By Pastor Mark Combs
I know you have seen the books in bookstores and other places. The one that started it was Robert Fulghum’s “All I Ever Needed to know I Learned in Kindergarten.” After that one there came all sorts of variations, “Learned from Star Trek,” “Learned from a Children’s Book,” “Learned from my Kids,” and “Learned from my Cats.” To be fair, I have not read the books, but it does seem to strike me that we tend to believe there comes a time when we have learned everything we need to know. If we were to translate this sentiment into Lutheran language, we might say, “All I Ever Needed to know I Learned in Confirmation.”
There are some things that go around about pastors talking about how much trouble a congregation can be in when their pastor quits learning. I once heard that a congregation should know that it is in trouble when all of the pages in all of their pastor’s books have turned yellow, because it means that their pastor has quit learning. It is a little harder test in these days of electronic books, but I think we can all see the meaning. It is the same with all the rest of us as well. We all are challenged to be involved in continually learning about the good news that God has given us in the person of Christ. We know, when we look around, how many of us are missing out on the great opportunities of learning that go on in the church.
There is, however, something that has been concerning me even more than the lack of time spent in learning. I am very, very concerned about the lack of participation with the body of Christ – lack of participation in worship is a major problem in the life of the church today! When I started seminary, The Rev. Dr. Gordon Lathrop, at the beginning of our class on Lutheran Liturgy, said, “No learning about the church can replace the actual participation with the body of Christ in worship.” He went on to explain that he expected to see each one of us in the chapel during worship times, involved in the liturgy.
The real truth of the matter is that both parts go together! We need to be involved in the learning and be involved in worship. C. S. Lewis says that theology (the study of God) is the map for the Christian life. He insists, though, that you have to have both parts for life to be real. Lewis shares a story about a friend who had an experience with God in the desert, and then writes:
Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to the man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion – all about feeling God in nature, and so on – is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map. (1)
As we come to the beginning of a new school year, when all the variety of summer gets put away and we get back to the so-called normal routine, I want to challenge you to be a part of both the preparation and the excitement of the experience. God has great things in store for us, if we are willing to be a part of the journey. I challenge you to be involved in both the preparation (the map reading) and the journey (worship).
Opportunities abound with Sunday school and Bible study when combined with worship! Until next time!
I am hoping to see you in church!
(1) C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York:Macmillian Publishing Company, 1952) 136.