Faithful Legacy

What legacy will you leave behind? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I think it’s often pondered, at least by everyone who wants to do something meaningful with this life they’ve been given. Many people want to exit this life the way Boy Scouts exit a campground: leave it a bit better than the way it was when you arrived.
In fact, some people like to go through a mental exercise where they imagine their own funeral and think about what they want others to say about them—what they did, what they were like, what they meant to others. Then they strive to live that way right now. For many, thinking about the end isn’t a depressing thought, but a motivational one. It helps them stay focused on what they’re accomplishing with their lives so that they can leave a legacy.
Martin Luther left a legacy. No matter how you slice it, no matter what angle you take in your examination of the Reformation, there is no doubt he changed the world. Look through a historical lens, a political one, a socio-economic one, or a theological one and you will see that he is one of the most influential people ever to have lived. We celebrate the events of the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther today because above all he left a Legacy of Faith—living the faith and teaching the faith.
We could talk for hours about the Reformation, but of all that Luther did, I’m going to focus on only two major things, and I would argue that these might even be the top two of all his achievements. First, he translated the Word of God, the Bible, into the language of the people, and second, he taught the family and the church how to hand the faith down to the children. So, the Bible in the language of the people, and the Small Catechism for families and churches to use—those are the biggest things. If you can own any two books and you were forced to throw all the rest away, you should own those two books: the Bible and the catechism.
We use the Small Catechism in the church all the time. We use it for adult instruction (our “Basics Class”). We use it for 7th and 8th grade confirmation, although the kids are already learning parts of it in Sunday School and Midweek at young ages, which is fantastic. Sometimes we quote it in our worship services or sermons. Devotional materials will reference it repeatedly. It is simple, short yet thorough, brilliant and incredibly practical, and it plainly presents Jesus, who is the key to unlocking and opening the Scriptures, and it makes clear how we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.
But the Small Catechism is not just meant for use in the church. In fact, at the very beginning of the Catechism, Luther wrote: “The Ten Commandments: As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.” He then goes on to present and teach not only the Ten Commandments, but also the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and Holy Communion (the six chief parts), so that families could learn it together and pass it on from generation to generation, so they could live the faith and teach the faith.
Why was this so important for Luther to put this together and relentlessly stress the importance of the catechism’s use? He wasn’t collecting royalties, a percentage of sales on hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebook editions. He had a different motivation. In the preface to his catechism he explains: “The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw; the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are most entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and received the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.”
Though our congregation easily looks better than Luther’s description, I would submit that our society, the majority of which is “Christian” does not. So many are Christian in name, but don’t understand the faith, don’t go to worship, have a religion of feelings only, and make applications to life that, frankly, are against the Commandments.
And friends, the situation in our country is dire. A huge challenge awaits our children and grandchildren. Now, I don’t say that so you would be afraid. The Word of God moved mountains in Luther’s day, and it can change hearts and win souls here and now too. But we must be intentional and diligent in making sure we leave a “Faithful Legacy” for our children, and our children’s children.
The Christian faith is under attack. Atheism is being pushed and promoted as the only viewpoint compatible with science, which isn’t true, of course. Agendas contrary to the Word of God are being trumpeted by anyone with power or a microphone or both. There are always temptations to false religions, some that like to advance forcefully. We have an epidemic of drug abuse on our hands, and it only seems to be getting worse. And we have new problems that humanity now has to figure out how to deal with. I’m talking about screens: phones, tablets, and computers. These are powerful communication tools and can be very useful, but they are also highly addictive. Pediatricians are warning about the harm they do to kids who are too young to self-regulate, and we’re seeing a plethora of problems from learning disabilities to isolation and identity crises and self-harm, the whole spectrum. Not only that, but through them all kinds of harmful messages are being broadcast to unsupervised kids and unsuspecting families.
So, how do we teach the children, and what do we try to do to reach the teens and young adults that want nothing to do with the faith? The Church is pouring so much research into how to reach young adults, teens, and children, to drive the faith home and drive it deep so that they will know all that God has done for them in Christ Jesus. There are research papers and reports, periodicals and magazines, essays, toolkits, seminars, conferences (with pages of notes) all about it.
