Text: Luke 13:22-30 (NIV)
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, 24 "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' 26 "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 27 "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' 28 "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."
Raising a child is quite a task to undertake. Just think of all the resources it takes to get a child from birth to age 18. 5,000 diaper changes. 19,000 meals to be fed. 36 pairs of sneakers. 2,300 trips to school. 2,300 trips home. 7,000 hugs. A million reprimands. A million and one encouragements. And that is for only one child. Raising a child is not an easy undertaking, but it is one of the most rewarding.
There's no way to know what how the finished product will turn out. I once went into a woodworking shop where a man was making valet stands for a luxury hotel. He had an order for 400 of the things that suits hang on in a fancy man's bedroom. There in the shop lay all the parts lined up in rows. Each one was going to be the same size, the same weight, the same color, to do the same thing, keep a suit coat from getting wrinkled.
How different it is with a child. Each one is different. They look different, act different, have different abilities, different personalities, different likes and dislikes. Even identical twins are different. Raising a family with three or more children must be like planting a flower garden when the seeds are all mixed up. You don't know what kind of person that baby will turn out to be.
How important is it to teach a child who Jesus is? For a Christian, this makes all the difference. The Lord has said, "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" A child may be the most considerate, intelligent, motivated, polite and talented person, but if he or she doesn't know Jesus as savior, that child has missed out on the greatest opportunity a person can ever know.
That's why today we are praying for the Christian education of the children of the world. We pray that our kids, and for that matter every kid, may have the opportunity to meet Jesus and learn what it means to follow him now and all through life. We are praying for parents, that they may see the greatest task of being a Christian parent is more than dropping off your son or daughter into the care of a Christian teacher, but it is daily demonstrating what being a Christian is all about. We're praying for teachers, volunteers in Sunday School and Midweek classes, and professional teachers in public school and Christian schools, that they may teach the faith as they are able. We are praying for pastors and church workers who are charged with catechizing the young, that they may teach the word of God rightly. We are praying for all who have contact with children that they might be an example of how to live a good life. We are praying that God will use us all to raise up the next generation to know the Lord Jesus Christ better than this one does, so that they may be prepared for the challenges to faith that this new age holds.
Jesus said the way to heaven is narrow, very narrow. The way to hell is wide and well traveled. He preached that we should all make every effort to go through the narrow door. As the holy Church of God we are praying and working together so that kids will see the difference between these two ways. Our kids today need to learn that Jesus is the greatest of all truth. And we're looking to welcome to the Church of Jesus Christ those who come from homes where there are no Christians, as he predicted, "People will come from east and west and north and south and take their place at the feast in the kingdom of God."
Have you ever wondered why so many of our young people seem to slip away from the faith in their late teens and early twenties? After all the Sunday school, Catechism, and day school classes, they still drift away. Some think it's the musical style of the service, others think it's the way we teach them. Others think we should have more hands on learning. I think none of these things are to blame. The problem is kids aren't thinking about the consequences of wandering away from the faith. We've portrayed living the faith as so easy they really think it's not that hard. So maybe you can come to church once a month and still have a strong faith. Maybe you can read the Bible one time a year and still believe. Where do they get these ideas? We teach it to them.
Oh, we don't set out to teach them to minimize the value of the faith. We tell them in subtle ways. We don't expect them to go to church each week. Stayed out too late on Saturday night? Going camping? No problem. Church will be there when you get back. We don't get ready for Sunday morning either. Did you know you can look up the Bible readings for each Sunday in the front of the hymnal and read them ahead of time? Just think how much more you'd be getting out of this sermon today if your family did that every Saturday night! Kids complain about going to Sunday school? "It's boring. We don't have any fun there." Do you go to Bible class yourself? What kind of message are they supposed to get from that? "Learning about God is a pain, because my dad doesn't want to do it." Friends, kids are learning from us all of the time. The most important thing we should do is to show them how serious the faith really is.
What really gets my goat is when I hear parents say, "I don't want to force too much religion on them the way my parents did to me." It's a good thing that kids come with an appetite for food, or a parent like this might never feed his or her child. "Oh, I don't want to force food on Johnny. He might not like to eat."
There is another way. Take these words of Jesus to heart. The way to heaven is narrow. People today don't think about heaven and hell, and if they do, most often they think God is going to let them in because they are nice or something. But remember, none of us deserves anything from God. We are all lost and condemned sinners. But to those who have been called to believe in Jesus as Savior, God pardons their sin. The way to heaven is so narrow that no one can pass unless Jesus carries them. Jesus warns us that there will be those who say, "Hey God, you have to let me in. I was confirmed at St. John Lutheran church in Champaign." But because that faith died out in that person long ago, he will say to them, "I don't know you or where you came from. Get away from me!.
The other way is to live each day mindful of how gracious God has been to you. He forgives your sins. He lovingly provides all the things you need to live. He blesses you with Christian teachers. He gives you friends who pray for you. He surrounds you with love. If this doesn't make you want to stay close to his preaching and sacraments, not even the threat of hell will.
I used to know a family, a big family. They lived near my parsonage. They had nine children. The odds were against this family. They lived in a rented house. The father wasn't home much except for weekends. He drove a truck over the road. The mom even had a part-time job. All nine children were under the age of seventeen. They didn't have much money. But you never saw a happier family. They worked together. They played together. They all had chores to do around the farm. If you saw one of the kids riding a bike, chances are that it was handed down from two or more older siblings. The same went for clothes. But nobody complained as far as I could tell? Why? It was the family faith and the Spirit of God that moved among them. Every Sunday morning, they were all there in the pew, lined up from youngest to oldest. Why, they made up about a fourth of our Sunday school roster. When each of the children was confirmed they knew their catechism like it was the pledge of allegiance. And they lived it as well. This family was truly blessed by God, and it was because they had the Word of God in their hearts and in front of their eyes every day. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Every family here today can be blessed in the same way. We have the word of God before us. We have the means of God's grace in that Word and these gifts of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. When we begin to commit ourselves to putting God first in our lives, we will begin to see how wonderful His grace really is. We don't have to be wealthy. We don't have to buy their love with expensive gifts. We only have to show them what it means to depend on God.
Then there are those who don't grow up in families like these, who seem to simply wander into the faith. God reaches out through his Word and touches their heart and they come to him. He can do that, even to children. It happened to my mother when a friend brought her to Sunday school, and there are others here today who tell me it happened that way to them. They had no parents to bring them, but Jesus introduced himself to them just the same. That's the grace of God. But don't expect that to happen to your children. Teach them. Show them. Guide them. Yes, discipline them when they stray from the faith. Don't give them the option of going to church. You take them. Pray daily for them, and pray for yourself. Even if you don't have children and never will, you are a teacher to the young. As the reading from Isaiah for today says, God is bringing people from all nations of the earth to worship him, and he is using us to do the advertising.
Those of you who are teaching the children today, God bless you. You have answered the call. The rest of us can support you by bringing the children.
Today let us pray for the children, that God will continue to make our church and our families a lighthouse of education in the name of Jesus. Children are all so different, but every child is precious to God. Amen
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