Lessons for Late Summer Sundays "Facing That First Day of School"

 

There are several kids in the vehicle this year. We're specifically told he was the oldest, what with his brothers and sisters. Everybody's screamin', or fussin', or yelping for attention. But then this is just one in the caravan of minivans. (Oh, we'll see 'em on the roads tomorrow. Streamin' for and from the school houses all around these parts.) Well, lookin' in the mirror, mama notices somethin's up. Somebody's missin'. It's the eldest son. She leaps for the cell phone. 'Hits the speed dial for her husband, wanting to know, "Did you pick him up from school?" No luck. No answer. No choice but to go back for him, hopin' he's alright and all ready to come home. Oh, happy first day of school! Aren't you just lookin' forward to it, parents? Grandparents? Bus drivers, active or livin' in the memory? Take heart. You're not alone. God knows what you're goin' through. After all, this is the story of Jesus, left at the temple, from Mary's point of view. (I admit I jazzed it up a little, but if it'd happened in our day as in theirs, this'd be the story.)

In a classroom, in the sixth grade, first day in Middle School, a kid sits behind a desk in homeroom, a new experience in its own right. He knows this ain't elementary school no mo'. 'Hit the big time. The pressure's on. The grades really start to count. Classes change. New kids. Most bigger, some smarter, some meaner than last year. And there are just all kinds of temptations. Hey, what's this? The girls look different in the halls. Something new's been added. Aw, man, look how many of these kids have cell phones! Will anybody try to sell me drugs on the first day?! I want my mommy! But I mustn't let on! If only I could remember that thing they taught in Sunday School last the year. That day I was lookin' out the window, mostly. Something about, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow… I will fear no evil. For Thou art with me." "Dag, Dude, I could use old Art right about now, and maybe a couple of his friends. Shoot, call in the big guns! I could really use Jesus. I could use God. 'Before I get outta homeroom, much less make it to lunch (where is the cafeteria), I could use somebody preparing a table for me. I could use a little goodness right now. And I could use alotta mercy!"

First day of school! I took a poll this week. "What's the one word that comes to mind when you hear, 'First Day of School'?" About 15-18 people of all ages responded. Some of your words: happy, yuck, memories, shopping, excited, hassle, overwhelming, anticipation, miss it (OK, that's 2 words), finally! Nobody said, "tomorrow." And nobody said, "Biblical." But it's both! And that's what I've been trying to illustrate the last couple of minutes. One thing stands out. From 95 to 5, nobody fails to have a word, or feelings about that first day. Like Christmas, Easter, or our own birthday, it's one of the few days that impacts everybody. So what better day than this…when Sunday School begins, and the bells ring in hours, to talk about that first day of school.

Here's the thing. We're not alone. God himself knows the feeling, whatever it is we're feeling. You know, it's awfully easy to forget: God knows what we go through, goes through what we live, feels for us, because God feels with us! Scripture tells us, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." Paul says Christ emptied himself and took the form of a servant. The New Testament is replete with stories of Christ sharing in moments of quiet, personal, even tender joy. It assures that he was acquainted with grief. He faced sin square in the eye, we're told, just like we do. Yet he did not choose to sin. These are big ideas in the Bible story. So they sometimes mask the intimate truth of our personal Lord and Savior. God in Christ immerses himself in the experience of the human family. He knows what it's like in our family. Witness… the first day of school!

Surely, God lived in that little Nazarene family: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the other, younger kids. I know the Jerusalem Passover Trip wasn't exactly like our first day of school. But I can say with confidence it included many of the feelings we parents feel on that day of days. Will my child be alright? Who is caring for him/her when I cannot? O Lord, what lessons will be taught there, what values shared? Is he/she street smart enough to get along without me? Lord, I love him/her so much, please don't let anything bad happen to him/her. Mary felt, knew; Joseph, too. And told the story often enough to family, to Jesus, to others, it comes all the way down to us today. And if, maybe your kids are grown, or worse, you lost one… or more… you remember this day. 'Pine for it. 'Hold it in your heart a different way. Mary, too. And you can be assured in all of this. Heaven knows. God knows. Whatever first-day brings to grown-ups. God knows. Cares. Shares.

