Back to Index

Listen to sermon by clicking here:

Building a Christian Home (Responsibility)
May 3, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

I'm preaching a sermon series of sermons on family life, believing it to be a major concern of all of us. If you're a child, or a parent, or a grandchild, or a member of the church, or a citizen, we are all concerned about family life and what's happening to families today. I’m holding up the ideal before us in these few weeks of the Christian home, and challenging us to build a Christian home. I said last week that a Christian home is one where Jesus Christ is the head of the family, not any one individual person within the family as the head, but Jesus as the head with every person in the family commonly and unitedly committed to Jesus Christ. To  worship him, and to serve him in the world as a family is to take the vocation of being a Christian family very seriously. 

There are four ingredients of a Christian home, as defined by our church in the 1980 Discipline. In its statement on family life, this is what we believe about families and this is the first sentence, “We believe the family to be the basic human community, through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity.” Those are the four ingredients. Last week we looked at mutual love, where love from parents to children, love from grandparents to grandchildren, mutual love, out of which responsibility and respect and fidelity is nurtured. Without love, responsibility, respect and loyalty cannot be nurtured. Likewise, responsibility, respect and fidelity give content to the nebulous word love. Love is so indefinable in our culture. And our church challenges us that love must include responsibility, respect and trust,  or there is no love. 

So today, let us look at responsibility. A major ingredient of the Christian home, our society mouths belief in responsibility, and bewails and criticizes children and youth who act irresponsibly. But much of what our society does undercuts responsibility, undermines responsibility. Our popular psychology coddles, spoils, indulges children. Our popular psychology encourages us to blame everyone else for our particular situation and our problems. We begin by blaming poor old mother for the way she toilet trained us. We blame the schools, we blame the police, we blame the community. We encourage irresponsibility. Our school systems teach regimentation, conformity, downplaying self-reliance and individual initiative. And then, we are amazed when high school students can't handle modular scheduling as if magically at some point in time, youth are supposed to become responsible and able to handle their own scheduling, take courses into their own hands and discipline their own time when all along through the system they've been taught to conform and to act as a group. 

Our society as a whole pampers drunk drivers. A drunk driver receives a lesser sentence than one who is supposedly in full control and is responsible. A person who is under the influence of drugs is said to be incompetent and therefore not responsible for what he or she does. Premeditated rape, premeditated murder get harsher sentences than those who act irresponsibly when they are angered or provoked. Ask any family who has had a loved one raped, or a loved one killed by a drunk driver. Does it make any difference whether it was premeditated, or whether they were under the influence? An act is an act, and you and I are responsible for our actions. We cannot blame our actions on mother, school, community, drugs or emotional illness. We are responsible. Our Christian faith comes down squarely on responsibility and says every single person is responsible to God, is judged by God and relates to God as an individual person. No one relates to God through the shirttails of mama or papa or anyone else's faith. W each stand before God by ourselves. 

It's very encouraging in our society today to see the trend towards responsibility. We see it in education, increasingly in the schools. We see it in therapy and counseling where the person is encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions. 

Responsibility really begins in the home. Christian homes build responsibility where each child, each youth, each adult, assumes responsibility for the welfare of the family and assumes responsibility for his or her own contributions to the family, where each member of the family assumes responsibility for his or her own actions and behavior, and for the future of their life. 

How does a person learn responsibility? I remember when Timothy our middle son was about five years old. We lived in Minneapolis. He had a playmate across the street, also about five years old. One day the playmate’s mother came over and said she found the two boys playing with matches. Well, the school teacher came out in Ellie and she decided to give Timothy a lesson on responsibility. So she took Tim to the basement. She took a sheet of newspaper and tore up the paper in the shape of a person with a head and arms and legs. She said to Tim,  “Now imagine that this is a boy and this boy plays with matches.” She lit a match and the little boy watches the match burn down until the paper catches on fire. He gets so excited, he waves his arm around and the other arm catches on fire. Then he gets his legs on fire and pretty soon he's all burned up. They watched the newspaper consumed with fire and poor little Tim, his eyes closing, his mouth wide open, said, “Now let's burn a girl.” 

