This week we are continuing in our sermon series titled “Back To School” where we are looking at teachers and important lessons about teaching that we find in the Bible. This week we look at some Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament.
I was blessed at the very beginning of my life with two very loving and patient parents. Throughout my entire life they were always there for me, caring for me, loving me, and teaching me. Our house was a home of love and joy. We spent time together as a family and supported each other. I know that I have been blessed.
And I say that because I know that not everyone grows up in this same kind of environment. Some people lose parents early in life or over time. Some people grow up in homes of anger and dysfunction. I have friends whose parents got divorced early on, and others whose father or mother were never apart of their lives. Sometimes that may end up being for the best, but it does not change the fact that it can make one’s life more challenging.
But I think all of us, regardless of whether we grew up in what we might call a “traditional household” or some other environment, can point to other people in our lives who became like parents to us. Maybe it was our grandparents. Or an older sibling. A cousin perhaps or an aunt or uncle. Maybe a neighbor or a teacher at school. Maybe a pastor or Sunday school teacher. But I think that almost all of us could find people in our lives who have been like parents to us.
And parents, biological or otherwise, play an incredibly important role in our development as children. I am learning that lesson myself right now as I play with AJ and spend time with him. Our parents are our first teachers. They also typically play other roles including our protectors, our comforters, and our providers. But again, they are also our teachers.
We often learn from them our first words. They help us as we crawl and take our first steps. They provide discipline and instruction in how we should behave, treat others, and more. And for many people, our parents are our primary source of learning about our faith. Now that is not always true of course, but for many families, faith is something passed down from generation-to-generation.
When we look at our Scripture reading this morning from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is instructing the people of Israel including some important tasks about teaching. He tells them, “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.” He wants them to remember everything he has taught them from God and about God so that they don’t forget it.
But he goes on to instruct them further as he says, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”
So not only did Moses want them to remember everything, but to pass it along to their children and down the line of the families. And not just to teach them every once in a while. He tells them to talk about them at home and when they are away from home. To constantly be teaching them. And he also tells them to not just teach them verbally either. He says that they should write them on their doorposts of their homes and on their gates. He wants them to surround their children with the teachings of God in all aspects of their lives. Sounds like a big job right?
From as early as I can remember as a child, my parents would have my sisters and I say our prayers before we went to bed. The prayer we prayed went like this: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.” We also prayed before every meal as a family, even if we were eating out at a restaurant in public. And we prayed: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”
Prayer was a constant lesson in my family. But so was faith. We were at church EVERY Sunday for service. And we were involved in our church beyond just going to worship. My parents were in the choir. My dad helped run the sound system. My mom helped count money. My dad also taught Sunday school. My mom also played the piano. They were both involved with various committees over the years as well. And my sisters and I were in Sunday school and all of the pageants and productions. We were also involved with the youth groups.
My parents surrounded my sisters and I with God’s teachings. We talked about them when at home or away. And while they were not written on the doorposts of our home, they were present in other ways. My mother hung pictures that focused on Jesus and his teachings. We had a copy of the ever popular “Footprints” poem in our living room. There was a cross that hung in my room growing up, and I believe it still hangs there today in what is now my father’s study.
My grandparents, on both sides, were the same way. Faith was always shared in their homes and when we were with them. There were many people who played the role of a parent to me throughout my life, and all of them were constantly teaching me about faith and about God. Many of them might not have even realized it though.
As I spoke about last week, when you teach someone something there are really two lessons being taught. The explicit and the implicit. The lesson you intend to teach, and the lesson that you end up teaching based on your actions and follow through. And the thing is that in life. Even when you do not intend to be teaching someone, no explicit lesson being offered, we are constant teaching implicitly.
My parents made it a point to teach my sisters and me about God and faith. But they were also implicitly teaching us all of the time too. From the way they treated others, to how they cared for us, to how they lived their lives. My parents were always teaching us very important lessons whether they were always aware of it or not. And part of that was because as many of you already know, children are always watching and observing.
I see it with my own son every day. He is constantly watching both Sarah and I in everything we do. He is trying to mimic the sounds we make when we talk. Many people have said that children learn to smile from their parents. I don’t know if that is medically true, but I like to think there is some truth in that. AJ’s smile makes my heart melt and is a constant reminder to me that he watches what I do and hears what I say, even if he doesn’t yet understand it all.
But as I said earlier, our biological parents are not the only people who end up filling the role of a parent in our lives. And that was just as true in the time of our story in this week’s reading. When Moses and the Israelites set out into the wilderness they had no one but God and each other to rely on. They had to help raise all of the children, to teach them, to take responsibility for them. Ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? It was especially true back then for the Israelites.
Because you have to remember that they weren’t carrying around the latest copy of the Israelite history book. There may have been some scrolls being lugged around, but few if any to be honest. Their history, their tradition was a verbal one. It was passed on from generation-to-generation around camp fires and watering holes. It was shared again and again with the children because that was the only way it would continue on.
There was no Ancestry.com to go look up stuff on. There were no home movies or picture albums. Everything was passed on verbally, so it makes sense that Moses would tell the people to be constantly teaching these things to their children all of the time. That was the only option they had for such a long time.
Can you imagine if we had to do that today? I don’t know about you but some days I’m lucky if remember what I was doing last week let alone my entire family’s history. And what about families who can trace their lineage back hundreds and hundreds of years? That would take FOREVER to tell your children. At least over the last few decades we have been able to organize more of that information in accessible ways for people.
But, in a way we do kind of do this even today. Right now. In this space every week. We practice our faith and retell the story of our faith here in church. We sing songs about the God we believe in and His son who died to save us from our sins and death. We read Scripture. We celebrate communion. And we do it with our children sitting right next to us. Some may not yet fully understand all of it, but they are watching and listening and observing.
And they are learning from us in the same way when we are not in this space. When we go grocery store. When we take them to school. When we go out to eat. We are constantly teaching them. And we cannot forget that. We need to always be aware of the lessons we are teaching our children and the children around us.
And remember the reason that Moses gives the Israelites to teach their children that comes at the end of our reading, “so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” Or in other words, to be blessed by God. He told them to teach their children so that they would continue in the faith and know about God and worship God.
Shouldn’t that be our motivation today as well? Shouldn’t we teach our children about our faith so that they will continue to know about God and worship God? That they will continue to praise God and do the work that God has called us to in this world? Shouldn’t we teach them about the blessings they receive in their lives and where they come from? God gives blessings to everyone, even if they don’t know God, but the more we know God the more we become aware of those blessings and gifts.
As with most Sundays, I want to again leave you all with a request or challenge. I want you to think about all of the “parents” you have had in this life and the many lessons that they taught you. Then I want you to think about all of the people to whom you might be a “parent” and the lessons that you have been teaching them, whether explicitly or implicitly. Which ones are the easiest? Which ones are the hardest? Which ones are the most important? Which ones hold a special place in our hearts? And are they lessons about our faith that we want our children to carry forward? May you always make the effort that they are and may God always lead your teachings with love and grace.