"Passing It On"


Jul 13, 2014

Sorry no audio was recorded due to technical difficulties.



            Mickey Mantle, my childhood hero and the Hall of Fame center fielder for the New York Yankees, was going to Yogi Berra's apartment and he got lost.  He stopped at a pay phone ... remember there were no cell phones in the 50's, and called Yogi, the Yankee catcher who also became a Hall of Fame member, and said, "Yogi, I'm trying to find your apartment, where is it?"  Yogi said, "Where are you now?"  He said, "I'm at the corner of 5th and Main." Yogi said, "Well, just keep coming in this direction," and hung up.

            The nation of Israel was finally headed in the right direction.  In less than two weeks they would enter the promised land.  They had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and they were now poised to cross the Jordan, conquer Canaan, and claim a new beginning.  Earlier Moses had come down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and now he returns with additional laws and statutes covering a variety of topics like burnt offerings, clean and unclean foods, rules of warfare, rebellious children ... in other words, laws and statutes covering just about every situation a person might face in life.  And Moses' job was to communicate all these statutes and ordinances to the people prior to their entering the Promised Land, and this will be his farewell address to them.  Joshua will take over for Moses after this speech, and the speech goes all the way through the thirtieth chapter.  We will only read the introduction to it this morning, particularly that part that deals with our Vision Statement.  I'm referring to the middle of the vision statement where it reads, "We will find creative ways to reach young families and nurture children into the Kingdom of God."  Kindly take out your bibles and turn to the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy and follow along as I read. 


            Now this is the commandmentthe statutes and the ordinancesthat the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your childrens children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel,


            He'll say that again in just a bit.  He'll say, "Hear, O Israel."  In other words, "Listen up.  Pay attention.  Look me in the eye and read my lips.  This is important." 


            Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.


            Those last words, that we heard Jesus quote last Sunday, are often referred to as the Shema.  The Shema is the first two of the Ten Commandments, no other gods before me and no graven images, stated positively.  It is the central command, the primary creed, the summary statement of the Jewish faith.  By the way, you may have noticed we have moved the list of the Ten Commandments from the north wall to the west wall of our sanctuary.  That's because the people in this middle section seem to be doing very well when it comes to following the Ten Commandments, and the group who regularly sits over there needed a refresher course.  :)  Back to the text. 


            Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


            Before we turn to the instructions concerning children, I want to say something about our Jewish brothers and sisters.   For centuries Jewish homes have been recognizable from the outside by the presence of a mezuzah.  The word "mezuzah" literally means "doorpost" in Hebrew, and it has come to refer to the small container in which a piece of parchment has been inscribed with our passage for today, specifically verses 4-9 as well as Deuteronomy 11:13-21.  These verses comprise the Jewish prayer "Shema Yisrael", or in English "Hear, O Israel."  A mezuzah is affixed to the doorframe ... right side, upper third of the doorframe ... in Jewish homes to fulfill the Biblical commandment to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house."  Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah on every doorway except closets.  The parchment is prepared by a qualified scribe who has undergone many years of meticulous training, and the verses are written in black indelible ink with a special quill pen.  The parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case.  A mezzuzah, then, functions somewhat like a display sign on a business, proclaiming to those outside what they will find within - lives committed to upholding and continuing the Torah. 

            Another symbol connected to the Shema is tefillin or phylacteries - leather boxes worn as reminders of faith that are bound "on your hand and ... as a symbol on your forehead." Specifically, one leather box (tefillin shel yad) is bound to the arm and hand, while the other (tefillin shel rosin) is tied to the forehead.   Both contain parchments inscribed with the scriptural passages stipulating the practice of wearing the tefillin.  The tefillin are worn every day when the morning service is prayed.  Women are exempt from this practice.  Only men are to wear them, beginning at age 13.  Again these are visible, everyday symbols of faith which are passed on from generation to generation.

            So, if you ever run across a mezuzah on a doorpost of a home, or a small box attached to someones arm and hand and forehead, you know they originate in our passage for today.

            Enough about that.  Let's turn to what Moses had to say about passing the faith from one generation to the next generation.  Let's read that again.  Verses six and seven.


            Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.


            It would be much easier to put a mezuzah on our doorpost or to wear a tefillin on our forehead.  This is another matter.  This is a challenge.  In light of Moses' instructions, I want to make a couple of comments.