But do you know what are the most successful influences for a lasting faith in children? All the research, all the studies, all the effort going into it—you can boil it down to four things.
Now, this is according to Dr. Mart Thompson at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, who spoke at a conference I attended in September. The four things, in no particular order, are these: 1) Children having conversations about the faith with their mother; 2) Children having conversations about the faith with their father; 3) Having a daily family time of devotion and/or prayer; and 4) Doing family projects to serve other people in the name of Jesus. In other words, seeing their parents live the faith and learning as the parents teach the faith is number one.
You will notice that as important as Sunday School, Midweek, and Confirmation are, they didn’t make the list. Yes, kids should be in worship and in all those classes. That is part of the parent’s responsibility in teaching their kids the faith and living it out themselves. But hands down, the most influential people, are the parents. I’m going to encourage especially parents here, but this is still a sermon for everyone, because parents need our prayers, support, and encouragement. And that’s where grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family members come in, and that’s also where the Church at large comes in—supporting the parents that are doing this and picking up the slack where parents are not.
So that brings us back to the Catechism and the Word of God in the Bible. And it brings us back to our theme: Tell the Next Generation. This is our mission. This is a critical endeavor, a lofty and high calling. As the words of our text, Psalm 78:4, say: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done,” and then it goes on to say in verse 7, “Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.”
We are using verses 1-7 in our worship for the three weeks of this theme, But the very next verse has a different tone. V 8: “and they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Um... wow. Read the rest of Psalm 78, and you will see a sad account of Israel’s faithlessness after the Exodus, but also the good news of God’s great grace and faithfulness. I’ll warn you that it is the second longest Psalm in the Bible, but you can do it. Read it. That’s your homework this week. Let it serve as a warning for you, but let it also encourage you.
Let it encourage you because it gives hope in the midst of failure. And you and I know the failure. As parents, grandparents, family members, and church members, every single one of us has fallen short of keeping the commandments, and living the faith, and teaching the faith to children and the children’s children. I know in my own family we talk about the faith all the time, and we pray together, but we could do more as a family to serve other people, and we could be better about devotion time together. We wake up and leave at different times in the morning, so we don’t connect then. We do manage to eat dinner together almost every day, which is a miracle that my wife pulls off week after week. But sometimes we’re rushed and scarfing down our food, so finding devotion time is tough. I’m not making excuses, I’m just acknowledging along with you that finding a few minutes to pray together or read Scripture together can be a challenge for active families. But let me ask you—Should you? Will it be worth the sacrifice? Who can answer “no” to those questions? So our hearts convict us, don’t they?
Even though Israel was faithless, and even though we fall short of keeping God’s commandments, and fall short of teaching children to walk in God’s ways, God is gracious. Psalm 78 encourages us by enumerating so many of God’s gracious actions to Israel during and after the Exodus: “He divided the sea and let them pass through it (v. 13)... In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light (v. 14)... He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed (v. 20)... He rained down on them manna to eat (v. 24)... He rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas (v. 27)... Being compassionate, [he] atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them (v. 38)... He led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock (v. 52)... And he brought them to his holy land (v. 54)...With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand (v. 72).”
All these things and more, which God did for Israel, he has done for you in an even greater way in Jesus Christ who gave himself on the cross for you. He forgives your iniquity, and does not destroy you. Your failures are forgiven by his blood. Your spirits are renewed by His Holy Spirit. You are rescued from the slavery of sin and saved from this present darkness. You are set apart to be his chosen people, set apart from this evil generation to be sons and daughters of God. You are given living water and are fed the bread of life. The Good News of Jesus, the Gospel, has made you new. Your life is filled with purpose. The opportunity is before you. Your faith sustains you in every trial until you achieve (by the grace of God) that Promised Land of heaven.
So it is with great rejoicing we confess along with Luther’s small catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
How many of you had to memorize that once upon a time in confirmation class? Yeah, me too. What if our kids were taught that from infancy at home? As part of our Tell the Next Generation emphasis, we’re going to be providing resources and sharing practical tips for instilling the faith in children. We want to walk with parents, and we pledge to be a constant encouragement and support to you. God be with you parents especially, and with all of you as you leave a “Faithful Legacy.” To God alone be all glory and praise. Amen.