Sunday School Lessons
This past Sunday my youngest son "graduated" from the 5th-grade class in the kids' ministry at my church. His official graduation will be next week, but this one was significant.
For the past nearly six years, Jacob has grown up in our church's kids ministry, for more than half of his life. As the pastor of the church, I couldn't be prouder of what our kids' ministry stands for, and what we teach.
But as a parent---I'm unbelievably grateful.
One of the "parting gifts" my son received from the leadership team of our kids' ministry was a book entitled, "The Circles Around Us," a book about love, acceptance, and community.
It's one of those kids' books that really isn't a kids' book if you know what I mean, and at first, he acted like he wasn't impressed with it, but I caught him reading it when he thought no one was looking.
He also received a jar full of notes from his teachers, team leaders, and friends. The lid on the jar had these words on it: "I am kind. I am thankful. I am loved. I am enough."
I have to tell you when I saw these gifts that were given to my son, I was overcome. In other words, I cried like a baby---but only when no one was looking.
I remembered my own childhood, and the Sunday school classes I went to when I was little. My aunt taught my preschool class, and my grandmother taught me in first grade.
They were loving, kind, and accepting, and so I thought that was what God might be like. But then I would sit and listen to the fire and brimstone sermons from the preacher of the church we attended and would wonder if I was wrong about God after all.
Over time, the message that won out over love and acceptance was one of fear and rejection.
I would go on to spend my adolescence living in fear that I would be rejected by God and banished for all eternity in Hell. And then, I decided that I wasn't sure if I wanted to believe any of it. And then one day, I realized I didn't.
Fr. Richard Rohr recently wrote this:
If you are frightened into God, it is never the true God that you meet. If you are loved into God, you meet a God worthy of both Jesus and Christ. How you get there is where you arrive.
The saddest part of my journey from my childhood to young adulthood is that there was actually a time when I was little when I wanted so desperately to believe that I was loved by God and that I was enough.
But the conditions that were placed on God's love in the communities of faith within which I was raised came to be too heavy a burden to bear. I tried to make it work, but it never did.
I started thinking that I wasn't worthy of God's love, which led to shame and self-loathing, and then furious anger, which then ultimately led to me rejecting the whole Christian story out of self-defense.
I feel like there are so many people who have had this same struggle. Some of us ultimately found a new place of faith upon which to stand. Others of us walked away and never came back.
And still others---a significant number, in fact---doubled down on all of it, and just see God as angry at sinners, and ready to mete out judgment against the wicked, which invariably are always some "other."
What a difference it would have made for all of us if we had received the message of God's unconditional love and acceptance that my son received every single time he went to Sunday school and that I know he'll receive as he moves into his teenage years.
I love this about my church. I think it's high time that those of us who claim to follow Jesus demand nothing less from our faith communities. Because how you "get there" directly affects "where you arrive" when it comes to your faith.
May we do so with conviction and hope. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.