All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Sunday School
Some years ago Robert Fulghum had a best selling book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Well, indeed he may have learned all he needed to know in Kindergarten, but I must tell you that, for me, it happened in Sunday School. Of course Sunday School is not only a place of great learning, it is also a place of great laughter.
One Sunday School teacher, for example, asked her class how Noah spent his time on the Ark. The youngsters seemed baffled so the teacher pressed the issue. She said, “Do you suppose that with all the water around him he did a lot of fishing?” That got a reaction. “Ha,” one little boy replied, “with only two worms.”
Or what about the time a father asked his son what he had learned in Sunday School that day? The young boy answered, “She told us about Moses crossing the Red Sea.” The father said, “Well what did she tell you about that?” The boy paused for a moment and then he broke into a remarkable narrative. He said, “Well, old Moses got mad that this guy Pharaoh was holding people hostage. So he warned him to let the people go or he would be in big trouble. Pharaoh said, ‘O.K.’ Moses then loaded the people up in big buses and they started off. Then Pharaoh changed his mind. He called out his army and tanks and half-tracks and big guns and began chasing old Moses. He even called in an air strike. When Moses and all these people in buses got to the Red Sea, they knew they were trapped. Then they got an idea. They took sand from the shore of the sea and made sandbags and they sandbagged two sides all the way across that sea. They brought in pumps and they pumped out the water from between those two lines of sandbags so that they could cross on dry land. Then they put plastic explosives in those sandbags and when Pharaoh’s army followed them, they detonated the explosives with a remote device and blew up Pharaoh’s army.” The father cried, “Wait a minute, is that the way she told the story?” The little boy shrugged, “Naw,” he said, “but if I told you the story the way she did, you’d never believe it.”
A child’s understanding, a child’s feelings, a child’s precious soul—that’s the stuff of which Sunday School is made. I know because Sunday School was the central reality of my growing-up years. You see, I grew up in a preacher’s home where the air that I breathed was filled with the faith, and I was surrounded every day by the powerful, palpable presence of Jesus Christ. (I would sing “Jesus Loves Me” at the drop of a suggestion though I could sing no better then than I can now.) All I ever needed to know about life, I learned in Sunday School. Who I am, what I do and how I believe—all of that was put in place during those Sunday School years and what I learned in Sunday School has prepared me well for life ever since. Whenever I think about all of that, I remember the parable that Jesus told about the wedding celebration. In those days, the high point of the wedding came when the groom took his bride from her father’s house to their new home. Here’s what happened. First there was a ceremony. Then the bride and the groom would go to the home of the bride’s father to negotiate the dowry. Then they would go on to a joyous party. Here is where the parable picks up. The young neighborhood girls were waiting for the groom to bring his bride home. It was the custom for them to have lamps burning in welcome for the new couple. In this case, however, there had been a long delay and the girls fell asleep. Suddenly, at midnight the cry is heard that the couple is on the way. Some of the girls then had a problem. They had not prepared in advance for the delay, and now their lamps had run out of oil. Frantically they scrambled off to find some more oil. However, when they returned, they discovered, to their dismay, that they had missed the moment of celebration because they were not adequately prepared.
The point is clear. When, in life, the moments of crisis or opportunity come; when the storm of stress and strain break upon us; when we encounter times of difficulty or decision; we need to have prepared in advance. We need to be ready for anything that comes our way in life. That’s what Sunday School did for me. It gave me the things I needed to face anything life sets before me. Some examples please…
First in Sunday School, I learned to love the Bible.
I remember when I was in Sunday School and the teacher told us that we needed to memorize the books of the Bible in order. And, horror of horrors, we would have to stand before the class individually and recite them. Because of the terror that held for me, I don’t know of anything to which I so diligently applied myself in my childhood. The whole task was hard and I had a miserable time learning all those Minor Prophets. You know the ones with names like Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. I even had trouble with Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, but I did it. What’s more, I have never forgotten it. It has proved to be my entryway into the Scriptures themselves.
You see, we need to know the Scriptures and to know them well. I performed an experiment not long ago. I picked up the morning newspaper and read it through, as is my habit. However, on this particular day, I read it looking for allusions, or references, or analogies drawn from the pages of the Bible. I counted 27. I found myself feeling sorry for people who don’t know the books of the Bible. Think what they missed just in reading the newspaper. What’s more, think what they miss in gaining strength, courage, guidance, and comfort for dealing with the difficulties and the decisions of everyday life. Of course, you cannot learn the Bible in three easy lessons. One can never master the Bible. One can only be mastered by it. Familiarity with the Bible comes only by long exposure to its contents. Be honest now, how long has it been since you spent some time with your Bible?” Remember those young women in Jesus’ parable who were caught unprepared.
