MARCH 28, 2010


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            Jesus was known as a great healer and a prodigious miracle worker, but his contemporaries knew him best as “Teacher.”  Forty-nine times in the Matthew’s gospel, thirteen times in Mark’s gospel, sixteen times in Luke’s gospel, and eight times in John’s gospel, his followers addressed him or referred to him as “Teacher.”  Jesus even used the term to describe himself.  In the Upper Room, after he washed the disciples feet, he put on his robe, returned to the table and said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord - and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12-14).

            As a teacher Jesus taught publicly in the open air, in homes, in synagogues and in the temple.  He taught authoritatively, and friends and foes alike asked him questions about such things as the legality of divorce, the penalties of adultery, the requirement of Jewish tribute to Caesar, the doctrine of the resurrection, and the relationship between sin and sickness.

            And as we might pass along a prized possession or heirloom to someone we love, Jesus passed along his teaching ministry to his followers.  Listen to his closing words in Matthew’s gospel.


            Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  (By they way, some scholars believe that mountain was the mountain on which he gave the Sermon on the Mount, but we can’t say for sure)  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  (Just like us.  We, too, live out our faith in the same way, between worship and doubt.  We are bipolar in that way, aren’t we?  Here we are today worshipping God, but some of us have doubts.  We are as bipolar as these guys)  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.


            And just as Jesus passed along his teaching ministry, so does the Apostle Paul.  In his letter to the Colossians, chapter three, verse 16, he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom ...”

            Now, note Paul’s words here to the Colossians.  He said the word of Christ must dwell, or literally, “keep house” - that’s the literal meaning of the Greek, to “keep house” - “Let the word of Christ keep house in you richly.”

            I recall visiting a married couple in Kansas City.  They took me on a tour of their home.  It was lovely, but I noticed a couple of things.  I noticed the master bedroom was definitely her room.  Frilly pillows.  Estrogen laden comforter.  Pastel colors.  The master bedroom was where she “dwelt richly.”  That’s where she “kept house.”  He, on the other hand, did not dwell richly in that locale.  He did, however, dwell richly in his study.  Sporting memorabilia accented that room.  Manly wallpaper hung on the walls.  That room would have made Tim Allen of Home Improvement proud. Walk into that room and you knew it was his room.  Walk into the bedroom and you knew it was her room.

            To dwell richly is to live comfortably in a particular space.  That’s what Christ want’s to do with us.  Christ wants to live comfortably in every room of our “house.”  Christ wants to be at home in our hearts and our minds.  He wants his forgiveness, his mercy, his grace, his teachings to accent the decor, and out of this rich dwelling place we teach one another.  We may not hold court in a Sunday School class.  We may not volunteer to lead a study in a small group, but we teach nonetheless.  We teach by example and by a well-placed word here and there.

            I think a group of guys I used to meet with weekly for lunch.  It was a great small group that gathered in a greasy spoon restaurant in downtown Orlando.  Bruce taught me about missions.  He has a highly developed social conscience.  He has a heart for the poor.  Mike taught me about faith.  Mike is the kind of guy who always sees the cup as half-full.  He looks at silver linings.  He models a God-can-do spirit.  Craig taught me to keep my shoulder to the wheel.  During studies he asked questions like, “On a scale of one to ten, with one being the lowest and ten being the highest, where do you rank yourself on this particular virtue?  And what do you intend to do this week to make that better?”  Bob taught me about encouragement.  He constantly looked for ways to affirm people.  People loved being in his presence because he helped them feel better about themselves.  I liked to think I helped the group stay on task.  You may not know this about me, but I’m a stickler about time.  I go nuts inside if the worship service does not start on time, or if we happen to go over the hour.  In fact, I was so good at time management that Bruce from that luncheon group bought me a tie with little wrist watches in the design because he said it reminded him of me!

            Even though we may not fill out lesson plans, and even though teaching may not be our spiritual gift, we teach every day of our lives.  People see qualities in us they admire, and they turn to us to learn how to grow in those qualities themselves.

            Now, folks, this is the twelfth one another passage we have explored in our “One Anothering” sermon series.  The twelfth, and my guess is, this is the first one you are not sure about.  You understand loving one another, bearing one another’s burdens, praying for one another, serving one another, being kind to one another ... you understand those one anothers and, even though you may not be doing them well at the moment, you do see yourself doing them in the future and doing them better in the future.  But this one another passage, teaching one another, is different.  My guess is that a number of you are thinking to yourself, this one does not really apply to me, or I’ll never be able to live up to this one.  I’m not a teacher.  Being a teacher is for someone else, not me.  Am I right?  I do love to be right!  Am I right?  Are you struggling more with this one another directive than the other one another directives?  If so, let me address what I think may be holding you back.

