Sermon for September 7th, 2014

Sermon for Rally Day, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 7, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Texts:  Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:5-6, 10-14

Sermon Theme:  “Watchmen and Developing Minds and Souls”

 (Sources:  Concordia Journal, Summer 2014, Volume 40, Number 1; Anderson’s Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Kids Say the Funniest Things by David Wallace; Church Kids Say the Darndest Things; Timeless Truths of Sunday School Teaching by Katzmann; How to Be an Awesome Sunday School Teacher by Bullock; Characteristics of the Best Sunday School Teachers by Lamon)

 Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           Rally Day Sunday, the Sunday that begins the new Sunday School year, is almost never observed on the same Sunday by all LCMS churches; consequently , the Lectionary texts are never chosen especially for Rally Day.  So it amazes me that all three texts for today are so perfect for Rally Day!

          The Old Testament lection from Ezekiel speaks especially to the teachers.  The Epistle from Romans speaks to the students, and the Gospel from Matthew speaks to both. 

          We have a rather small Sunday School Department, but that fact does not in any way lessen the importance of our Mission as a Sunday School!  In fact, it gives us the opportunity to provide the best teaching anywhere!  What makes a good Sunday School class and a good Sunday School teacher?

          Well, I have found over the years, that if you ask the kids, they will say they want a class that’s not boring and a teacher who is fun.  Naturally those of us who teach kids in Sunday School wonder if our class is boring, — and I’m not sure that I’m always so much fun!

          One thing’s for sure, for teachers, classes are never boring, and can be very funny because of the outlandish things kids say.  Let me share a few of those collected by David Wallace and other teachers.

          A Sunday School teacher was describing how Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason interrupted:  “My mommy looked back once while she was driving, and she turned into a telephone pole!”

          When Johnny asked in another Sunday School class whether Noah did very much fishing on the ark, another student blurted out, “How could he, with just two worms!”

          One Sunday School class was studying the Ten commandments.  The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what the last Commandment was.  Little Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, “Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor’s wife.”

          When another teacher asked her children, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?”  One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”

          When the new kindergarten class began with new kids on Rally Day, the teacher said, “If anyone has to go to the bathroom, hold up two fingers.”  A little voice from the back of the room asked, “How will that help?”

          Well, those kids livened up their classes with a little unintentional humor, as they were called into the class by God Himself to listen, to learn about God, and to obey God. 

          As Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, one of our sermon texts, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.   . . . For rules are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. . . . “Pay to all what is owed to them . . . respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

          God’s Law is a good thing, created out of love for God’s children, and obedience is a good thing, as true obedience comes out of our love for God.  Paul concludes in the text:  “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

          God places teachers in authority over children.  A Christian society fails to function properly when children have no respect for those placed in authority over them and look upon God’s laws as something to deliberately violate.  Where is love in this disrespect and violation?  Even though the Spice Girls lyrics say, “Rules are for breaking,” God’s lyrics say, “Obey.”

          A Sunday School teacher is called by God for a very serious purpose.  In our Old Testament lection, God reminds Ezekiel that he is his watchman, whose charge is to warn the evildoers to repent.  If he warns them and they refuse to change their ways, their sins remain but the prophet is not held accountable.  If he fails to warn the people and they continue in their sin, their sin will be on their own heads and the prophet of God will also be held accountable.

          In Ezekiel’s day, a watchman was one who stood in the towers, perched on the walls of the fortified cities.  His duty was to watch for enemies and warn of danger.  What if the watchman would fall asleep?  The enemy might breach the fortifications and enter the city to lay waste to it.  Even worse than that, what if the watchman saw the enemy coming and remained silent?  Maybe he didn’t think that any enemy could pierce the fortifications of the city and lay siege to it.  Perhaps he just didn’t care what happened to the city, being so disillusioned that he desired the destruction of the city.

          Sunday School teachers are watchmen for church and society.  They get human beings in the Sunday School class when their minds and attitudes are just forming.  Of course in a sense, all members of the church are watchmen.  Ezekiel warns teachers and all of us that if we are negligent in issuing warning to those for whom we are responsible, we will be held responsible for lives that are ruined.

          This awe-filled responsibility of teachers is underscored by Jesus in today’s gospel text when Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the sea.”   But keep in mind this applies to all of us, not just teachers.  It’s just that teachers are on the front line, and others are the rear guard.

          What can those who teach do to become good, God-called Sunday School teachers?  A good Rally Day question!  Here are six things I gleaned from articles by George Katzman, Mimi Bullock, and Randy Lamon:

          First, set an example in enthusiasm, study, prayer, evangelism, and personal godliness.  A teacher cannot lead somewhere he or she is not going.

          Second.   Be prayed up.  Pray as you prepare for the class, and pray with the students and for the students in the class. 

          Third, teach the Bible.  We teach God’s Word, not a lesson or a quarterly.  Strive to find a way to move God’s truths from the students’ heads to their hearts.

          Fourth, teach to transform.  The end goal of our teaching is not for content or biblical knowledge, but for God’s Word to make a difference in the lives of those we teach.

          Fifth, come to class prepared.  No fumbling for papers or looking for lost items.  Know the lesson and gather all materials ahead of time.

          Sixth, be flexible.  When the Lord is involved, the best laid plans can get tossed out the window.  Sometimes an exceptional opportunity arises that allows us to plant a different spiritual seed than the one we intended.  A child with a tender heart comes to class in tears because a loved one passed away.  Another has a wonderful dream about heaven.  Bend with the wind and walk through the open doors.

          Many teachers have had years of experience, and just do these six things instinctively, but Rally Day is a time to review them.  Be the best teacher you can be by listening, caring and loving your students.  Kids aren’t looking for SuperTeacher, just someone who is willing to give them the answers they seek.  May God help all of us, teachers and non-teachers alike, to be good Watchmen!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.