Does Going to Church Make Us Good People?
Last Sunday, as they often do, the children taught me something new. After we heard the story of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, I asked how they imagined Jesus felt. “Fierce!” was one reply. Fierce? Hmmm… Yes. Definitely fierce, I agreed, reminded again that second graders are refreshingly honest and bold. And right. Over and over, Jesus is the very definition of fierce, “showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity.” Jesus’ fierce love is shown when he turns over the tables because people are “robbers” in God’s house. Fierce Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan who takes care of an injured man lying on the side of the road when no one else, not even the religious leader, will. Jesus dares to talk to, sit down and eat with, and even LOVE (gasp!), people who no one else wanted to be around. This coming Sunday, March 19, the young children will hear Jesus talk about fierce love as we learn the Great Commandments: to love God and love neighbor. The tween class will learn about Jesus death on the cross, the fiercest example of God’s love for us.
When we talk about why we bring kids to church, we often focus more on morality than fierce love. This was pointed out to me by an op-ed piece I read this week which claims that non-religious parents did just as well (and sometimes better) at teaching their children to be good people. The article talks about the Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated) as a moral compass that does not need a religious foundation. Judging from several passionate responses to the article I read, non-religious parents are pretty fed up with the suggestion that not being a part of church makes them bad people. They should be. We have been misled to believe that church is only about raising “good” children. It isn’t.
In the past, Sunday school and youth group were often focused on morality. But, faith is more than being “good.” Following Jesus is about transformation of our own lives and transformation of the world. When things fall apart, when society is a mess, we have hope that God’s fierce love for us and for the world has the power to make things better. Each of us has personal stories of the power of love to heal relationships, bring about justice, and overcome hatred. Being a moral person is a likely side effect, not the purpose, of practicing faith.
At Northbrook UMC, Sunday school and youth group are places where we do our best to share the fierce love of Christ. We are searching for transformation that only love can bring. We are hoping to be a part of God’s transformation of the world into a place of love, justice and peace. We aren’t perfect. But, we believe that belonging to a faith community helps us to better live through the complicated, everyday reality of trying to love God and love neighbor.
Don’t come to church/Sunday school/ youth group just to be good. Come to join us in experiencing and spreading the fierce love exemplified in Jesus.