I am occasionally asked to present the weekly lesson in my Sunday School class. I do it with the clear understanding that everyone in class accepts the fact that I need the lesson’s messages worse than they do.
I am Methodist by birth and by the grace of God and my momma. The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley along with his brother, Charles, in England. The Wesley brothers spent time in the Savannah area during the period that Gen. James Oglethorpe was busy organizing the colony of Georgia and making sure we would always be the largest state east of the Mississippi River, and one day would contain the oldest state-chartered university in the nation with an abundance of Rhodes Scholars and No. 1 NFL draft choices. To say he was successful would be a gross understatement.
The most recent lesson in which I talked to myself and invited everyone else to listen in was about acting like Christians instead of claiming to be one. There is a big difference.
We Christians can be a petty, judgmental and downright hypocritical crowd when we choose to be, which is a lot more times than God would like. We forget that it is not how we act on Sunday morning that counts, it is how we behave the rest of the week.
This is where John Wesley comes in. My lesson that day ended with this admonition from the great man: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” My friends, that will preach.
It is no secret that the institutional church, including the Methodist church, is in trouble. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2015 found that as older church-going adults pass away, they are being replaced by a younger crowd that has much lower levels of interest in organized religion than did their parents and grandparents. Some of that has to be because the younger generation watches how the rest of us churchgoers conduct ourselves when we don’t know they are looking at us and they don’t like what they see.
This attitude even carries over to young people who attend church regularly. One church told of their teenagers on a mission trip identifying themselves as being “in Christ” rather than calling themselves Christians because they had observed that Christians don’t always behave Christlike.
One of my favorite stories concerns the late evangelist Billy Graham. In the days before air travel, Graham was in line at a train station trying to change his ticket and dealing with a rude and uncooperative clerk at the window. After several futile attempts to resolve the situation with a bureaucrat unwilling to help him, Dr. Graham politely thanked the clerk and left the line, not knowing a newspaperman was standing behind him.
The journalist later wrote that was the greatest sermon Graham ever preached. He didn’t try to pull rank. (“Do you know who I am?”) He didn’t lose his temper. He was kind and courteous. The Billy Graham he saw in private was the same one we saw in public. He walked his talk.
When I have written about Bill and Gloria Gaither, who are to gospel music what Beethoven is to symphonies or Pavarotti to “Nessun Dorma,” I have gotten a goodly number of responses from people who know them or have met them and who say they are as genuinely nice in person as they seem to be on television. I would be crushed to hear otherwise.
A good step toward walking our talk as Christians is to read Galatians 5:22-23 in which the apostle Paul talks about the Fruits of the Spirit — the qualities we should live by. They are: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
My challenge to you: Try to get through one day exhibiting all nine qualities. I read that passage daily and haven’t made it yet. I might have an outside chance if we would drop the requirement for patience but I’m not optimistic.
That doesn’t mean I don’t keep on trying to do better. As unqualified as I may be as a Sunday School teacher, after every lesson I present not only do I learn something, I get a spiritual kick in the pants and say to God: “Thanks. I needed that.”