A Lifetime of Growing in Faith and Knowledge

Our theme for this season is 'living the good news.' All of us should be living the good news. We're all people in Christ, we're all people of the church. When we walk out of church on Sunday morning, we should walk out with a bounce in our step or at least with a little more inspiration in our hearts, with a little bit of the good news. And I say that knowing that sometimes the services I lead or the messages I give might leave us hanging with, "That news wasn't so good today." Perhaps I could add a little more good news to every service. But as those of us who attend realize, Sunday School usually gives us some good news to live out every single week. Especially this year with our curriculum being 'living the good news,' you can be pretty sure that there's going to be some good news each week whether for the children or for the adults. Living the good news is sometimes easier said than done, especially when we're not feeling ourselves adequately prepared or we haven't had insights for the day that might raise that up in us.

This is where I make a plea for the discipline of Christian learning, the discipline of attending Sunday School. When we attend Sunday School, we learn about the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of God as found in the Old Testament and other resources, but we learn it together...and in that comes sharing. Sharing is a very important thing in growing the life of faith within ourselves. If we don't share, then we're not able to hear how the good news has been working in the lives of other people, how God has been shaping them. I don't know about you, but I'm paid to talk to people about their faith. That's part of my job and my vocation. But sharing your faith with someone is not something most of us probably do on a regular basis. Sometimes we have a difficult time talking about faith, but living the good news is something that all of us can do because one of the aspects is simply living out a life that makes people say, "Wow, this is a person with joy in their life every day. This isn't the grumpiest person on the block. I wonder why that is. And why is it when someone in the neighborhood is sick, so-and-so is bringing food over to their house or picking up their mail for them. Gee, that seems like a good thing." That's living out the good news by helping others, by caring for others. And people noticing you're at a sense of peace.

The most profound thing that I see as a pastor is when someone comes to me and tells me they've gotten a horrendous diagnosis. And they say, "But, you know what? I'm okay.." That doesn't happen often, though people might think, "The pastor expects me to say this," that, "I'm supposed to say I'm okay." Most of us would find that when we get news like that, we're not okay. And it's okay not to be okay. There are moments in life like that. But every once in awhile, I come across someone who has a profound sense of joy and peace in their life, and it amazes me. I truly see God's hand working in their life and say, "Ah, that's someone we can model ourselves after." They're living out the good news to the biggest extent one can. Not all of us can do that. Even with as much Sunday School as we could possibly have, we still may not be able to do that. But actually participating in the Sunday School program, participating in discussions of faith helps to enrich that within ourselves so we can experience this sense of peace, God's grace and love on a weekly basis. Often in Sunday School classes there are those who don't speak much, when they do they usually say something extremely profound. Not everyone has something to contribute each week, but often when people do contribute, it's very meaningful and it touches everyone in the group.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in situations where someone shares how God is working in their life, it changes me. It changes my perceptions of that person, but it also changes my perceptions in faith and I grow a little bit. Each time one of you shares something with me, I grow a little bit along with you because I learn more about you and how God is working in your life, maybe in a way I've never thought of or experienced or been exposed to. That helps me live out the good news better. Sometimes when I'm meeting with folks and they ask, "Pastor Steve, what can I do?" or "Do you have anything that would be helpful?" I often draw on previous experiences that I'm able to share. I don't use names when I talk about previous experiences, and many of them come from the nursing home where I used to work as a chaplain. But it's experiences I'm able to draw on that people sometimes find helpful. Had I not had those experiences, I'd probably be at a pretty big loss about what to say that might be helpful.

For each of us as Christians today, the more we're in conversation and expose ourselves to learning in deliberate settings, the more we know, the more we grow, and the greater our perspective about God's loving ways...a very important thing. So never underestimate the power of attending Sunday School, a church education program, a local bible study, or even book study. Sometimes book studies focus on religious material. Those are important ways that we grow, and we're never too old to learn. We learn something new every day. And God blesses us with that opportunity. So it's good for us to seek that out, to seize those moments so that we might better be able to live out the good news.

God has done tremendous work in our world in past history and still today. And that is good news. God is not dormant, God is not a has-been, God is the great I AM and is present and active today as much as in the ancient world we read about in our Scriptures. God's word is living and God's Spirit is still inspiring, and that will give us inspiration to live out the good news. Also being participants in Sunday School helps us look at life issues. Lots of the material, especially for the teen and adult classes, deals with real everyday issues and how we might be able to make better choices in our lives and how to be more deliberate about the things we do and the choices we make. And so in that way, Sunday School becomes a guide.

In the protestant church worship became, in the early days, the preaching. Pastors would preach for hours. Aren't you glad we don't do that today? Someone told me, "You preached for twenty-five minutes." That's probably a record for me since I started out with the goal of a seven-minute sermon. But in the past, the preaching of the word was the heart of the service, and that's where people really started to learn. Pastors weren't just prophetic, they were teachers. I try to do that in the small segment of time I give myself for the sermon each week, but it's very minimal. If you think about an hour of time devoted to Sunday School where often we're following the lectionary with our Sunday School materials, you're really studying those texts in depth. There have been Sundays when that occurred and people said, "We talked about that in Sunday School today," especially when I did an interactive sermon and there were big smiles on people's faces and I knew who was in Sunday School that day because they were more than happy and ready to share because a lot had been discussed. And that was really a very joyful occasion for me.

Think about that...an hour of studying particular texts and sharing the 'what-ifs' and 'for-instances' and people's experiences compared to me trying to cram everything into a short sermon and try to give you a zinger to inspire you to maybe make a change or reflect on your life. Now, I'd like to say I'm going to increase my preaching to an hour each Sunday and I'll break out the PowerPoint presentations and charts and we'll take out our pencils and really get to work. But if I do that I'll probably lose at least half of you by the next Sunday. So I encourage you strongly to go to Sunday School, learn something. There are some wonderful classes and wonderful people in the classes who are there to learn more about faith, to learn more about God, and to learn more about themselves as followers of Christ. And that's what Sunday School is all about. Worship is what the name implies...giving praise and glory to God. And though we include some learning, it's really a place where we just reinforce things from week to week sometimes as little nuggets of learning. But Sunday School is the heart of where I think we really begin to grow.

Now, you can do some of those things on your own and you can do reading, but it's the sharing that makes the difference. So let us think about how we might begin to see ourselves as Sunday School students all over again. It never ends. Jesus said, "Learn from me," in that Scripture lesson we just read. And Sunday School will do that. You will learn from Jesus. And I have a feeling that the more we put our efforts into learning from Jesus, the more relevant the other line he said ("I will give you rest") will become in our lives as well. May it be so. May you be inspired to greater depths of knowledge and study and love, for God and for neighbor. Let's get out and let us live the good news.

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve