When I was in Seminary at Wycliffe College in Toronto, our Evangelism professor sent us out on scavenger hunt style assignments around campus sometimes to find specific things and sometimes to discover what best fit the prompts. To be honest, I can’t remember (after all it was almost a decade ago…) many of the details of these exercises but they got us out of our lecture halls and study rooms and into the beautiful world around us as we worked together to find covert ways in which the Christian faith is referenced all around us.
One of the statues we had to locate based on obscure clues was that of Robert Raikes. Raikes was a journalist is mid-eighteenth century Gloucester, England. He became concerned about all the children wandering about without adult supervision on Sundays (the children worked in the factories during the week rather than attend any form of school). Enlisting the support of the local parish priest and members of the parish to organize and facilitate the lessons, Raikes then wrote about the successes in his newspaper and the idea spread throughout the whole of England and the entire Protestant world. He called it Sunday School because it was school on Sundays which taught reading and writing using scripture.
In a time when the ability to read and write was limited to the wealthy, the church stepped in to equip children for a better future. Raikes was also deeply involved in prison reform and his idea to educate these children of poor factory families came from the belief that preventing a life of crime was a better approach than punishment and rehabilitation after the fact.
Raikes’ precursor to state schooling for everyone (and what also evolved into how we conduct faith lessons in conjunction with regular weekly worship) comes from an interpretation of The Great Commission given by Jesus (see The 28th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew). On the statue in Toronto, the Great Commission is shortened to “Go – Teach.” As Jesus’ followers, we are all commissioned to teach the wisdom of our faith with our behaviors and actions and words; it is the true vocation of every Christian.
GO – TEACH
Recently, however, I was told to “stop turning everything into a Sunday School lesson.” Now, I’m sure these well-intentioned folks didn’t actually realize what they were asking of a priest, but it illustrates how we can be so selective about where we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives and how we fit our faith into our self-created lifestyle rather than letting Jesus teach us to live as God desires. (Perhaps developing the wisdom to discern the difference was a long term goal of Dr. Bowen’s “get out of the building” exercises.)
Although it should go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway for the sake of clarity: none of us has the power to bring God into or leave God out of anything. But, we can (and should, continually) learn to be more and more aware of the presence of God in all situations, people, and places. As we grow deeper in relationship with God, we develop an awareness of how we reveal the Divine Presence by the way we live and the words we use. And, yes, there are plenty of times when I don’t and so I seek God’s gracious forgiveness and with God’s help I grow so that I am a better instrument of God’s presence in this world going forward.
As we follow Jesus we are a Living Sunday School. Everything we do, think, and say reflects our belief about who God is and God’s presence, one way or another.
We are a Living Sunday School.
The wisdom of scripture – all those stories we were taught as children in Sunday School – is not to teach us about God as we would learn about historical figures but to enable us to live in relationship with our God, moment to moment, day to day, season to season, living Sunday School to fulfill our role in making life on earth as it is in heaven.