Sunday, January 31, 2010

Desperate Households: Purposeful Parenting

“Keep on Keeping On”
Ephesians 6:1-4 and Proverbs 22:6

Tell the truth! It was that simple. It was both the most important rule in the house I grew up in, and the most basic advice my father would give me. If you’re in trouble, tell the truth. It will go better for you. If someone’s trying to hurt you, tell the truth. If someone’s trying to hurt someone else, tell the truth. That’s why things like pretending you didn’t know who broke the lamp, or trying to change a D on a report card into a B, or saying you’re going to a movie when you’re actually going somewhere you aren’t supposed to go: that’s why those things didn’t work in the house I grew up in. That’s why it didn’t work when one of us four kids tried to convince Dad that the parking lot was icy, and even though driving slow, it was the ice that caused Dad’s truck to hit the cement bottom of the light pole. It didn’t take Dad too long to figure out that the truth was that it was easier to hit the light pole on an icy parking lot when you are spinning donuts in that same parking lot.

There were other important things, too. We were expected to make our bed every morning, to pick up after ourselves, to help with the chores, inside and outside of the house. When the chain saw started, it did not matter what your plans were, we were a family, and all were expected to help. My parents expected us to treat one another with love. On Sunday mornings we knew we were to be ready to go to church. A curfew was meant to be kept. Parents were to be respected. School work was to be completed. Trying your best was the very least you could do. A’s on a report card were worthy of celebration. Less was very often more. Vacations were things families always did together. More than anything, I knew my parents were living to make my life better than theirs, not that theirs was bad, but they wanted more for us.

Were they perfect? Probably not. Certainly not. But I give thanks for how my parents parented purposefully.

The scripture we read this morning encourages parents and children to be intentional in their relationships with one another.

The role of the child is one of respect: to show consideration and thoughtfulness to one’s parents. That is to say that children should be attentive to the care, direction and guidelines of their parents.
But that assumes that parents are being good models. When God commands children to “honor your father and mother” God gives a promise with that commandment: “That it may go well with you.” There is an assumption that parents are being good models of godly lives. The assumption is that parents are giving their children a model to follow that will actually give them the abundant life that God intends for them. That, my friends, requires some purpose in our parenting.

Ok, before I preach myself right out of this sermon, let me say that no where does the scripture require perfection in our parenting. Human as we are, perfection is not possible. You only need to ask a child in their early teens if their parents are perfect to be reminded that we sometimes mess up and stand in need of the grace that God offers us. Yesterday was a pretty good day in my parenting life, but I still messed up at least a half dozen times. Thank God for grace, because we parents need it!

So if we don’t need to be a perfect model, what kind of a model do we need to be? A healthy model seems what God asks. God asks us to model a life marked by guidelines. “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” the scriptures say. Purposeful, godly parenting gives our children a sense of what will give abundant life and what will suck the life from their existence. We do not do our children any favors when we opt for friendship over boundaries, trade in rules and guidelines for a “hey, all my friends think you’re the coolest mom ever!” There simply are things that will give our kids a good life and there are things that will make our children’s lives more difficult. For instance, my dad’s #1 rule of “tell the truth” seems a simple enough boundary. But without it, a simple lie about sneaking a peak at another kids test in 3rd grade can turn into insider trading or cheating on taxes or embezzlement. We give our kids boundaries so that it may go well with them, for their whole lives. We discipline our children so that, even when they are old, they will know the ways of the Lord. That is the intentional, purposeful parenting to which God calls us.

That’s hard work. I’ve only been a parent for 12 years, but I know that this is really hard work. It is so easy sometimes to just give up. Does it really matter if I try hard today? Maybe for just today we can be friends, rather than parents and children. The rules are so hard to enforce when you’re getting pushback. It would be easier to just let it slide this time. You who have ever tried to influence the life of a child know what I mean. Some days it would just be easier to give up. But Paul, in Galatians, gives encouragement, not only to Christians trying hard to lead the Christian life, but also to parents trying hard to keep on keep on at parenting. Paul reminds us why we do this hard work of parenting. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) Sometimes it takes a very long time to see the blessing of your hard work of purposeful parenting, but at some point, you will see the harvest of your work of keeping on keeping on.

My mother was a great model of what it meant to parent in this Christian sense of it. She was not perfect. I like sometimes to remind her of that. I like to recall the time that I brought a bouquet of dandelions for a mother’s day corsage and she told me that dandelions were just weeds. No, she wasn’t a perfect Christian mother. And there were some teenage years in there where I thought she was the absolute worst mother ever. It wouldn’t have been a stretch to say I despised her and her mothering ways. But when I was about 22 years old, my mother became the smartest, most loving woman I had ever known. She never gave up on parenting, even during the years where it would have been easy to just give in to this last child and the ridiculous ideas of her teen years. When the harvest came, I would guess my mother was grateful that she hadn’t given up. I sure am glad my mother kept on keeping on! I am blessed and my life is well because of my mother’s and father’s purposeful parenting.

Some of you are parents now, and I would guess you have been particularly attentive to the things I have said, if they carried any godly wisdom at all. For some of you, I would guess you believe your parenting years are behind you. Still others have never and may never be parents to their own children, whether biological or adopted. So it is possible that several of you have kind-of tuned me out this morning without meaning any disrespect by that. This next part is for all of you, for anyone between the ages of 2 and 102. This next part is a word on parenting for anyone who calls Homestead their church family.

God has called Homestead to become family at its best. That means in our own homes, to be sure. And that’s one reason why this sermon series has been important: to help us make the best of our own families. But family at its best as our church mission has always been about more than our families. It’s always been about helping all sorts of families be the best families they can be. Family at its best is about helping parents across the Rochester area parent their own children. We are learning more and more what that means as we learn more and more about the families of Rochester and their particular needs.

But one thing has always been clear, highlighted in the congregational response to the baptism of children in our midst. We vow in that response to live as an example that others can look at, to live intentionally as a Christian so that others might know what that looks like and why it is so appealing. We vow in that response to witness to Christ, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all children who ever walk in the door, and even more children than that. We vow to create a community of love and support that will be a blessing to all children whom God will entrust to our ministry sphere. We vow to be in prayer for children, that they may choose the ways of Christ for themselves. You see, at the time of baptism, we vow to be Christian parents to every child whom God brings into our midst in any way. That’s the children in our Sunday School and worship, for sure. But it’s also the 7 year old boy who rode his bike to the church nearly every day this summer, just looking for someone to care about him. It’s also the children of the Interfaith Hospitality Network families who are housed for a time in our facility. It’s children we haven’t even met, who will play on our green space. It’s children who may sometime eat at our church during a free summer lunch program. It’s really all the children who ever come anywhere near us or to whom we ever come near. Purposeful parenting is what we do at Homestead, for our children and all of God’s children! May it be so! May God give us courage to the task! Amen.

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