Christian Education Sunday- August 26, 2018
“Christian Teaching; Christian Learning”
Our Lord Jesus Christ loves children. He says “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them”. He uses children as an example, a paragon of faith. And there is much we could say about this. But on this Christian Education Sunday, we're going to focus especially on these words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:
“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”
This passage comes as part of Moses' farewell to the Israelites. You know the story of the Exodus, how God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh's armies. How he brought them to Mount Sinai, met with Moses there, and gave them the 10 commandments, and established a covenant with them. He had them construct a tabernacle, and the ark and all its appointments. He gave them a system of sacrifice to deal with sin. He promised to be their God, and they would be his people. And he was bringing them to a good land – flowing with milk and honey.
They grumbled and rebelled. It would take 40 years, an entire generation, before God decided they were ready to take possession of their inheritance. Through it all, he sustained them with daily bread from heaven. And he would also go before them to conquer the Canaanites and deliver the promised land to them. This story would be repeated by the prophets and the people throughout their history, and even we gentiles repeat and rehearse it today – for through this little nation he was working out his plan of salvation for the whole world. From this nation would come the Savior Jesus Christ.
Moses wasn't going with them into Canaan. He would die on Mt. Nebo – just overlooking the border into that land. But before he died he wrote them (by the Spirit's inspiration) a farewell sermon – Deuteronomy. That name actually means, “second law”. It reiterates the words and promises of God, as well as his commands. In fact the 10 commandments are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. So when Moses teaches them the word of God here, it isn't the fist time they heard it; it was a repetition.
And Moses is encouraging the people to keep repeating these words of God, in various ways, as they also teach them to their children. Morning, noon and night. Rising and sleeping. Sitting and walking. In and out of the house. Anywhere and everywhere. Anytime. The word, the word, the word. We do well to heed his advice.
Christian Education is nothing other than receiving the very Word of God. So in some ways, it seems superfluous to have a “Christian Education” emphasis – as every Sunday we gather – Christian Education is going on. Of course this happens first and foremost in the Divine Service. When we gather around God's word. We read it, hear it, learn it and inwardly digest it. In fact Jesus Christ, as the living embodiment of that word is central to it all. When we receive the Word of God, we receive Jesus, and vice versa.
Oh, and it's not just an intellectual “learning”, by the way. Though surely there is a head-knowledge component. But Christian Education is a training of the heart in God's word more than anything. It is a spiritual matter, an exercise of faith. The sermon is less a classroom lesson and more a proclamation. So if you didn't “learn anything” on a given Sunday in church, that's ok. You're still hearing the word – and faith comes by hearing. And the central gathering of Christians for this endeavor is in our weekly worship.
But just as Moses implored the Israelites to eat, sleep and drink the Word in various ways, so we modern Christians have our own ways of fulfilling these commands. For about 100 years we've had something called “Sunday School”, in which we intentionally teach the Bible to our children at age-appropriate levels. Sure there's arts and crafts and fun and games, and if you're lucky some flannel-graph visual aids, but that's not what it's all about. It's about Jesus. It's about God's word. It's about teaching our children this precious heritage of faith that we have received, and which they will not receive in a world that has grown increasingly hostile. Thanks be to God for those who teach, and those who learn in our Sunday School classes.
We have for years hosted a Vacation Bible School – and engaged the wider community with an invitation to come hear and learn about Christ.
So also, we've established here, a Christian school. Like many Lutheran Churches, we recognize the value of providing this service to our own members and the larger community. What a blessing to learn not only the 3 r's, Latin and History, music and art – but to do it all alongside of daily training in the Word. And as a classical school, the children in our care also learn by great emphasis on repetition – and certainly by repeating and memorizing the Word of God. Thanks be to God for the blessings of Lutheran Schools, and of the School we are blessed to operate at Messiah. Apart from the ministry of Word and Sacrament, our school is our greatest mission and our primary cooperative undertaking as a congregation. Let us continue to support it through our prayers, our gifts, and our encouragement.
Ah, but what of the adults? Does Christian Education exclude those of us who have graduated from school, been confirmed in the faith, who've been Christians our whole lives and perhaps even have a Master of Divinity degree? By no means! Aren't we beyond all that? Are we past it all? Haven't we heard all this before?
Moses wouldn't have any of that. These words of God – his commandment and promises – ought to be on our hearts and minds as children, and on our lips also as adults. We are never to stop teaching them and rehearsing them and cherishing them. Nor ought we ever think we've mastered them. We are all disciples of Christ, that is to say, students. Or to use a more modern buzz-word, life-long-learners of the faith.
For our sinful nature is stubborn. Our Old Adam does not go gently into the night. He is hard-hearted and hard-headed. He needs the Law of God to continually expose his sin. He needs to be knocked off his perpetual pedestal of self-righteousness. If we could only just stop sinning – maybe it would be different. But as long as the flesh is with us, as long as sin clings to us, the law must teach us our true need for Christ.
But likewise the Gospel – it's not a one-time deal. Jesus sacrificial death for your sins, and his rising from the dead to destroy death for you – this isn't just the introduction to our faith, it's the meat-and-potatoes of our faith. It is the everyday joy and blessing, the living water of refreshment and the daily nourishment for our soul. The grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, the promises of peace and hope and life in Christ – Christians should be steeped in the good news. It is a daily blessing. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our constant and sure stronghold against all storms of the world, assaults of the devil, and doubts of the flesh. Repeat, repeat, repeat the good news of Jesus. Hear it again and again and again. It's so good, this news never gets old.
(Catechesis) Hear from Dr. Luther about learning the catechism:
But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as
learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and
mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have
time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read
and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten
Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and
study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but
must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so
gladly.(Preface to the Large Catechism)
If the great reformer can so humbly remain committed to his own Christian Education, and even in the simplest terms. If your own pastors remain students of the word. And your fellow Christians continue to join you as disciples and students of the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. Then surely you also do well to abide in his word every day.
There's always more poking and prodding the law will do to you, exposing sins you didn't even know you had. Showing you the way of holiness God expects. And there's ever more grace to be seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ever more mercy to be found in him, ever more blood to cover your sins. And so we teach the children. And so we learn, ourselves. And so we grow in knowledge and faith and fear of the Lord. To our last day, when the pastor at our bedside speaks those same precious words and prepares us to enter his courts forever. God's word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever. In Jesus Christ. Amen.