One more week to go before we start back up with our Sunday School classes for all ages! Apart from that whole horrible “I have to come to church an hour earlier!” tragedy, everyone loves being part of these classes. It’s not like a “school” school class, where you have to know stuff already, or you feel inadequate when the teacher asks you to write out the math equation on the board, this is purely a time to learn and interact with information that you probably didn’t know before -- and to do that with people whom you might not normally get to interact with.
So last week, I made the argument that Small Groups were a crucially important venue for discipleship (which they are), and this week, I’m saying that Sunday School is a crucially important venue for discipleship (which it is). See, the whole point is that we should try to approach learning about and growing closer to the Lord from as many different angles as we intelligently can as a church -- on a large, corporate scale like we do in the service, in an interactive Bible study within a tight-knit community like we do in our Small Groups, in a cross-demographic Sunday School on topics that challenge and inform us, on an individual level in our own personal prayer and Bible study times, etc. If all we ever do is stay solitary or small-scale in our study and growth, then we miss something valuable. If all we ever do is stay corporate or large-scale in our study and growth, then we miss something valuable. If you really want to grow, then exercise all of your muscles in a full range of motion -- as true for Christian discipleship as it is for athletic prowess.
In our message this week, we continued looking at the Book of Judges, and a visitor shared that he was shocked at how closely ancient Israel mirrored modern America (though, to be honest, it’s probably more the other way around). Chapters 17-18 tell us an extended, looping story about a young Levite who found a job as a priest for a family in Ephraim, who made a shrine for God in their own home.
At a quick glance, that almost sounds like a good thing...
But Levites weren’t supposed to be priests, they weren’t supposed to be “holy men for hire,” families weren’t supposed to install their own priests or build their own personal shrines, and they certainly weren’t supposed to make the carved images and idols that this family had created for their own worship times (in fact, there was a whole commandment from Moses against doing that sort of thing). So even though at a glance, it might sound like these people were being God-honoring, the truth is that they were doing what made sense to them and consciously disregarding God in the process (in fact, the homeowner openly believed that by controlling all of the religious pieces like this and keeping his own, pet priest, he could more or less automatically expect that God would have to bless him in response).
But if all you’re trying to do is to improve your lot through religion, then you’re gonna have a hard time of it. Can you really expect to control or manipulate God like that? What happens when (like in the story) things go bad in your life -- does that mean that religion isn’t important or that it doesn’t “work” for you? And should our “religion” really be based on deciding what we can personally get out of it, or should our relationship with God be based on honoring Him for what He’s already done for us?
Everyone in this story was focused on trying to trade up -- to rob, cheat, and steal in order to improve their lot in life. The end result of that plan is always emptiness. But as we’re told repeatedly in this story, “In those days, Israel had no king, and everyone did as he saw fit” -- and living in the land of “do what you want” always ends in tragedy...