Don’t Be a “Sunday’s Child”

Blind Faith (No. 23, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for June 9, 2016
Don’t Be a “Sunday’s Child”

Almost 50 years after I learned the words to a song in the first
“Christian folk-musical,” Good News, the vital concept taught in the lyrics
has stayed with me. The ground-breaking composition in 1967 boldly set a
call for young people to live by faith in Jesus to a top musical style that
appealed to the target audience, folk music. Response to the musical was
monumental. Great numbers of teenagers, especially, were led to personal
faith in Christ through presentations of Good News. With the introduction of
a contemporary musical genre into music accepted for youth to sing in
church, youth choirs mushroomed in size. In my home church the parallel
development of youth musicals and summer youth choir tours helped our youth
choir to grow from 50-60 who sang Good News to well over 100 voices touring
after I graduated from high school. Sharing the message of faith in Christ
with such a large community of young Christians in musical formats that
connected with everyday life was a truly transformative experience.

Other Christian folk-musicals rapidly followed Good News. A
standard formula quickly emerged. Typically a series of very short dramatic
vignettes told a story that was further communicated by the lyrics of the
songs performed. Personal testimonies by members of the choir often gave
first-hand accounts of how faith in Christ saved the witness from the bad
behavior, sin, and doubt depicted in the dramatic sketches and songs. The
effectiveness of the Christian folk-musical began to wane as musical styles
gave way to rock and the “British invasion,” and as a glut of less
well-written musicals flooded the market. Perhaps the best legacy among the
succession of musicals was Celebrate Life, a presentation of the life and
ministry of Jesus, which appeared in 1972. Selections from this “pulpit
musical” have become standard hymns sung in many Christian worship services
today.

The song from Good News that has lodged in my
faith-consciousness is sung as an acknowledgement of an issue raised by a
character in one of the dramatic vignettes. A young man plays the part of a
reactor. That is, he hears the Christian message and he reacts. “Hold it,”
he says, “wait a minute! Wait just a second! I’ve been sitting there and
watching. OK, bring on the show! Remember to make it good – there’s always
TV you know. Thus far I’ve been impressed, but I’ll be a little bold. This
thing called Christianity, it leaves me cold!” Several lines later he tells
why: “I’ve got some friends who are Christians and they go to church every
Sunday. But boy, you ought to see them on Monday!” The chorus that follows
admonishes:
Sunday’s Child, don’t be a Sunday’s Child.
On Sunday he is quite a Saint –
On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday, Saturday a Saint, he ain’t!
(“Sunday’s Child,” Good News: A Christian Folk-musical, Bob Oldenburg, 1967)

The call for consistent Christian living resurfaces regularly –
sometimes as an uncomfortable judgment of my behavior, other times as a
helpful reminder – when the song springs to mind.

Hypocrisy is a persistent charge leveled against Christians by
non-Christians – and by many critics within the faith. The word originates
in the masks worn by actors performing in ancient Greek theaters. The mask
could represent the appearance of a particular set of emotions, while the
actor behind the mask might not feel that way at all. One Christian pastor
has written about the unfortunate prevalence of what he calls “theatrical
faith.” Far too many people who profess to be followers of Jesus, he says,
merely wear a mask intended to resemble Jesus rather than becoming
transformed in their hearts, minds, and actions to become more genuinely
like Jesus. Sundays and other select times these hypocrites don the
Jesus-mask to present themselves as Christians, while underneath the masks
and when they are not “on stage” their lives display no evidence of true
faith.

God has always taken a dim view of Sabbath/Sunday-only religious
theater. Isaiah pronounced that God had seen more than enough of people who
were supposed to be in everlasting covenant relationship with him just going
through the motions of faith as they put on shows of worship: “The Master
said: ‘These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their
hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t
mean it, I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand
them on their ears.'”
(Isaiah 29:13 MSG) God called his people through Isaiah’s prophecies to new
daily lives of mercy, compassion, community, and heartfelt ongoing worship.
Jesus quoted these verses from Isaiah when he unmasked the practice of some
teachers claiming to have made a sacred vow only in order to shelter assets
from being used to care for aging parents. (See Matthew 15:8-9.) Eugene
Peterson’s marvelous paraphrase in today’s idioms of the opening of Jesus
Sermon on the Mount makes Jesus’ disdain for empty “Sunday’s Child”
performances perfectly clear: “Be especially careful when you are trying to
be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good
theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2 When you do
something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen
them in action, I’m sure-‘play actors’ I call them-treating prayer meeting
and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone
is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all
they get.. 5 And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical
production either. All these people making a regular show out of their
prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matthew
6:1-2, 5 MSG) Play-acting Christian faith is not the kind of life Jesus has
in mind for us.

Paul employs a different metaphor that meshes well with
avoidance of “Sunday’s child” pretensions of following Jesus. People a few
years ago talked about dressing in their “Sunday best” clothes to go to
church. Metaphorically speaking, a “Sunday’s child” or the play-actors Jesus
upbraided dress in Sunday-best behavior only on Sunday or other times when
they want to pass themselves off as “good church-going folks.” Paul writes
that true followers of Jesus are to dress the same every day, discarding
their old wardrobes of anger, cursing, greed, and other sin. The Christian’s
wardrobe should be the same Sunday and all the rest of the week: “dress in
the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet
strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to
forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave
you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic,
all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3:12-14 MSG)
Consistently dressing in those virtues of faith provides liberation from
being merely a hollow, play-acting “Sunday’s child.”

Do you have a Sunday- only wardrobe? Is it literal or
figurative? Consistently put on Christ. Don’t be a Sunday’s child.

Where to find the motivation for following Jesus consistently –
every day – with confidence that removes the temptation merely to play-act
faithful living is another story.. Tune in next week..

– J. Edward Culpepper