When Your Children Ask… *

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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Deuteronomy 6:4-25

I have to confess to you that amid all the things that caught my eye and ear this morning in the long passage, this one keeps coming to me:

“When your children ask you in times to come…”

When your children ask you… that tells me that children have always been asking the hard questions… for thousands of years. I took a quick poll around the office and asked what people thought were some of the questions that can drive a parent crazy.

Here are a few: Why do I have to eat this? Why can’t I have a dog, cat, tv, phone (parents, you insert your own child’s request here). Why do I have to go to school?

Then, there are those theological and church questions just haunt most parents. [that’s when some of you come to the preacher’] Fortunately for me, Anna and Joe always asked their mother:

Why do I have to go to church?… SS… Youth Group?” and the universal answer of all ages is, “because I told you so… or because I’m bigger than you!” (either one will do) I know, I know we swore we’d never use that answer, but let’s admit… it is sort of the default Parent answer for all time.

Then there are those other questions: Where do babies come from? Where do we go when we die? Why do we baptize babies? Why do we take communion? When can I take communion? These are good questions.

Moses knows that the children will ask good questions like those as they grow up in the faith. One of the questions that children will ask is this:

“What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” [Why do we have to obey all this stuff?]

And what is interesting to me is the response. He doesn’t begin to go down each decree or statute in a Moses’s catechism kind of way. A Q and A format. You know, like many of us learned when we were children.

Presbyterians had the shorter catechism beginning with the question:

‘What is the chief end of man/humans?” And faithful Presbyterian children learned to repeat the right answer; “To Glorify God and Enjoy God forever”

Then many children who proceeded to learn other answers from the catechism, learned answers to questions like “What is God?”-Answer: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (“Little Jody, anymore questions?” Um, I don’t think so!)

So when our text today has the children asking their questions about decrees, statutes and all that… what interests me is that Moses tells them to answer the questions by telling a story… “Once upon a time, we were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord saved us…” and they are to teach the children a story.

Moses is not so much interested in the children knowing the right answer for a pop quiz… no, Moses wants the children to know their story- to remember who they are… and whose they are. Then they will know that the rules, decrees – call them what you will-were given by God as a gift of grace… not simply as a set of rules. That they are there for our own good.

Deuteronomy is, in many ways a book that is very concerned that we will forget-who we are and whose we are. William Willimon tells the story from his teen years of his mother’s words to him when he would leave the house to go on a date. She would stop him at the door and say, “Don’t forget who you are.” He says, “I knew what she meant by that. It had nothing to do with me remembering my name and address. My mother worried that I would be alone on a date, or at a party, and forget my values, and answer to some alien name. [William H. Willimon, Remember Who You Are: Baptism, a Model for Christian Life. Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1980. 105 ff.] I understand. It is easy to forget who you are in a world like ours. Life sends us so many mixed messages.

Who am I? The educational system says: “You are a rational, thinking being. Knowledge is power. It’s not who you are but what you know. “Who am I? Movies, TV, and the songs on the radio tell you: “You are mostly a sexual being, made to lust and be lusted after. “Who am I? Advertisers say: “You are a consumer of goods and services. You are here to pay a mortgage and expand your credit limit.”

Who am I? Work will tell you that you are what you do. Then when you retire, you wonder who you are. Who am I? A modern, secular world says: “You are number one. If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. There are no values in life except those that help you get ahead.”  And on the answers go. Who am I? If we don’t teach our children that they are children of God… that they belong to God… that they were created to love and serve the living God… that in Christ they are chosen, embraced and loved dearly by God… who will? If we don’t teach our children, how will they know? So this is what I think is going on today in the passage: This is a passage about remembering who we are…. For you know and I know that as time passes, and memories fade, it is easy to forget. Moses knows this.

I bet people of the WWII era know something of what Moses is concerned about. We speak of D-Day, Pearl Harbor… erect monuments… establish sacred ground for what reason? So we will never forget… the story… and how that story tells us who we are. The concern is that this generation will forget. Jews want us to remember the Holocaust… lest we forget as humanity and they forget as Jews, who they are.

Moses is concerned that over time we’ll forget we we are.

So he gives a speech hoping they will remember some important things including words that Jesus would use when asked which of all the statutes and laws are most important…. Jesus will quote Moses… the Shema we memorized last lent:

“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might…”Keep these words, Moses says… write them on your heart… tell them to your children… make them memorize them… these words are that important to understanding who you are…

Furthermore, says Moses, don’t you ever forget… once you have settled into your new home… a land of opportunity and freedom… a land of promise and prosperity… don’t you ever, ever forget that you were given this land by God… that this, as is true of all of your life, is a gift of God’s grace. You are going to be living in cities that you did not build… you will be blessed with all sorts of goods that you did not fill… you will have vineyards and olive groves and plantations … and life will be good. But never, ever forget that it was the Lord who brought you here. Don’t become one of those people who said, “I did it all by myself… ” You will sound like a 2 year old.

I’m reminded of something Tom Are Sr. once said when he was preaching at my home church in Riverside. Tom had the gift of sarcasm. He said something like, “Wasn’t I smart to choose my parents that could give me a secure home and a good education? Wasn’t it smart of me to choose a family that would raise me in the faith? Wasn’t I so bright to be born in America and as a white person living in a racially segregated south? … Man was I smart…”and he went on and on.”

You know, you begin to think like that if you forget who you are. Tom, in his own way was helping me to remember that whoever I am, whatever I have… even my intelligence, my position in life, whatever success I may have… it all first came as a gift. I did nothing to earn it. It came from God. Tom was helping me to remember who I was.

I think Moses wants us to remember that who we are and all we have is a gift from God. Moses wants us to remember… because our story and even the rules and laws that God gives us… were given to us as a gift… so that all would go well with us.

Remembering who we are and whose we are… and the way of life God intends for us is a gift… a gift I hope we’ll pass on to our children. It is the gift that will give them life.

So when your kids, or when you ask questions like:

“Why should I go to church?”-you might say something like: because this is our family… we are going to a family gathering of those who are a part of the family of God… and I want you to know your family.

Or “Why should I read the Bible?” Maybe the answer is simple… This is your family story. Our family story. As sure as I am a child of Joe and Martha Welker, even more, I am a child of God and this is our story. This is the story that helps us remember who we are, whose we are and how life may go well with us.

I remember a story Fred Craddock tells about a time he was visiting Israel…

Fred was riding through the wilderness in a car… and the driver is pointing out the sights. He says to Fred… “Here is where we fought hard when the enemy came upon us. We knew they were coming up this pass… so we posted soldiers here and here.” The guy went on to describe the battle. Finally Fred asks,

“Which war are you talking about? Are you talking about the war 0f 67?”

Driver says, “No, I’m talking about the Maccabean war… (took place 200 years before Christ was born)Fred was surprised. He told the driver: “You talk as if you were there.” Driver said, “I was”

And so were you. So was I.

One of the great responsibilities we have as families and in the church for ourselves and especially for our children is to help them remember the story of their family of faith. The story of who we really are. There are lots of stories out there… sports stories… business stories… stories of the American dream… hard work, all of that. But Moses, wants us to remember that this is THE story that tells us who we are and is the story of our gracious and loving God … who gives us decrees and words and rules… for one main reason- so that all may go well with you as you live your life.

This is our story. Let’s not ever forget it. Amen.