Yes, these two ideas have a connection, but hang with me for a few moments to see why I think so.
If you watch WGRZ Channel 2 (the local NBC affiliate), you have probably noticed that their news broadcasts have a graphic in the corner of the picture that says, “6 months to Rio.” Yes, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games are soon upon us. As a former gymnast, the Olympics are usually the closest connection that the public has to the sport that I trained and competed-in for about 10 years of my life. Whenever people find out that I was a gymnast, one the first things out of their mouth is something like, “Oh, I am always fascinated with gymnastics during the summer Olympics!” This applies to almost any sport, but specifically with gymnastics, we as spectators watch in awe as athletes execute their craft. For gymnastics, we watch athletes spin around a bar, flip back-and-forth on a floor, hold body positions that make most people drop their jaw in disbelief, and other amazing feats. As we watch their Olympic performance, we are witnesses to the “amazing” and the “spectacular.” Yet, we as spectators, are only seeing the finished product. We only see the tip of the iceberg, as it were. What looks amazing on television has hours upon hours, days upon day, weeks upon weeks, months upon month, and years upon years of training.
When I was in Bible College in Missouri, I taught a few hour-long children’s gymnastics classes per week as a part-time job to help me get through school. I remember a few incidents with some of the boys that I taught. Specifically, I remember lifting these boys upon to the rings. All I wanted them to do was hang and swing back and forth. Often, once they were hold-onto the rings, they would barely be able hang-on, let alone swing back and forth. Theydid not realize how much strength is takes to just hold-on; and how much ab and shoulder muscle strength it takes to swing your body forward and backward.
And, this was the simple stuff. I wasn’t even asking them to hold a hand-stand on the rings or hold their arms straight out to their side to hold a “cross” position. Yet, these positions, and many other moves are what they knew from watching the Olympics. I often felt like these kids and their parents thought they really could just come one hour per week, a few times a year, and “poof” — they would somehow be doing the amazing tricks and stunts that gymnastics on the Olympics were doing.
Were they sorely wrong, if that was their thinking. It takes attempt-after-attempt, day-after-day doing the simplest of moves; and, slowly, but surely adding one little detail onto that skill, where eventually, you finally master a “trick.” And, it takes many “tricks” linked together to create a routine — which results in the “amazing” and “spectacular” that we see in competitions, like the Olympics). But, to do the “amazing” and “spectacular,” it takes the faithfulness to repetitively practice the most simple, basic skills. Repetition and practice. At first glance, those may not be words or concepts that we attach to spirituality — living the life of a disciple of Jesus.
This past week, we encountered (or for many of us, re-encountered) God’s instruction (via Moses) to the Israelites that they were to: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deut. 6:6-9).”
"Impress them upon your children." The Hebrew concept, "impress," here has to do with the idea of "teaching by rote" (repetition, going over material more than once or twice). It also has a linguistic connection to the idea of "sharpening" (honing, refining one’s ability and skills). When you read and contemplate the meaning of Deut. 6:6-9 for your life, I hope that you notice that God did not intend for his commands and teachings to be heard and practiced once. Rather, the concept God is emphasizing is that formation into being the people of God requires repetitive instruction, modeling, and practice — so much so, that is as much an every-day activity as walking down the road or going to sleep or waking up morning-after-morning.
Now, if you are someone who has children who have already moved out of the house, or maybe you don’t have children yet, or you are not even married — this teaching of God is not something you can ignore. As followers of Jesus, all children of the body of Christ are our concern. Jesus teaches that his family is comprised of those who follow after him (Matt. 12:46-50). Jesus also teaches that welcoming little children is the same as welcoming him (Mark 9:37).
As much as our biological parents are given the responsibility to care for and instruct their flesh-and-blood children about the commands of God, so also in light of being in Christ, this responsibility also rests on the rest of the body of Christ in a congregation. So, I leave you this morning to reflect on the following. Are we practicing the commands of God, time-after-time-after time? And, are we instructing and modeling the commands of God to the children in our life (even those that may not even be our flesh-and-blood children?
Hopefully you can look back and see that your faith is where it is today because an adult was faithful to instruct and model the commands of God to you. And, I hope the children of our congregation can look back one day and say the same about us.