Today at Bethany Lutheran – Naperville, Illinois (pardon the construction work as we transition to a new website) we are rallying the children and adults back to Sunday School and Bible Class and celebrating with our annual church and school picnic. We have all of the standard Rally Day fare including Bibles and hymnals being given away to children, a new adult Bible class, a visit from a fire truck at the picnic, hot dogs, hamburgers and of course the decapitation of John the Baptist.
The last item is not exactly standard fare but since August 29th is the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist our propers for day are drawn from it as our church picnic becomes the Feast of St. John. This is actually a better combination than one might think. Let me use this occasion to extol the liturgy, one of the BJS goals, and the vehicle that brought us these strange bedfellows.
First, the liturgy is flexible and provides a great deal of variety. I remember back in the 70’s and 80’s when everyone was clamoring for contemporary worship because the liturgy was so boring. That is just not true. The liturgy is incredibly rich and varied. Our congregation has come to appreciate the minor festivals (we celebrate them whenever they fall on a Sunday) as a way enriching our worship and getting into even more corners of the Scriptures than the wide variety already provided in the three year (or one year) cycle of readings.
While the contemporary worship congregations are chasing after all sorts of Protestant (read: lacking in a true understanding of law/gospel, the sacraments, ordination, absolution, etc.) sermon series to get variety, we simply do the liturgy and have more variety than even the most attention deficit members crave.
Secondly, speaking of Protestant sermon series, they just are not needed. Most contemporary worship pastors are using these sermon series to make the faith relevant and to increase sanctification. I’ve got to tell you, when you preach the decapitation of John the Baptist on Rally Day, there is no better way to bring about a sanctified life. My message today focuses on how combining the beheading of John on Rally Day, automatically rescues Sunday School from its Dwight Moody beginnings in which it was intended to be a moral school for the children. Instead of being a generic moral training (which will not rescue one from hell) the emphasis on the beheading casts the beginning of the Sunday School year right into the world of sin and forgiveness and the need for new life from God to survive the trials of persecution. A moralistic Sunday School training for the little child John the Baptist would not have given him the fortitude to remain faithful when facing death on account of the Gospel. Fixing his eyes on Christ on the other hand, the true training Sunday School is to provide, gives the new life needed for such strength.
It is early on Sunday morning and I need to get off to church to preach the good word of John’s fortitude of faith. I’m also looking forward to giving away a few Bibles and hymnals, eating a few hot dogs and maybe I’ll even get a ride on the fire truck, all in the context of the lopped off head of a faithful servant of Christ