            First, what may be holding us back is a faulty perception of what a teacher looks like.  We hear the word “teacher” and we think classroom, not a day to day influence in someone’s life. 

            I want to confess something.  Over the past three or four months, I stopped watching the news on television, other than the sports and the weather.  I used to love the evening news and the local news, but I found myself getting frustrated and depressed watching the news of the day.  So much negativity.  So much violence.  So much greed.  So much prejudice.  So much wrong with the world.  And my question is this: where did people learn that?  Where did people learn about being negative, and violent, and greedy, and racist?  They had to learn it somewhere.  Where did they learn it?  I bet little of it may have come from a classroom setting, but most of it, I suspect came from homes and peers.  Those who do not operate in a classroom setting.

            I think of the book Alice in Wonderland.  Some of you may have seen the recent film version starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.  I haven’t seen it, but I do remember Alice’s conversation with the Dormouse, as Alice stood before the King and Queen.  As she stands before the royal couple, Alice begins growing again, and the Dormouse, sitting next to Alice, says, “I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so.  I can hardly breathe.”

            Alice says, “I can’t help it, I’m growing.”

            “You’ve no right to grow here,” said the Dormouse.

            “Don’t talk nonsense,” said Alice more boldly.  “You know you are growing too.”

            “Yes,” said the Dormouse, “but I’m growing as a reasonable pace, not in that ridiculous fashion.”

            Many people in our communities are growing in ridiculous ways.  They grow in ways God never intended them to grow.  They have grown into people of prejudice and racism and sexism and greed and negativity, all because of the teaching they received from parents and aunts and uncles and radio talk show hosts.  They need someone, they need people like us, and our children and our peers need people like us to teach them a better way.  They need us to teach them about the love of God and the commands of God.  Jesus parting words in Matthew’s Gospel were, “Go, make disciple of all nations, teaching them all I commanded you.”   If we can help people to grow in that way, our world might not look quite so ridiculous.  If we can teach people in that way, through what we model, and through a well placed word here and there, we might even be able to sing “What a Wonderful World” again with Louis Armstrong.

            Second, I bet some of us are thinking about taking a pass on this one another directive because we feel inadequate for the job.  With so much to learn ourselves, how could we possibly begin to teach others?  Well, if you feel inadequate for the task, you are in good company.  I think of a recent survey of clergy.  Ninety percent of them reported feeling inadequate for the job.  Ninety percent!  Inadequate for the job! 

            Of course, feeling inadequate is actually a good thing.  How can a say such a thing?  I didn’t.  God did.  God said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”  So, if we feel inadequate for the job, we are right where God needs us.  Feeling inadequate places us in the best possible position for God to work!   Feeling weak, feeling inadequate, opens us to God’s transforming presence and power.

            I think of all the times as a parent I prayed, “Lord, I do not know how to deal with this child.”  I think of all the times I have stood in the pulpit thinking, “This sermon is really bad.  I don’t even like it, let alone the poor people who are about to hear it.  Do something, God, with it that I have not been able to do myself.”  I think of all the times as a husband when I prayed, “God, how does this woman ever stay with me?  I come up short in so many ways.”  Yet, in the midst of all those situations the one constant has been God and God’s power.  Living as a Christian is a lot like driving beyond one’s headlights.  Even though we cannot see beyond our limited range, we trust that God will meet us in our points of weakness and inadequacy. 

            When it comes to teaching one another, the Apostle Paul asks us to drive beyond our headlights.  We may not think we can do it, but both Jesus and Paul think we can.  We all have something God affirming that we can impart, teach to others.

            I’ll close with this.  John Wesley, the father of the Methodist church, received a letter from a critic.  And, yes, good things can come from people who are not Presbyterian.  Don’t hold that against them.  Anyway, the critic wrote, “The Lord has directed me to write you.  Mr. Wesley, even though you know both Greek and Hebrew, the Lord can do without your book learnin’.”

            Wesley wrote back, “Your letter was superfluous.  I already know that the Lord can do without my book learnin’.  And while the Lord does not direct me to tell you, yet I wish on my own to inform you that the Lord does not need your ignorance either.”

            Indeed, God does not.  God does not want anyone to be ignorant of God’s ways, especially those who call themselves his disciples.  Therefore, God directs us to teach one another.