Why Should I Come To Class?
Why do we make promises? Our family is in the process of buying a house. And what shocked me was how many promises you have to make. They aren’t verbal promises. Instead, they are written promises that you have to sign your name to. And all that signing got me thinking: why do we make promises? And the conclusion I reached was that we make promises because these are what we want to understand, remember and do. The Christian church makes promises too. This weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a child. And after the child was baptized, the parents made this promise:
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord commands that we teach his precious truths to all who are baptized. Christian love therefore urges all of us, especially parents and sponsors, to assist in whatever manner possible so that [name] may remain a child of God until death. If you are willing to carry out this responsibility, then answer: Yes, as God gives me strength.
And the family agreed to do this. In fact, I’ve had many baptisms of children and for all of them the parents have agreed to this promise. Christians make promises. When I first arrived here, on the night I was installed, I made a promise to preach and teach in line with what God’s word spoke. But I wasn’t the only one who made a promise. You too made a promise. Here are the words that you promised to carry out:
Help [your pastor] by your word and example in teaching the young, remembering how the Scriptures urge you to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.
And when Pastor Schmiel asked, “are you willing,” you said, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” The problem with promises though, is that it is easy to forget them. And so, the parent who promises to teach the child that was just baptized God’s word then, years later, brings the child to catechism class. And I ask the child the simple question, “Who is Moses?” And the child says nothing. And the child says nothing because that is what the child knows about Moses. The parents broke their promise to teach their children God’s word. And I, the pastor, am left in this strange place where I have to somehow catch up ten years of teaching in two.
But it’s not just parents who fall into this trap. The rest of the congregation can fall into this trap. When the pastor is installed, they promise to teach and to set a good example. But what happens after that is often the opposite of a good example. Put yourselves in the shoes of a child for a moment. A child comes to church and sits in these pews and is surrounded by people. But then what happens? The child goes downstairs for Sunday School. And when the class is done, that child comes back up the stairs and looks into the fireside room. And what does he or she see? The child sees not almost a hundred people as there was for worship, but instead, about ten. That math teaches a lesson and preaches a sermon. It teaches a child that learning, studying and growing in God’s word is only for children.
And so, the grown-ups teach the opposite of what they promised when they installed a pastor.
And my dear friends in Christ, broken promises carry consequences with them. What happens to a child that is taught by your actions that studying God’s word with a teacher is only for children? Instead of learning to hate hypocrisy, they learn to love it. They learn that when they are confirmed they can replace bible study class with whatever they want—because, after all, that’s what the grown-ups do. I’ve heard many grown-ups in our congregation express with such sad words how many people are confirmed here and then grow up and do not stay. And much of the blame for that is on their shoulders. But do realize, part of the blame is on yours too. For what I’ve found is that the vast majority of those who complain that children grow up and do not know God’s word anymore are the same grown-ups who do not come to bible study class to continue to learn about the Lord.
It is wrong to teach our children that hypocrisy is ok. But the other consequence of this is that it makes a pastor’s ministry into misery. I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who got a new job because he thought it would use the gifts he had. But when when he arrived at work, they changed his job description. And now his work is frustrating. From God’s word, your pastor’s job description is simple: preach, teach, and visit. Put yourself in your pastor’s shoes for a moment. What do you think it would be like to come to a new congregation as a pastor, thinking that they want, really want, to study, learn and grow in God’s word, and then, week after week, month after month, what you are shown is that the opposite is true? A pastor’s ministry can quickly become misery.
We make promises. We make them so that we understand them, remember them and do them. But all of us break these promises. So what do we do about this? Do we live in the darkness, pretending it’s ok to act in hypocritical ways, teaching another generation that it’s ok to not learn and grow in God’s word? No, we repent of them. We go to the same place where every other sinner since the fall into sin has gone. We go back to God’s word and there find Jesus. And in our gospel for this morning that’s what Matthew found. And for the rest of this time, I’m going to tell you about Jesus, our Savior from our sin. But I’m going to do it in a different way. I’m going to teach it to you as if you were my catechism class. So, please, this morning, pretend that you are 12-14 years old. And it goes like this: Children, today we get to learn about a man named, Matthew. Open up to Mark, chapter 2. And I want us all to read together verses 13 and 14. And so, this morning, take out your church bulletins and read these words, verses 13 and 14, together with me: “13 Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:13–14 CSB17)
Here, in these words, we meet a tax collector. Now, in those days, people hated tax collectors. They hated them for two reasons: First, the tax collectors charged too much money, often far more than what they needed to collect. Second, they exchanged their lives as Christians for lives of sin. There is a word that Mark uses here that describes a professional sinner.1 This is a person who makes a living by doing what is wrong. So today, think of a drug-dealer or an assassin—people who are paid and support themselves by doing what is wicked. This is not good. But what if—what if a person in that situation wants to get out. Picture Matthew there sitting at his both collecting taxes. What if he wanted to get out of that job and return back to his church. The problem with being a professional sinner is that when you go down that road so many of them were stuck in that profession even if they wanted to get out.
When I was a little older than you are, our family moved. And I started high school knowing no one. And, like any high schooler, I tried to make friends by making jokes. And I made a joke with a guy in my gym class. He took my joke in the opposite way I intended it and started arguing against me. And the next thing I knew I had an enemy, rather than a friend. And to make the situation even worse, it was the son of the football coach. And for months after that, I was known as the guy who was mean to that kid for no reason. And I wanted more than anything to have that label and title taken away. But I was stuck. The situation was far worse with Matthew. I lost a friend that day. Mathew lost his church and his salvation by becoming a tax collector.
But one day something happened. One day Matthew was sitting at his tax booth and he saw a man who kept teaching and teaching and teaching as he walked down the road. And what he taught changed him. It moved him so powerfully that he took two bold actions. First, when Jesus spoke to him, Matthew walked away from his money. Picture all the piles of money on that table. Matthew walked away from it all. The second action Matthew took we hear about in verse 15. Let’s all together read that verse: “While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him.” (Mark 2:15 CSB17)
So, my children, not only did Matthew walk away from the money. He also invited all his fellow professional sinners to hear how they could get out. They had sinned. They had chosen a horrible way to make a living. But they were not stuck there. There was a way out. So then, what was that way out? Let’s read together, verses 16-17: “16 When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:16–17 CSB17)
How was it that Matthew could be sure that he wasn’t stuck forever in a life that made him sin so that he could make enough money to live on? He learned about Jesus. He learned about this man who was more than a man—he was God himself. This Jesus did for him what he could never do for himself. Jesus promised to take away the sickness of his sin. Jesus promised to cover his sin with Jesus’ own righteousness and perfection. And even more than that, when he asked Jesus to sit at his table, Jesus said ‘yes.” Children have you ever gone through that? Have you ever asked someone to sit with you at your table and then they said, ‘no?’ Matthew, by himself, had no right to ask Jesus to sit with him and eat with him. But knowing that this Jesus had forgiven his sins invites him, and Jesus says, ‘Yes.’ Oh, my dear children, this is why we come to catechism class. We come to catechism class to learn about this Savior Jesus. Week after week we learn about this sort of Savior. This concluded our catechism lesson today. Go home and memorize your parts of the catechism.
And so, for all your grown-ups and children here this morning, if you ask the question, “why should I come to class,” there’s your answer. As we read and study God’s word we learn about a Savior who heals our sickening and disgusting sins of tolerating hypocrisy. He forgives them and covers them with his own righteousness and perfection. So, my dear friends in Christ, come to class. Come to class not just because you promised to. Come to class because of the forgiveness that Jesus promises to you. Amen.
1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲱⲛ” (Mark 2:16 GNT-ALEX)