morning is known as the Shema. Listen while I read it again:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when your rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
How do children learn the stories of their family, the stories of their people, the stories of their history and their faith? They learn them because you and you and you and I tell them. Because we recite these words to our children.
Three summers ago I attended for the first time The Upper Room’s Spiritual Growth Conference in North Carolina, and the Teacher each morning was the Reverend Tom Albin who is Program Director at the Upper Room. Tom told us how when their children were young, he and his wife would often say to them, “We love you very much, and we’re so glad God sent you to be part of our family.” The book of Deuteronomy says to “Tell these words to your children.” And of course if you also affix them to your hand and to your forehead and to the door of your home, your children will be asking you why they are there and what they mean.
At that same conference, a woman named Betty Cloyd offered a workshop entitled “Parents and Grandparents as Spiritual Guides.” Betty has developed what she calls “the Hannah Promise” for parents and “the Lois Promise” for grandparents. Both of these promises are based on Bible stories. Parents who accept the Hannah Promise agree to do three things: 1) Pray at least fifteen minutes a day for my children; 2) Bring my children into God’s presence by teaching them to pray and by taking them to God’s house as often as possible; and 3) Recognize that all children (my own and the children of the world) are gifts from God and are our greatest treasure.”
And when grandparents accept the Lois Promise, they also agree to “endeavour through scripture, prayer, stories, and example to pass my faith on to my grandchildren.” And both parents and grandparents say, “I will order my life in such a way as to provide the proper emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual nurture for my own children [or grandchildren], and will honestly endeavor, with God’s help, to reach out to provide this nurture to at least one child who is not receiving it.” How wonderful it would be if we would all accept and live by one of these promises, and if we’re not a parent or grandparent, then adapting them for our own situation.
You know, this reminds me of an important saying from Africa: “it takes a whole community to raise a child.” And I find that it also take a whole church – a whole community of faith – to raise a child in Christian faith. Not just the parents and grandparents. Not just the nursery workers and Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders. It take all of us to embrace these children and enfold them and incorporate them into the life of faith.
This past week I was in a conversation with a young mother who is the Sunday School Superintendent at another United Church here in Montreal. She is discouraged because in her church the people are not appreciative of and welcoming of the children. They find them to be a bother and a disturbance. I was able to encourage her by the fact that this is not true everywhere, and to share the many ways that children are valued and included here at Trinity, of how we had just confirmed two young people and one young adult, of things like the Intergenerational Choir and the Instrumentalists, and the long-standing importance of youth groups at Trinity. I believe that we do know that it does take a whole community to raise a child in faith, and in many and diverse ways we do that – some of them planned and others just happen naturally.
So it takes a whole church – a whole community of faith – to raise a child in Christian faith. If and when the children act up, let us keep in mind this African saying, and also the Shema from the Bible to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children…” Let us continue to teach them the meaning of baptism and of communion, which we celebrate this day. And let us say to our own children – and to our church children: “we love you very much, and we’re so glad God sent you to be part of our family.” Amen.