            In passing along the faith to another generation, children's Sunday School is not enough.  Now, that in no way is to denigrate what our Teri and Susan and others have done with our children over the years.  And one the things I regret is never having attended Sunday School as a child.  My friends who went to Sunday School learned some cool stuff.  For example, they learned the song "Jesus loves me this I know."  You have probably heard the name Karl Barth, probably the best theologian of the twentieth century.  He was asked near the end of his remarkable career to state the most significant truth he had come across in his lifetime of study. After a moment of thought he is reported to have answered, "Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

            My friends in Sunday School learned, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world."   I lived through the sixties.  So did some of you.  We who lived through the sixties remember the Civil Rights struggles of the decade.  We remember the assassinations.  We remember the race riots and the tear gas.  But if we ever gave thought to that Sunday School song that we sang, we knew that things had to change.  Fortunately for all of us, changes have come.  We are not finished yet, but changes have come.

            My friends in Sunday School learned to sing, "The B I B L E, yes, that's the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God, the B I B L E."  There are many good books in the world, but there are none like THE good book.  It has been called a Christian Owner's Manual.  That's one of the lessons kids have learned for years in Sunday School.

            My friends also learned to sing, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."  Right from the get go, from that simple, little song children learn that we have a mission in this world.  Children learn in Sunday School that one of the best ways to share the gospel is by the way they live.

            Sunday School teaches so much.  But it's not enough.  As great as children's Sunday School is and can be, it takes a back seat to what happens in the home.  That's the second comment I want to make.  The primary teacher, the primary passer-alonger of the Christian faith is the same as it's always been ... mom and dad.

            In 1947, the year before I was born, a sociologist at Harvard University named, Carl Zimmerman, published a book entitled, Family and Civilization.  In that book, he traced the history of the family from its beginning to the present day ... in his case 1947 ... and he argued that the heart of society is the nuclear family - at one time a mom and dad and 2.2 children, but now the nuclear family comes in all sorts of configurations.  His book made the case that as the family goes, so goes society.  He said that you can tell where a society is headed and where a culture is going by looking through the prism of the family.  When what goes on behind closed family doors is in decline it won't be long until the culture is in decline.

            What Zimmerman wrote back in 1947 still applies today.  Moses makes it clear that the blue print for a healthy Israel begins with parents, the ability of parents to pass along the faith ... model the faith ... in every day life, when they are stretched out on the couch or when they are getting up to face another day, the blueprint for a healthy future of Israel begins with the parents.  A nation never rises above its homes and a home seldom rises above its parents.

            The primary place of passing along the faith to another generation is not here within these walls, although we do a lot to do that.  The primary place for passing along the faith is the home.  We are just here to help, to supplement what you are doing in your home. 

            I heard about a Sunday school teacher that was talking to a group of kids and he asked them the question, "Why do you love God?"  As he went down the line, he got a variety of answers, but the one he liked best came from a little boy sitting on the end of the row and he said, "Mr. Smith, I don't know why I love God. I guess it just runs in my family."

            It really doesn't matter what else we give our children if we do not give them a real love for God.  What good does it do to raise our children in the finest home, to give them the finest education, to see to it they get the finest job, to help them marry the finest person, to enable them to have the finest career, to lead them to reach the finest position in life, to be buried in the finest casket, given the finest funeral, laid in the finest grave, only to stand before a God in eternity they never knew and they never loved.

            Moses said, "What I have told you, talk about this with your children."  Home has always been the child's first classroom.  Home is where right and wrong are taught.  Home is where children learn that actions have consequences.  Home is where kids learn personal responsibility - how to be kind and courteous, how to submit to authority, how to practice selflessness.  Home is where we are to learn the two most important lessons we ever learn - that is how to love God and how to love others.

            When a parent says, "I'm not going to force my kids to come to church" or "I'm not going to impose my spiritual values on my kids", that parent has just done two things.  First of all, he or she has created a vacuum that the world will be more than happy to fill.  Secondly, he or she has basically said, "God is an option."  I am here to tell you today that God is not an option. Teaching our children values and teaching our kids character and teaching our kids God's love and understanding and compassion and God's expectations of us is our job as parents.

            I don't know about you, but I love children ... not babies ... I'm not too fond of babies ... they are really high maintenance ... but I love children.  I hope this will always be a place that loves children and supports families.  Amen.