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Everyone who's ever been a parent will readily agree that parenting is hard work. Children don't just grow up and become responsible adults all by themselves. They don't come preprogrammed with the data necessary to be able to discern what is dangerous from what's safe or what's right from what's wrong. They have to be taught these things, and that's the work of parenting, and it's hard work.
Children don't come into the world with a sense of responsibility. In fact, they come into the world with the definite impression that the whole world is there to serve them. Being responsible for themselves and responsible to others and society is something that has to be taught. And that's the work of parenting and it's not easy work.
What would make the job of parenting a whole lot easier is if children at least understood that they don't know these things and that they need to be taught these things and that their parents and other authorities who are older and wiser than they are and know and understand things better than they do. So, if parents said to their children, 'don't touch,' and the child, 'if you say so,' and didn't touch, that would make the job of parenting so much easier, wouldn't it? Or, if when a parent said, 'time for bed, you need you rest,' the child went to bed because, after all, parent's must know what's best, and if they say I need my rest then I must need my rest and so I better go right to bed, that would make the job of parenting so much easier.
The fact that that's not usually the way it works is what makes the job of parenting hard work. Children think that they know better than their parents and other authorities and so they touch what they shouldn't touch and resist going to bed when they're told.
It's at this point that parents need to use a teaching tool called "discipline" in order to train their children. Sometimes the discipline is simply a firm word, 'no.' Sometimes, discipline is a bit stronger and takes the form of a punishment.
The thing about parenting that makes raising children such hard work is that they don't learn the first time. In fact, some lessons have to be taught over and over again. Discipline is a constant part of raising children.
Granted, some parents don't discipline their children as they should and as the children need. But I think we'd all agree that the lack of parental discipline is not a good thing or a loving thing. It's generally a sign that the parents don't much care how the child grows and develops or what kind of citizen he/she becomes. And I think we'd also all agree that undisciplined children are usually not very productive or responsible members of society. I've heard the frustration of you who are schoolteachers who love to teach but who have to spend too much time disciplining undisciplined children.
The PURPOSE OF DISCIPLINE is to teach and train a child in what is right and wrong, good and bad, safe and dangerous, responsible and irresponsible, acceptable and unacceptable. And it's hard work. But when it's properly done, it molds and forms not only good habits and behavior but also good character and citizenship and personality and leads to maturity.
So, wouldn't it be great if children understood all of this? I mean, wouldn't it just make the job of parenting so much easier and more satisfying if when children were disciplined, they said, 'thanks, I needed that.' Or if they said, 'Dad, mom, the fact that you go to the trouble to punish me so that I may learn to become a productive, responsible member of this family and of society, that really assures me that you really do care for me and that you must really love me.' Don't hold your breath waiting for such an acknowledgement, but wouldn't it be nice? And wouldn't that be appropriate?
But of course, this is all leading to the point that our Epistle reading this morning would have us understand about our relationship to God and His to us. "Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not be regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.'"
This is not really a lesson on how to be better parents. It's a lesson on our relationship with God and His with us. The writer uses a human example to illustrate the divine reality. "We have earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?"
How do we understand what it means to call the God, 'our Father?' And what does it mean that the Scriptures repeated remind us that we are 'children of God,' 'sons and daughters of God the Father?' The writer wants to show us an important aspect of the "Fatherhood of God" that, I suspect, we rarely think of.
Granted, using human examples to describe divine realities is always a risky thing. The writer is quick to point out where the analogy breaks down. "[Our human parents] disciplined as it seemed best to them, but God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness." Sad to say, sometimes parents don't discipline their children for the right reasons or in the right ways. Sometimes it's more about venting some frustration or some other selfish motives than for the constructive, beneficial training of the child. But with God, His discipline is always for our good and just exactly what we need, not just to make us better people, but "that we might share in his holiness."
Through His Word, God tells us what is right and what is wrong, what we shall and shall not do. But, like little children, we don't always do what we're told. We think we know better. And so, through discipline, God teaches us, shapes and molds us, not only to learn to DO the right and the good, but also to grow up, be mature, productive, responsible citizens in the Kingdom of God.
But just like we did with our parents and our children often do with us, we don't always see it that way, do we?
How many times, when adversity strikes or trouble comes our way, have we said, 'why is God letting this happen to me?' Maybe you've asked that question a time or two yourself. The pain of losing a child, or of divorce, or being laid-off, or illness. The pain of an injustice done to you or the betrayal of someone you trusted. "Why is God letting this happen to me?" There are several different ways to answer a question like that.
One way to answer that question is, God is an ABUSIVE FATHER. 'He's letting this happen to you because He's bad and He likes to see bad things happen to you. He gets some kind of sick pleasure out of seeing me suffer.' Some people believe that that is the correct answer to their questions and so they do what anyone would do if they had an abusive parent. Run away from the Father.
Another possible answer is, God is a NEGLECTFUL FATHER. 'He lets these things happen to you because He doesn't care about you. He created this world and put you in it and now it's up to you to do your best against the evolutionary forces at work in the world.'
Another way that we answer this question all too often is, God is a ANGRY FATHER. 'He let's these things happen to you because He's so angry with you. You've done something wrong and now He's making you pay the price." This may be the worst answer of all because if fails to realize that God the Father has already taken out all of His anger for all of our sins upon His Son on the cross. When Jesus declared from the cross, "It is finished," He was announcing that He had paid the price and all the wrath of the Father had been taken out upon Him. God the Father has not saved up just a little of His divine wrath for you. He has exhausted it all on Jesus.
The only correct way to answer this question is the one that our Epistle reading gives. 'God is letting this happen to you because He is a LOVING FATHER. And in His love for you, "God is treating you as sons." The Scriptures repeatedly tells us that we should consider the hardships and struggles and trouble that we face as God's discipline.
The writer of Hebrews is no dreamy idealist about all of this. He's a realist. Discipline may be a good thing but no one needs to pretend that it's a pleasurable thing. "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant."
Which leads me to point out that one of the important purposes and responsibilities that congregations have is to encourage one another. Brothers and sisters who are not experiencing the Lord's discipline encourage brothers and sisters who are. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Actually, the grammar of the Greek text here could just as easily be translated to read like this, "Therefore one another's drooping hands and strengthen one another's weak knees, and make straight paths for one another's feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed."
I think that this also reinforces why it is so important to be a part of a congregation and not try to go it alone with that 'I have my faith but I don't need the church' attitude that is so prevalent today. We need one another to encourage us in our time of discipline reminding us that through these 'painful' experiences, God is at work in our life, training and molding us to grow and become mature in our faith. Reminding us that "for the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
As always, we look to the cross for our strength and our comfort. There we see our Brother, the only-begotten Son of God receiving the discipline of the Father as our substitute. But "later," three days later to be precise, that terribly painful instrument of God's discipline "yielded the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
And the same cross continues to "yield the same peaceful fruit of His righteousness" given to us to eat and drink under the bread and wine, so that as we receive this fruit of Christ's discipline, we are strengthened and encouraged to receive God's discipline with thanksgiving and for the growth and maturity of our faith.
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives." He He