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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon Deuteronomy 6:5-Faith Formation (B. Weier)

Prayer: God you are our God alone. We strive everyday to live in your word and to share that word with others especially those who live in our homes and are in our daily lives. We ask that you keep our hearts centered on you and that our every breath be like prayer. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ, your Word and love made flesh among us, amen.
Grace and peace to you from God our creator, Jesus Christ our redeemer and the Holy Spirit our animator, amen.

Shema Israel, Yahweh elohim Yahweh ehad. Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is God alone or ehad can be translated as first. God first. The Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 passage is one of my favorite in the whole Bible and calls me to ministry and has framed my ministry. It was important for the Israelite people as well, so important that they recited Deut. 6: 4-9 twice a day…once in the morning and once at night. They recited it in the morning to remind them that they were to keep God the focus of their own lives that day as well as the importance of teaching God to their children and their children’s children. They recited it at night before bed as a way of reflecting on how they did keeping God as the center of their lives and teaching what it means to belong to God to the next generation. According to this passage every fiber of their being is to belong to God and God was with them always in every time and place.
            The Israelites knew instinctively that if they did not teach their children about God then who would? The imperative to the parents to teach their children in this passage is clear. It is worth noting that our passage this morning doesn’t say be sure to get them to Sunday school or be sure that they go to confirmation so that they know about God. Nor does it say that only the  priests were responsible for teaching the children about God. No it is clear that the parents and everyone in the community at all times and in all places should be passing on their deep and abiding faith in God.
            Now at this point it is clear that an apology is in order. In the past 70 years or so the mainline Protestant Christian Church has adopted a model of ministry based on our western culture of there are experts in a field and there are novices. If you want to know about something, go to an expert-someone who has gone to school for years and seems to know everything that there is about a subject. As a society, we have come to believe that there is always someone who knows better than us how we should do something. As parents, we began to trust teachers, doctors, child care providers, police officers and yes, even clergy, with the care and development of our children over our own instinct. We were told that these people were the experts and that we did not know enough to effectively raise our own kids! Or if we were unsure or nervous about talking to our kids about God then just bring them to the Church and let us do it for you.
The intent behind this was noble and an attempt to help parents and families. The Church fell into this model with the best of reasons…but it was a false notion that experts could form faith better than parents and other caring adults who lived with the children in community. We neglected our own tradition of faith being formed through personal relationships by people who really care for each other. We neglected to trust the Holy Spirit in our conversations and interactions. As someone who has worked for the Church in education for better than 15 years and is just as guilty of this…let me now say…I am sorry. Not just to you here today but to all of the parents, including myself, who now think that we are not qualified to form faithful followers of God ourselves in our own home and that it takes some sort of special training to teach our children about God.
            To move forward we have to recover our scriptures and look closely at what is actually said. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the experts are the ones bearing the good news and so get your kids to them! God doesn’t care if we know everything before we can talk to our kids or anyone about God. God wants families and communities to journey together in their relationship with God, even if it is imperfectly. The most important thing to God is that it is happening-not what level of expertise one may have about the Bible. Studies in faith formation has shown that the most important influence on young people and their spiritual development is the mother with the father a close second. Pastors are usually down the list a bit-sometimes they are as high as number 3 but usually they are around 5 or 6 on the list behind other relatives and friends.
            Parents are the first care-givers for a child and have a great wealth of knowledge about how that particular child learns, interacts and thinks. Equipping the home to be the heart of faith formation must now be our imperative if we want the next generation to Christ centered.
            Now you are saying ok this is all well and good Intern pastor Brigette but now what? Well, the “now what” is not simple and it is not quick. As caring Christian adults we all must every morning and night ask how we are doing centering our lives on scriptures as the Israelites did. Are we talking to the next generation about the good news of presence of God? For you see it is not just the biological parents who are responsible for faith formation. The studies I talked about earlier also discovered that it takes 5-7 Christian adults to raise a Christian child. This is beyond mom and dad and even aunts and uncles. We know that every Christian adult is a Christian parent whether or not they have any biological children. This also means for someone like myself who does have children that I still have a responsibility to other children and youth around me. I am as responsible for Mikaela Baumert, Madison Petrock, or Maegan Walker, or Jessie Kranzler or any of the other children here faith formation as I am Kayla and Andrew’s. Anytime we baptize in the Lutheran church (and in many other mainline churches) we promise to be a part of that child’s faith formation. When the parents promise to bring that child to church that means we promise for there to be something here for that child to learn about God.
            As I said before, this is not necessarily simple but there is a simple way to start. I don’t know if you have noticed my monthly newsletter articles have become household devotions. There will be one every month and perhaps occasionally with a sermon. If you look at them they have four components 1) devotion on a scripture 2) faith sharing conversation around that scripture 3) a ritual that reinforces the scripture and 4) a service idea. These four areas are key components to faith formation. Our Deuteronomy text tells us as much: 1) recite the scripture (devotion) 2) talk about it all day long (faith sharing-conversation) 3) bind it on your foreheads, hands (ritual) and 4) if you are placing the word of God on your doorposts then you are serving the world by proclaiming God not just in Word but in deed.  All who enter your home will be moved by your faith. These four areas remind us that the good news of God in Jesus Christ makes a difference not just in the church but in our homes.
            It makes a difference, in my preschool back in OR we sent home weekly devotions structured around these four areas tying into something that we were doing in school. On Palm Sunday every year the weekday preschool children lead the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer so we, of course, recited it in school everyday. We sent home devotions on the Lord’s Prayer complete with a ritual and a service project. The ritual was praying the Lord’s Prayer together and then making the sign of the cross on the children’s foreheads before bed time and saying, May the Lord Bless you and keep you. We knew that parents may be uneasy with that so we decided to model it by blessing each child with this ritual at pick-up time at the end of the school day.
One mom a couple weeks after the Palm Sunday worship pulled me aside at drop off to tell me a story. The little girl Ella who had been coming to our preschool that year was so excited about the Lord’s Prayer. Her father was not churched and didn’t know it. Mom revealed that there was some tension between her and Ella’s dad over Ella even going to a Lutheran preschool. He didn’t see the need for God talk in their home. But Ella was so excited about learning the Lord’s Prayer that the father decided to learn it with her. At the Palm Sunday worship the father came to sit right in front of Ella in the front pew to recite it with her. I thought that maybe he was up front to calm Ella. But apparently Ella had insisted that her dad say it with her that morning. Ella then began asking her dad to do the blessing that Miss Brigette and Miss Tonia was giving her. Her dad at first said no but after Ella said, “But daddy I want a blessing from you,” he immediately did the blessing and did so every night from that night on. The mother then said that they now do the devotions as a family and it has changed how they talk to one another, how they spend their time and how they now worry more about helping others. What’s more, when friends come over for dinner they still did the devotions but included the friends. Then she looked sheepish and said….don’t be offended but sometimes we change your devotion or make up our own! I was not only not offended but moved to tears.
They were living out the Deut. 6. They had fully claimed the role that God had given them from the time that Ella was born. They understood that God was present not just in church but in their home and everywhere that they went. They understood that God was using them to pass faith on to their children and others. They fully recognized the difference that the good news of Jesus Christ makes in their family and in the lives and relationships with their children. Shema Israel Yahweh Elohim Yahweh ehad, Hear all of us that the Lord our God is first-in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls and in our homes. Amen!

~Brigette Weier author and preacher

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