(A sermon based on Exodus 13:11-16 & Joshua 4:1-7)
One way in which we teach our children is by doing things that prompt their questions. This is especially true when it comes to teaching our children about our faith and about the ways in which we live out our faith. When we perform Christian acts, we provide a tremendous avenue through which we can teach our children of our faith. We can then move from that point to do the actual teaching. In other words, these “opportunities for education” enable us to move our children forward by directing their attention backward.
The two events of which we have read make this point clearly. The first is set within the context of the great Exodus event. To understand it, let us project forward a bit. The date is two hundred years after the Exodus. A sheep has given birth to her first lamb. The father of the family says to his son, “Come, we must make a sacrifice to God.” So father and son go out, take the lamb, and sacrifice it to God. The son wonders about the wisdom of this act because the flock cannot grow if all the lambs are sacrificed. So he asks his father, “Why do we sacrifice the lambs?” His father replies, “We do not sacrifice all of the lambs. We only sacrifice the first-born of any animal. In fact, I made a sacrifice on the say you were born.” “But you did not sacrifice me; I’m still here,” says his son. The father smiles. “No, of course not. To sacrifice a human being would be a terrible thing. When you were born, I sacrificed a lamb in your place. We call that ‘redeeming.’” “I see,” the boy said. “But why do we bother to make these sacrifices? Why is sacrificing the first-born so important?” “I’m glad you asked that, son. Here, sit down. You’ve heard me talk about the Exodus, the time when the Lord brought us out of Egypt. Well, on the night before we left, Pharaoh was still refusing to let us go. So, the death angel came and every first-born of the Egyptians, both human and cattle, died. But the death angel passed over our homes. That is why we observe Passover and it is why I sacrifice all the first-born of the flock. But it also why I redeemed you, my son.”
You see, the religious observance created an opportunity for teaching. To do a religious thing like sacrificing the first-born created a situation in which the father could explain to his son what God had done and how important God was to the family. Notice, though, that a few important things are assumed.
First, it is assumed that faith will be acted out. In Exodus 13, this observance is given as a command. It was to be carried out when the Hebrews came to live in Canaan. So the assumption is that the people will observe the appropriate religious observances. Do we faithfully carry out our religious observances?
Second, it is assumed that communication is present. It is assumed that the child will feel free to ask about religious things. How good is communication in our homes? Can our children ask us what they want and need to ask us?
Third, it is assumed that parents know and respond. It would have been pretty useless for the child to ask “What does this mean?” if his parent did not know. It would not be very beneficial if the parent had an answer that was incorrect, would it? You see, parents need not only to participate in Christian observances with their children but also to know why, to know what they mean. And then they must be willing to respond willingly. Are we learning what it means to be a Christian and are we sharing that with our children?
The second event about which we have read this morning teaches the same things. It is set within the context of the conquest of Canaan. In a sort of repeat of the crossing of the Sea, the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River in order to enter Canaan. As the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant had put their feet into the water, the river had parted so that the people crossed on dry land. Then twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel, had each taken a stone from the river bed. With those stones a monument was built to the occasion. Joshua stated the purpose of the monument: “This may be a sign among you, when your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial for ever” (Joshua 4:6-7).
Again, the same things are assumed: that the memorial will be present, that the children will ask, and that the parents will respond properly. But note what the gist of their response was to be: the memorial was present because God had saved them. The Hebrews sacrificed the first-born animals because God had spared them when the Egyptian first-born had died. They had a pile of rocks beside the Jordan because God parted the river and allowed them to go across. They did what they did in acting out their faith because God had saved them.
Is there anything greater that we can teach our children? Is there anything more important than showing them what great things God has done for us? You know, we do what we love; we are involved in what is important to us. If we like to fish our children see us fishing and we like it when they ask us to teach them how. If we sew our children see us sewing and we like it when they ask us to teach them how. Have our children asked us how to be a Christian? Are the opportunities created?
Now, you might ask, “How can we live our faith so as to create teaching opportunities for our children?”
First, by participating in the memorials
We need to do those worshipful things that will prompt the questions of our children.
Church memorials. We should participate in worship. “Daddy, why do we go to church?” is a better question to hear from our children than “Daddy, are we going to church today?” Our regular participation in worship gives us opportunity to tell our children that we worship God because he has saved us.
We should participate in stewardship. The picture is still vivid in my memory of how every pay period my father would sit down a write a check for his tithe. Somewhere along the line I asked why he did that and he explained to me that God had given him life and had in Christ given him new life so 10% of his income was the very least he could give in return. What opportunity for teaching does our stewardship provide?
We should participate in the ordinances. As the Hebrews observed the Passover, we observe the Lord’s Supper. As they passed through the Jordan River, we pass through the waters of baptism. Our participation in the ordinances gives us opportunity to tell our children that we love God because he has saved us.
Home memorials. We should participate in Bible study. Judging from what reading material our children see in our hands most often, are they more likely to ask “What’s on TV tonight?”, “Just how do you catch the biggest bass?”, “What are the ten best ways to decorate your home for spring?”, “Just what is that Paris Hilton up to now?” or “Will you read me the story about Jesus walking on the water again?”
We should participate in prayer. We talk a lot to folks who mean a lot to us. We need to engage and involve our children in regular times of prayer.
Second, by being memorials
I am really creating a false dichotomy here. Our church involvement is certainly part of our being Christians and of living Christian lives. What I mean, though, by being a memorial to what God has done through Christ in us, is to exemplify Christian attitudes and actions in our daily lives. Then our children can ask, “Why do you act that way?” And we can answer, “Because Jesus lives in my heart.”
Someone hurts us and we show compassion rather than anger;
A tragedy befalls us and we show faith rather than bitterness;
A moral choice confronts us and we choose good over expediency;
Someone needs help and we gladly give it.
Are we “living memorials” to what God has done in Christ?