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Hand-Me-Down Faith

Hand-Me-Down Faith (Mother’s Day 2018) John 17:6-19

Have you ever heard of Karl Barth? If you’ve been to seminary you have!

Barth was a Swiss Reformed pastor... who just happened to be one of the most prolific theologians of the 20th Century. He’s best known for his theological work called “Church Dogmatics” - a 14-volume commentary that’s over 6 Million words in length (he was a touch wordy!). Compare that to the Bible, which is just over 780,000 words.

Don’t worry... my sermon today is only about 1200 words. :)

Barth was once asked about his theology, and if he could sum up his understanding of God in one, simple, sentence... and given the “long-winded” nature of Barth, those who heard his response were kinda shocked... when Barth said...

“Yes... I learned it all at my mother’s knee: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

Evidence of the love of God is especially vivid in the Gospels. Because Jesus, as the Word of God, the Mind of God, the Character of God in the flesh... is the embodiment of God’s love. A love that not only sacrifices itself to give us life (as believers)... but also offers us the perfect example of what that love actually looks like... so that we can follow... so that we can walk in the way of Christ without excuse... as we strive to live lives that are pleasing to God.

Barth said, “Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is himself the way.”

Of course, the “example setting” of Jesus is on full display in our scripture lesson for today. Our lesson’s part of a prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples.

I think most of the time, when we contemplate Jesus praying we think of the Lord’s Prayer - or maybe when Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me... yet not my will but yours be done.” Our lesson shows us that Jesus spent time praying for others... which sets a pretty powerful example for us, doesn’t it?

Jesus knew that he would soon be physically separated from his disciples... the result of his crucifixion... and that fear, uncertainty, anxiety would threaten their faith. So he prayed for his disciples to be cared for, to be protected.

Jesus was completely aware that his disciples first and foremost belonged to God. He’d taught his disciples about the Kingdom, and had prepared them as best he could regarding what was to come. So he entrusted his disciples to the Father’s care... which is especially poignant on Mother’s Day.

Jesus said of his disciples, “They were yours... you gave them to me.” Almost any mother would agree with the statement that their children are gifts from God. But how seriously do we take that statement? Do we consciously think of our children and grandchildren - our family members in general - as gifts from God? Do we honestly think of those we love most as belonging to God or belonging to us?

Most of the time I am aware that my children are gifts from God. But there are times with I’d happily give them back! Return to sender! Because when they’re giving grief... heartache... anxiety... they don’t seem like gifts, do they!?

But our children (our families) are gifts from God! And, in the end, they’re not our own... they belong to God. We’re caretakers, stewards of the gifts God has given.

It’s when we remember that our children/families and loved ones are gifts from God, that we can give thanks to God... even when they cause anxiety... when they clog up the toilet... or when they untie their shoes for the umpteenth time while you’re getting them dressed - or when they make life choices that hurt themselves and others. As parents, and members of a Covenant community... we have a responsibility to teach our children (and those around us) the way of Christ! We all promise to uphold that responsibility every time we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

We’re called to teach our children... and the children under our care... that simple, yet profound message: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We’re called to hand our faith down... one generation to another...

Of course, bringing children to church is just the beginning, but some people treat it like it’s the only thing that’s necessary! Parents need to know the Gospel, too. We can’t teach what we don’t know... we can’t share what we don’t have. As parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles... as people of the Covenant (who are all part of the Family of Faith)... we need to make church, and prayer, and service to others a priority... It has to be important to us if we ever expect it to be important to our children, or to anyone else!

I thank God for a “hand-me-down” faith! I thank God for a family that reared me in Church! For a mother who took me to church... I wasn’t just dropped off - the responsibility was never imposed on someone else.

I can see my mother teaching Sunday school... working in the nursery and leading Children’s Church. She was involved, my family was involved... and that’s so important... more important than many in our culture realize.

Because when our children can see and hear that God’s Word and God’s House are important to us... it becomes important to them. If it’s all just an afterthought... or something you tend to when you have extra time, or nothing else to do... then it becomes an afterthought to our children, too.

Jesus has given us the example to follow... by praying for those he loved. How often do you pray for our children, for our families... for our bothers & sisters in the church? Not just in times of crisis... but everyday! Are we faithful to entrust those we love to God's care...

If the main goal... and purpose... of our life together is to truly and faithfully “hand-down” what has so graciously been “handed-down” to us; if we took seriously our responsibility to both promote the Gospel and to pray for (and encourage) the people we love the most - by our actions and deeds - it would transform the world.

Jesus is our example... and our redeemer. I know that almost everyone here knows the things we’ve talked about today: We already know that our children... our family... our church family... are gifts... gifts from God himself. Maybe we should also acknowledge our need and calling, to pray for our children... and our families... our friends... and even our enemies.

After all... like it or not, they’re our disciples... they’re learning from us what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our faith has always been “hand-me-down” - as we pass on everything we know about God... using both our words and actions... just as Jesus did. I suppose, in the end, Karl Barth was right: he learned what truly mattered most... at his mother’s knee:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

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