Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
September 7, 2008
Text: Matt. 18:1-20

On this Rally Sunday, Jesus bids us all once again become little children before God. He bids us humble ourselves and sit at the feet of our Teacher and Savior to learn the way to eternal life, to learn of the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), our Lord Jesus Christ. As a little child trusts his or her parents in every need, and believes their word, so the child of God is to trust absolutely in God for every need, and believe every Word that He imparts. Beloved in the Lord, humble yourselves before God, cast off your sinful pride, and become once again little children sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ, acknowledging your situation of helplessness and absolute dependence, trusting that God wants the best for you and will provide for your every need, including your need for salvation from sin. Do not seek for greatness here on earth, or in the kingdom of heaven, as the apostles do in our Gospel lesson. Rather, turn and become like a child, repent of your selfishness, humble yourself. And I would suggest that you humble yourself in a very concrete way this morning. On this Rally Sunday, examine yourself, and root out whatever has separated you from your Father. Have you been away from church for the summer, taken a vacation from Christianity, been more engaged with the things of this world than with the holy things of God? Repent, humble yourself, and return to your Father’s house to receive His unending gifts in Christ Jesus. Have you been away from Bible class, thinking you don’t need it, that a few months away from the study of the Scriptures will not harm you? Repent, humble yourself, and submit once again to your heavenly Teacher as He leads you in the way of salvation. Have you neglected individual and family devotions and prayers? Have you been distracted over the summer, and given little thought to God’s Word? Have you been negligent in leading your children spiritually and setting a good example to your fellow Christians? Repent, humble yourself, and become once again little children before God.

Jesus is teaching the children of God this morning how to be children before Him, as He has called you to be. And so also He reminds us of our responsibilities to our children and to all who believe in Him with childlike faith. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,” says Jesus, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6; ESV). God has placed every one of us into relationships, vocations, in which we are responsible for our brothers and sisters, both physically and spiritually. Whatever you do for a little child, or for anyone who believes in Jesus, you do for Jesus Himself. When you receive a child in Jesus’ Name, you actually receive Jesus. And this has special import for the parents here this morning. Jesus has given you your children to care for, again, physically and spiritually. You are charged to feed them and clothe them and shelter them and provide for every physical need. But love demands yet more. You are also charged to feed them spiritually. To bring them to church and Sunday School, to teach the Scriptures and the Catechism at home, to pray for and with your children, and instill in them from the earliest age a love for their Lord Jesus that trusts in Him alone for salvation and every grace and blessing. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

This is so important because we know that the world offers so many temptations to our young people. Jesus says, “it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matt. 18:7). Temptations will come. They are even necessary, says Jesus. And they are many. The world tempts with mind-altering substances, open rebellion against authority, and a poison psychology of self-esteem that teaches our children to focus only on themselves. Our culture is especially obsessed with sexual sin. Promiscuity is everywhere, in music and movies and on the television programs piped right into your living room. Chastity is laughable, especially when it is connected with Christianity. Homosexuality has not only become an acceptable lifestyle, in many circles it is deemed preferable. Pre-marital sex is expected and even encouraged. Living together outside of marriage is normal. You see how the devil has skewed our Lord’s commands? You must teach your children how to deal with these temptations. It is unacceptable to simply shut off the television and radio and pretend that these temptations aren’t out there. Your children will encounter these things, no matter how you try to shield them. Temptations must come, says Jesus. He has given you as parents (or grandparents, or aunts, or uncles, or Godparents, or even simply as Christian role models) to your children to teach them the difference between right and wrong, what God’s Word has to say on the particular issue, and to give them the tools to make the right decisions and live as the Baptized children of God they are. Remind them who they are and Whose they are. Remind them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, one who belongs to God as a beloved child. Where the children, or any other Christian, have fallen, restore them. First admonish them privately. Then bring another brother, then two or three witnesses, and then the Church (vv. 15-17). The goal is the forgiveness of that child’s sins. That is, in fact, the goal of raising your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, that they may know they are forgiven children of God. That is what it means to receive a child in the Name of Jesus.

You do this by teaching the children. Do family devotions. Pray together at the table, when you wake up, and before you go to bed. Read the Scriptures as a family. And also set a good example. Bring your own flesh into subjection. If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (vv. 8-9). That doesn’t mean to literally mutilate yourself, but crucify your sinful flesh. Recognize that the organ that really needs to be cut out is your heart, through repentance. Turn, and become as little children, trusting God and believing His Word. Jesus cleanses you by His blood. He died for your forgiveness. He is risen for your justification. Turn from your sinful flesh and be an example to your children and to other dear Christians who believe in Jesus as little children.

Do not despise these little ones. Your Father does not will that even one of them should perish (v. 14). Do not neglect their spiritual life. Do not be the parent who brings your children to be baptized, but after that refuses them the gifts of Christ by not going to church. Neither be the parent who brings their children to church and Sunday School, but in the home contradicts everything taught there by leading a manifestly sinful life. When you sleep in on Sunday morning, or schedule other activities at that time… when you neglect the holy things of God, your children are watching and learning. So also, though, when you make church and Sunday School and Bible class a priority, your children are watching and learning. It is an awesome and fearful responsibility the Lord has given you. Bring your children and seat them at the feet of Jesus.

And for those of you who do not have children, or perhaps who are children yourselves, pray for the children of the Church. Pray for our Sunday School. Pray for our Catechism students. You also have a responsibility to them. Pray for them and set an example for them. Love them and admonish them and forgive them. Whether or not you are related by blood, you belong to the same spiritually family, the family of the Baptized. Parents and non-parents alike receive the children of God in Jesus’ Name, and impart the Holy Christian faith.

For many of you, by God’s grace, also had parents who taught you the faith, and for that reason you are here this morning. Others of you had parents who set a bad example for you, who did not teach the faith, and by grace, in spite of your parents, the Holy Spirit has brought you nonetheless to faith in the Lord Jesus and brought you into His Church. Those who receive generously the heritage of the Lord also give it in like manner. And receive you have. Like a tender shepherd, Jesus has come to seek and to save you, who were lost in your sin, captive to death. He is the one who humbles Himself perfectly as an obedient child of the Father, humbles Himself to death on the cross, to save you, to forgive you, to make you His own. He is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and through Him you also gain entrance into that kingdom. For He bestows His Name upon you. His humility is credited to your account. Where you have failed, He forgives you and gives you His perfection. Where you have failed to be good parents, good children, good Christians, He has forgiven and restored you. He declares you innocent. He washes you clean. He purifies your lips and gives you a new heart. He dwells with you and in you, really and truly, gaining entrance through your ear with His holy Word, through your mouth with His body and blood. And He is your sufficiency. How are you to fulfill your vocation as parent? Be in the Word. Make use of the Sacrament. Receive the gifts of Christ. These sustain and strengthen you. How are you to be as a little child before God? Acknowledge that you are helpless and wholly dependent upon Jesus Christ. He will give you His Holy Spirit. He will make you a child of the Father.

In this way Jesus gives you new life and new power to commit once again this Sunday to come to church, to come to Bible class, to makes sure your children are in church and in Sunday School, receiving the gifts of Christ. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Ps. 127:3). How can we not pass on the heritage of faith and salvation to the children who are our heritage? How can we not turn and become again children of God receiving the heritage He gives us so freely in Christ Jesus? You are precious to the Lord, and so are your children. You are so precious to Him, that our Lord Jesus shed His holy, precious blood for you. Let us then learn of Him, our Teacher, our Salvation, our very Life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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