Then in Sunday School, I learned to love to pray.
You know that for children standing or sitting still for longer than a minute or two is a sadistic form of torture. That’s why there is nothing more deadly to a child’s faith than long involved, convoluted prayers. There was one of my Sunday School teachers whom I loved especially, because when she prayed, she prayed short. I learned later on that some of the most powerful prayers in Scripture are short. When Paul was knocked from his horse on the Damascus road, from a prayerful position of laying flat on the ground, he cried out to Jesus, “Who are You, Lord?” – a short prayer. The Publican with his head bowed in humility before God said, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” – a short prayer. The leper knelt in front of Christ and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” – a short prayer. In fact, taken together there are only 21 words in all three of those prayers. Yet, what else could be said about the revelation of God, and the power of God, and the will of God. For that matter, the most perfect prayer ever prayed – the one we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is but 64 words long.
I learned early on the value of short prayers, and as a result, I move through every day shooting off short little prayers to God along the way. It’s helped me through more scrapes than I can relate. It’s helped me feel very close to God every hour of every day. It’s helped me to experience more profoundly the reality of His power. That kind of constant and consistent prayer life is something we all need in our lives. I love the prayer of the little girl who prayed, “Oh God, bless Mommy and Daddy and me, and Dear God, please take care of Yourself because if anything should happen to You, we would all be in a fix.”
That’s real prayer being with God and recognizing how important God is in our lives. If you move through every day whispering prayers to God repeatedly, then you will never be caught unprepared like the young women in the parable. You will be prepared by prayer for anything you have to face in life.
In Sunday School, I learned to love the church.
I grew up loving the Church, loving everything in it, everything about it, everything associated with it. It was a love deepened by my years in Sunday School. You know, occasionally people come to me wanting to borrow the Church for a wedding or a funeral or a meeting. That’s O.K., I suppose, but there is something very sad to me about people who, having no Church, have to borrow one. All they can really borrow is a building. They can’t borrow what makes the Church the Church. To be in a place like this, to worship in the presence of God’s people, to sing and to pray and to laugh and to cry and to witness and to serve, to hear the words of Scripture exalted and explored and explained, to be surrounded by the presence of Christian friends, to encounter the reality of the Spirit of God in this place, to be called to be a part of the church of Jesus Christ ministering to human need throughout the world, to understand that Jesus Christ is calling us to be everything God wants us to be in life, to know that in time of sickness trouble or sorrow we are going to be surrounded by fellow Christians who will love us and care for us and support us, to know that here in time we can literally link our lives to that which is eternal that’s what you get from the church. And, dear friends, you can’t loan that out. You’ve got to experience that first hand for yourself.
Back when I served the Shandon Church in Columbia, SC there was an older man there. His name was David Crockett. For forty years he had been the man who saw to it that Sunday School worked in that Church. He personally greeted every person who came to Sunday School every week. He was incredible. One Sunday morning, he had a little spell with his heart. He was having difficulty breathing. Medical help was summoned and so was I. When he saw me, He said, “It’s alright, Preacher, don’t worry. I’ll be O.K.” I said, “Mr. Crockett, if you don’t slow down, you’re going to die down here at this Church one of these days.” He looked up, smiled, and said to me, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” You see when you link your life with the Church of Jesus Christ I tell you you can face anything.
And, of course, in Sunday School, I learned to love Jesus.
I think very much like the little girl who was sitting on her grandmother’s lap. She said, “Grandma, in Sunday School I learned that Jesus lives in my heart.” And, then to show her grandmother where, she pressed her little hand firmly to her own chest. “That’s good,” the grandmother said, “But how do you know that?” The little girl pressed even more firmly and exclaimed, “Because I can feel Him jumping in there.”
Well when I put my hand on my heart, I can feel Jesus jumping in there, too. Jesus lives in my heart. He is everything to me and because He is everything to me, there is nothing of which I ever need to be afraid. Is He everything to you? Do you know that He is living in your heart? Of course, the only way you can ever know that is to surrender your life to Him in faith. I call you to do that today. You see, if you’ve got the Bible in your hand, and a prayer on your lips, and the Church in your corner, and Jesus in your heart, then you will be ready to face anything and everything life sets before you.
All of that I learned in Sunday School, and frankly, that’s all I have ever really needed to know…