How do we learn responsibility? I believe we learn responsibility by assuming responsibility, by being allowed to assume responsibility, and by being allowed to succeed or allowed to fail. It is so hard for parents and grandparents to let the kids fail. One family had trouble with their little boy. He was a dawdler. They'd wake him up an hour and a half before the bus would come to take him to school. During that hour and a half, Mother would spend her time saying, “Come on, get your clothes on. Brush your teeth. Get to the table. Hurry up, the foods on the table. Hurry up, the bus is coming.” Have you ever been there? She nagged at him and prodded at him for a whole hour and a half to get him to the table to eat. By the time he went to school, she was a nervous wreck. She went to a counselor and said, “I can't take it any longer. What am I going to do?” The counselor said, “Let the child assume responsibility for his own actions and his own breakfast.” 

So they tried the great experiment. The next morning she awakened the boy an hour and a half before breakfast. Mother said, “No more.” She didn't nag. She didn't prod an hour and a half, she kept her mouth shut. Do you believe it? She resisted all the temptations to interfere. By the time the boy came to the table, it was only a couple of minutes left before the bus would come. The table was all cleared. She said, “Oh, you've missed breakfast. And the bus will be here any minute.” The next morning, the same process. He came to the table. The table was cleared and mother resisted saying anything. The next morning, he came a little earlier and the family was eating. He said, “Well, you know, I'm not hungry anyway, I don't like to eat anyway.” Nobody said a word, they just went on eating. He sat there and didn't eat. The next morning, the fourth morning, he was on time. He sat with the family. He ate a big breakfast, and the problem was cured. They let him assume responsibility for his own actions. When you are late, you don't eat. They were able to resist all that talking, which usually interferes with the process. They let the boy assume responsibility with the school bus, the food and his own schedule without Mother involved, disturbing the water. We learn responsibility by being allowed to assume responsibility and succeeding or failing. 

We also learn responsibility by being part of the family, by assuming our portion of the family's obligations, by being a contributing member of the family, not in an atmosphere or climate of “You must do this, or this is your duty, or if you don't do this, you will be punished.” But with the climate of you are needed in this family. You are an important part of this family. Your contribution is necessary to the welfare of all of us. Belonging and being needed are great human characteristics, motivations. This was a lot easier yesterday, especially on the farm where I grew up where we didn't have all these modern machines. It was much easier to be a contributing member of the family on the farm. It was obvious to us as children that when the hens lay eggs, they had to be picked up. The cows had to be milked. We had to go get the cows. If we didn't get the cows, they weren't milked. We had to weed the garden. We had to clean the barns. Everybody had to work. It was obvious that no one person could do it all. I don't remember being nagged at and prodded about it. I don't ever remember my mother saying, “Now did you clean your room?” Because there were three of us in the room, there wasn't any room to clean! It was a lot easier in the old days. 

But, with a little imagination and a little creativity, the climate can be built where everybody has something to contribute to the family. Family discussions are held where everyone's ideas are listened to, where decisions are made, vacations are planned, schedules are coordinated, finances are shared, where the children know where the money goes, and the struggles that parents have. Children are involved in what the family buys and what the family does, assuming the responsibility as a full, participating, contributing member. This begins very early at the age two or three and not waiting till one is a teenager. How difficult it is to magically suddenly become responsible when you're a teenager, and have been pampered and indulged through the years. We hate to allow little children to assume responsibility by picking up their toys, putting away their things because we want to protect them. We want to make their childhood a happy childhood. And besides, it's easier to do it ourselves. But, a productive child, a contributing child to the family is a happy child, an unselfish child, one who respects the rights of others, one who cares about others, one who feels needed and important. 

A Christian stands before God and assumes responsibility for the life God has given that person. To live out that life to the best of one's ability, taking responsibility for one's own actions, are ingredients of a Christian home—mutual love and responsibility. Next week—respect and fidelity.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris