The Greatest Gift You Can Give

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18)  (September 9, 2018)

Isaiah 35:4-7a / James 2:1-10, 14-18 / Mark 7:24-37

By Deacon Rex E. Watt

 

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

At one time or another every parent has probably wondered, “What is the greatest gift I can give my child?”  Think about it.  What would that gift be?  Would it be a well rounded education?  If so, then special effort would be made to live in a community with good schools, to provide music or dance lessons, encourage sports activities, and the like.  Would it be a happy and pleasant childhood?  Then I suppose special effort would be made to spend quality time with your children, provide a home life with minimal stress and conflict, and plan exciting family activities and vacations.  Maybe it would be a life free of health concerns.  If so, you are like the Syrophoenician woman in our Gospel reading for today.  She wanted health for her daughter.  She had probably been to all the Hellenistic trained doctors in her area – and the Greeks were known for their advances in medical studies; after all, Hippocrates “the father of modern medicine” and his followers were all Greek – yet to no avail.  When this itinerant Jewish rabbi came to town, she sought him out.  She would do anything she could to provide good health for her child.  I would suppose that today we would be sure that annual checkups were made, would plan healthy home prepared meals and be sure our children got sufficient exercise.  I think most parents “would give anything” for their children to receive a good education, enjoy a happy, safe and healthy childhood.

What is the greatest gift you can give your child?  I am going to suggest that it is more than a well rounded education, a happy and pleasant childhood, or even good health.  As important as these may be, I suggest to you that the greatest gift you can give your child, no matter how young or old they may be, is Jesus.

That sounds too simple, doesn’t it?  It’s the standard Sunday school answer to every question, right?  Right!  It is!  And it is exactly what every child of Adam and Eve need.  Your children, my children, no matter how young or old they may be, need Jesus.  Jesus is going to say in not too many verses from now, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mk 8.36-38)  What good is the best education in the world if in the end, the brightest and best among us end up in hell?  What good is a happy and pleasant childhood, and life, if in the end Jesus says, “I never knew you; depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mt 7.23 & 25.41)

You’ve made a good start.  You brought your children to the font and made sure they were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; the name of the Triune God.  There, at the font, you gave them Jesus.  There, at the font, your children were re-born, “born again, from above” with the water and the word just as Jesus explained it to Nicodemus.  You have accomplished for your children one-half of the Great Commission, as it is commonly called.  But there’s more.  Just like after you gave natural birth to your children, you nurtured them by feeding them, clothing them and providing shelter for them; you nurture your little ones spiritually by bringing them to church, Sunday school, maybe even VBS and Confirmation class. Your children have received a good start, you have received a good start.  At the font, in Baptism, the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for the whole world has been given to you, personally; and to your children.  But that’s not all there is to the Christian life.  After we read in Acts 2:38-39, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children…’”, we read in Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  After baptism comes community; comes instruction; comes worship.

Today is Rally Day, a day when we focus on the second-half of that Great Commission.  You will see on display out in the social area all kinds of ministries and opportunities to be involved with in the communal life of Redeemer Lutheran Church.  As baptized believers you have been brought into the communal life of the Church (capital “C”), as well as the communal life of Redeemer.  Take a look around and see where the Holy Spirit may lead you to share in that communal life.

Part of that life, a big part of that life, is Christian education.  Not only for your children, however old or young they may be, but for you yourself.  Those early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.”  When you come to church, when you bring your children to church, you hear the Word of God read and you hear the Word of God proclaimed; and, God willing, you hear the apostles teaching.  You hear that God has created you and all creatures.  That God provides for all that you need to support your body and life.  That He defends you and protects you.  That He does all this, not because of any merit in you, but out of His own fatherly divine goodness and mercy.  That Jesus has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; all with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death…all for you.  That the Holy Spirit has drawn you into the holy Christian church, the communion of saints; given you the faith to trust in the Gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation; and keeps you in the one true faith.

Peter proclaimed on that first Pentecost day, “the promise is for you and for your children…”  You are here today because someone brought you to the font; someone shared the Gospel with you; someone taught you the faith; someone prayed for you.  Someone gave you the gift of Jesus.  Maybe you feel as a parent that you haven’t done as good a job as you’d like to have done in spiritually nurturing your children.  Maybe you feel that you, yourself, haven’t been spiritually nurtured as well as you’d like.  I’ve got good news for you my friends.  It’s never too late.  Today is the day to begin.  “Now is the time of God’s favor,” says Saint Paul.  “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6.2)  The Word of God that you expose yourself and your children to, the Word of God that you teach your children is the one thing that will truly last forever.  “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever” writes Isaiah. (40.8)

I don’t often get into spiritual discussions with my clients at the funeral home.  Recently, however, a client shared his burden with me that his dying wife was not a believer.  He had become a believer in Christ later in their marriage.  She was a scientist, a medical professional.  She mocked his faith.  He prayed for her continually; he didn’t know what else to do.  As he made pre-arrangements in light of her terminal condition, he shared his story with me.  It brought him some comfort to find out that he was dealing with another Christian.  We made her arrangements, and as we then do, we waited.  Finally her time came.  When he came back in to see me and schedule the rest of the details, he was in tears, tears of joy, because his prayers were finally answered.  Shortly before her passing she confessed her belief in the Jesus he had previously shared with her.  No, my friends, it’s never too late.

Long after you and I are gone and our children have raised their children, and have seen their children’s children come to the baptismal font of life, nothing else will matter but that we have taught our young ones to know Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin.  Nothing else will matter – certainly not the money we saved, the businesses we ran, the houses we lived in, the education we received, or the friends and memories we made.  None of that will matter.  The only thing that will matter will be the Gospel – the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, which brought life to us and to our children.  That is the greatest gift you can give to your child; the gift of life, real life, eternal life, in Jesus Christ .  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

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