My family and friends know that I am no sports nut. I like playing sports, especially baseball, but I’m not big on the whole sports atmosphere. If you tried to explain fantasy football to me it would be like me trying to explain the Hegelian theory of thesis, synthesis, antithesis, and why it has hamstrung the church to someone who doesn’t speak English. The point simply will not be made.
I know what a double and triple are. I think I could list all the positions on a football field, but I’m lost when it comes to team statistics, players’ names, coaches’ names, or who’s whose rival. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d get a multiple choice test right on which teams belong to which state or college; or even if they were professional or collegiate. I am no sports nut.
So imagine my surprise when I hear my oldest boasting of the greatness of K-State (or was it KU?). For those who don’t live in Kansas, these are the rivals (yes, even I know that!). After being unable to answer why he thought that particular school was so cool, and unable to answer what sports were being played at that particular time, he simply began to chant “K-State … K-State … K-State …” (or was it, “KU … KU …KU”?). He wasn’t mesmerized by this school because they produce great doctors or lawyers or politicians or scientists or teachers, or because their graduates are hired quicker and for longer than any other graduates. He was hailing them because his friend was bragging about his dad and mom’s favorite team.
My son arrived at the conclusion that this institution is the school to beat all schools from his friend. And his friend learned that this is the school from dad and mom, from uncles and aunts and grandpa and grandma; from big brother who attends at Lawrence or from big sis who’s at Manhattan (though I don’t know which school is in which city). These nine-year-olds didn’t explore the options or weigh the pros and cons of the schools. They didn’t call up recruiters to discuss what makes one school better than another. They didn’t interview former or current players to explore the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the highs and lows of playing for one and not the other. No; they just followed the leader.
They mimicked. They copied. They saw dad in his purple jersey (K-State) sit on the couch Saturday after Saturday (but not Sunday mornings, of course) rooting for his team with great fervor and sometimes disgusting disappointment. They eat off blue plates and drink from blue cups featuring a Jayhawk (KU). They hear mom buying them clothes whilst saying, “No, we’re not getting that, it’s blue! Let’s get the purple one.” They learn by watching and mimicking, by being told what to say about this or that institution’s sports, coach, players, even fans.
Junior knows what would happen if he showed up to grandpa’s house wearing the wrong jersey on game day (or even on an off day)? You know; the jersey that doesn’t match the limestone monument in grandpa’s front yard proudly inscribed with grandpa’s favorite team’s logo (a frequent site in Kansas). What happens when grandpa meets junior’s girlfriend for the first time and asks, “Okay, only one question: KU or K-State?” The right answer gets grandpa’s blessing; the wrong answer gets his scoff and rough humor.
Okay, you get the point. Our kids (including even my son, whose dad doesn’t have a single known piece – a single piece! – of sports paraphernalia in the house) end up so attached to a team because they’re mom and dad, their grandmas and grandpas, and their aunts and uncles even their friends are attached to them and boast of them with the great vigor of yard signs, dishes, clothes, pictures, car decals, and even body paint and tattoos! Any number one fan has experienced the slight moment of shock and disappointment when their daughter announces that she won’t be going to grandpa’s alma mater, but to the “other school”. (Some of you can feel the blood rising even now simply because my example doesn’t feature your team. Get over it.)
But we all know that this isn’t the truly important stuff that we should be teaching our kids. No matter how big a fan we are (or grandpa is), we know that in the end it just doesn’t matter which team our sons or daughters cheer for. No one among us would ever really disown their son because he’s the only knucklehead in a blue shirt at Thanksgiving when everyone else – even the dog – is wearing purple. It’s all in good fun; even if that “good fun” occasionally causes us to cry or curse in anger or even neglect our parental or Christian duties so we can watch the game.
We all know the really important stuff: faith in Jesus and hearing God’s word; attending the gathering of the Lord on the Lord’s day, gathering with the Body of Christ; receiving and participating in the sacraments and life of the saints of God. That’s the really important stuff. That’s the stuff that matters.
You know where I’m going with this. You know the comparison. If you can take your kid to a ball game, or watch one on TV with her, then you can bring your kid to the Lord’s gathering and sit with him in the pew, teaching him to sing hymns, listen to his Lord, give his tithe, and serve the Lord. You can teach him to receive the Lord’s blessing. If you can spend thousands of dollars on tickets, gas, and paraphernalia, you can tithe 10% of your income. That’s the comparison. We all know it. Pastors have been using it for years. You know the comparison. It’s the Law and it condemns you and me. Which is why we don’t like to hear it.
You know everything above; I’ve told you nothing new. The Bible says there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s no new sin; no new heresy; no new teaching; no new rebuke. It’s always the same, just like our rebellion. Since we always rebel, we always need the Law to show us our sin and to guide us in the way of righteous living.
Your children, your families, your spouse, and even you will not learn the Christian faith or even believe in Christ by osmosis. Faith isn’t contagious. It must be taught. It must be fostered, just like a sports fan must be fostered. We’re not born rooting for this or that team, we’re taught to. We’re not born believing in Jesus or wanting His Word or His gathering, we must be taught to want it. We must be showed the importance of it. We must learn from our parents and friends, from others, how to be good Christians.
You can’t force your kids to cheer for this or that team or school, and unless you show them which one you root for and which team you prefer and which team is the best, you can almost guarantee they won’t be a fan even if you are. Likewise, you can’t force your sons and daughters to believe the gospel of God. But unless you show them the faith by participating in the life of Christ through participation in the sacraments and hearing the Word of the Lord, you can almost guarantee they won’t believe it. Certainly they won’t believe it is of any great importance.
But before you point the finger at wayward and not-so-pious parents, wondering if they could be doing something more, ask yourself what you’ve done to help those parents teach their kids the faith and the importance of gathering with Jesus at the Divine Liturgy. Are you making every effort to gather with the Body of Christ, even when it’s inconvenient or we’d rather be doing something else? Do you offer to sit with kids at the divine gathering so dad and mom don’t feel so isolated? Are you helping to teach the kids of your parish the ways of the Lord? Are you telling the kids how happy you are to see them on Sunday and at Sunday school? Are you encouraging them in their memory work and learning?
There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. There’s wisdom in this. Not because children need a lot of dads and moms, or because dads and moms are dropping the ball, but because we all need to see others doing what we’re supposed to be doing so we and our kids mimic and learn (in that order), doing what they see and hear others do.
Now a word for all you squirming that there’s no gospel here. You’re right. This is all law. No gospel here. But then, it’s not the gospel that tells you to train your sons and daughters in the way they should go, but the law. The gospel doesn’t teach us to be parents, the law does. Don’t fall into the trap that says you have to always say a word of gospel to somehow redeem a perfectly good word of the law. Remember, the law is God’s will, too. The law is good. Blessed is the man who meditates on it day and night.
Let the law have its way with you. You will learn how to train your sons and daughters and you will learn to seek Christ who is our righteousness, which is the sweetness of the gospel.