David may have been about the age of a 6th grader when he first began to sing the 23rd Psalm. He was a shepherd: no home-room, shop class, or student handbook. But what he learned about God, our kids need to know. And all borne of the same feelings. No place is so lonely or exciting, threatening or promising God is not there. When I need, God will provide. When the world looks all brown and dried up, God's got good and green in store for me. We joke that kids still pray in school when test time comes. OK, maybe. But it's no joke we assure them when they are rejected by wanted-friends. 'Bullied by unwanted-harassers. 'Overlooked by overworked teachers, left out by over-competition, or just plain down, there really is Someone who will walk through the valley with them. 'Somebody's out there ahead. 'Gettin' goodness and mercy ready for me. And not just today, or when interim reports come out, or even on report card day or graduation day (Hallelujah!). No, this is gonna be with me all the days of my life! Oh, thank God, in First Day Feelins' whenever, wherever, "whyever" I have them, no matter my age or stage, I'm not alone. Heaven knows. Thank you, Jesus!

We need to know this. Maybe it's not a revelation. But it is a needed reminder. If we want our children and youth to know this God of the valley and the mountain, Sunday School and Church are the only place to get this education! The proverb is right that reminds us, "Train up a child when he is young and when he is old he will not depart from it." This is the place to grasp the Savior of the Cross and the Shepherd of the Soul. This is the place to make ready for first days of School and the School of First-Days of the Rest-of-Your-Life.

So, what specific lessons can we lift? How about the one's we've set on paper in your bulletin today.

  1. Prayer prepares the way. "I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted me what I asked. So now I give him to the Lord." I Sam. 1: 27-28. "Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you." I Pet. 5: 7. Imagine how much better, all first days, prayed for first, entrusted to God. Imagine praying your way around your child's room, outfits, supplies, bus schedules, lunchbox, this very child, inviting God's care, the last night before the first day…!
  2. Rest begins the day. "There was evening, there was morning, one day." Gen. 1: 5. In God's plan, we rest then rise. Many a work or school day rises or falls on adequate rest. It's not extra; it's a day's first blessing.
  3. God will help with what to say. "He who guards his lips guards his life." Prv. 13: 3. "May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my Rock, and my redeemer." Ps. 19: 14. Want to say what encourages and lifts and God will help. Want to say what makes friends and God will give you a good word.
  4. Trust that you are able. "I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." Ps. 34: 4. "God did not give us the spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline." II Tim. 1: 7. God not only makes us and our children good. He makes us good enough. "I will strengthen you and help you…" Isa.41:10
  5. Know that God has set the table. "Thou preparest …" Ps 23: 5. Even, "in the presence of my enemies." Take that, Algebra! God has prepared, and prepares us for the challenges ahead. We're not going or sending our loves anywhere God hasn't already been for us!
  6. Sharing feelings keeps you stable. "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near…" Isa. 55: 6 Whatever you feel facing new beginnings, share with Heaven. And each other. Jesus instructs us to love each other as he loves us. "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The table, at day's beginning and end's the place.
  7. Jesus with you ensures one friend. New schools, classes, places, people. We want to know. Will anybody there like me, care for me, or mine? Jesus says, "Look, I'm always with you, even to the end of the age." Surely 4th grade or the Freshman Year is no exception! The old hymn is right, always and everywhere we have a friend… in Jesus.
  8. Jesus teaches to help you bend. Jesus knew the Proverbs. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" Prv. 1: 7 "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding… and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Prv. 2: 1-5 "Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge." Prv. 23: 12. Repeatedly, Jesus says, "You have heard it said of old, but I say to you…." (Mtt.) Jesus would have us learn, bend, grow. "There is more light yet to break forth from God's Holy Word," Pilgrim pastor John Robinson used to promise. Our first learning in every new situation is that we don't know it all already!
  9. Jesus stays to the very end. "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. 'I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.'" Jn. 14: 16-20 New beginnings are purposeful. God in Christ is leading us somewhere, somewhere he has described. That first day is a step along the way. And he is walking with us through the day.
  10. Heaven helps us begin again!

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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