It's back to school time! As teachers and students begin a new school year, we all get a reminder of the joys of learning, friendship, and early bedtimes. I am grateful that my three kids are much more successful at making friends than I was when I was their age. Ava, Braden, and Drew were happy to go to school today in large part because of their friendships and the value they see in what they learn in school. It is amazing how elementary school children understand, in their own ways, of course, relationships and the value of what they are learning. What's more amazing is how we adults forget both of those aspects as we live our lives.
Since its back to school time, I was pondering the importance of Sunday school to my life as a pastor. I know that, in general, over the last few years, Sunday school has fallen out of fashion in favor of "life groups", "small groups", "home groups", or other inspiring groupings of people. Be it Sunday school or "awesome sauce life group", the purpose remains hopefully the same–a faith community for people to gather around the Word of God in order to deepen relationships with one another and understand the eternal truth of Jesus Christ. This is called discipleship. Usually people will stop attending Sunday school if it doesn't provide meaningful, Christ-centered relationships or if it doesn't contribute any type of meaning or purpose to our lives. When this occurs, it is a mournful thing because the community of Christ should be built around the relationships that God has knit together focused upon the testimony of God for us in our world. We need each other more than we realize.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed heavily in Christian community. For him, it was not a social club. It was not an activity group. It was not something to be attended to whenever we felt like we should. It was communion. It's purposes were plenty, but central to this purpose was the presence of Christ. Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." What an incredible promise! Sadly, this is a promise that never gets experienced by so many in our churches. Bonhoeffer tells us in his classic Life Together,
"God has put this word (the Gospel) in the mouth of men in order that it be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure."
Sunday school (or Awesome Sauce LG) provides us with the opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters who are navigating through life clinging to Christ and needing to hear that someone else is trodding that same path with us. In our discipleship we can encourage one another, rejoice together, pray together, mourn together, work together, sing together, and commune together. And with this communion in the name of Christ, we get Jesus.
So, may we always understand the importance of our relationships and the value of our fellowship each week as we meet together for worship and discipleship. For when we gather each Sunday, Christ is present with us and nourishes us for the lives we've been called to live. Amen.